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Lehighton student co-hosts Thanksgiving Day dog show

What do Dusty Baker, Shohei Ohtani, Jessica Mendoza, and Bubba Wallace have in common? They have all been interviewed by 16-year-old Anna Laible of Lehighton.

Two years ago, Laible applied and was accepted to become a writer for Sports Illustrated Kids, a national publication that’s read by 7 million young sports fans between the ages of 8 and 14. Laible is one of 10 SI Kids reporters in the country and the only one from Pennsylvania. Her first assignment was in July 2019 at the Pocono 400 where she interviewed Wallace and Joe Gibbs, former NFL football coach and current NASCAR team owner who has won five Cup Series championships.

On Thanksgiving Day, she will co-host the National Dog Show Jr. that will be aired at 2 p.m. on NBC’s streaming service, the Peacock platform. Laible, who will offer an educational spin on the show, will host the program with “American Ninja Warrior” commentator Matt Iserman and Olympic gold medalist Laurie Hernandez.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to co-host with Matt and Laurie,” she said. To prepare for the dog show, Laible does extensive research, as she does before all her interviews, to bring a depth of knowledge of the sport she is covering.

“I grew up playing and watching sports,” said Laible, who was a competitive gymnast and now plays travel softball and for Lehighton Area High School. “Baseball is my favorite sport. I’m a huge Washington Nationals fan. I was born in the D.C. area.”

Laible’s media journey through the world of sports has taken her to the company of the Major League baseball commissioner, the Most Valuable Player in the American League and the current manager of the Houston Astros. She has interviewed and written stories about Olympian gold medalists and NASCAR drivers, among other notable athletes.

During her interviews with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, Astros manager Dusty Baker, and Angels’ superstar Shohei Ohtani, Laible came prepared with a list of questions, but she has learned through valuable lessons taught by her editors at Sports Illustrated to redirect interesting responses into unscripted storylines that offer new insights of popular sports figures. This was true when she first met Dusty Baker, who managed the Washington Nationals in 2017. She conducted a Zoom interview with him as manager of the Houston Astros for her first episode from her own podcast program she calls “Speak Up Sports.”

“Dusty Baker is one of my favorite people,” she said. “I call him my second grandpa.” Laible shared one of Baker’s anecdotes about how he got the nickname Dusty.

As a kid, he used to play in a dirt spot where the grass wouldn’t grow in his backyard. He’d come in the house with dirt all over his clothes and his mother gave him the name Dusty because she wasn’t going to call him Dirty.

Laible and her mother, Jennifer; her father, Greg; her sister, Sarah; and her brother, Ethan, have lived in Lehighton for the past 11 years. She is home-schooled and also takes courses in communication at Lehigh Carbon Community College. In May 2023, she will be awarded her high school diploma and an associate degree from LCCC.

During her tenure with SI Kids, Laible has met some very inspiring people beginning with a broadcaster who goes by the name of Dejah.

“She’s a real trailblazer,” said Laible. “She’s an African American woman so she’s broken through two barriers with being a woman and a person of color.”

Another woman Laible calls her role model is Jessica Mendoza, a former All American softball player and an Olympic gold and silver medalist who now is a broadcaster for ESPN. Laible interviewed Mendoza during her second podcast episode.

“She was a broadcaster and analyst for Sunday Night Baseball and the Women’s College World Series, said Laible. “Jessica was the first female commentator for the MLB in ESPN history and she’s helped me improve my reporting skills. I hope to follow in her footsteps someday.”

What Laible most likes about Dusty Baker, Dejah and Mendoza is that they are “genuine people” and not ego-centered because of their public notoriety.

All of Laible’s media ventures are funded out of pocket by her family. She mostly travels as far as the automobile will take her, but she has done virtual interviews with American tennis player Coco Gauff from Australia, the first female MLB coach, Alyssa Nakken from the San Francisco Giants, and world recorder paralympic swimmer Jessica Long.

When asked who her dream interviews would be, she replied, “MLB player Juan Soto, NBA star Steph Curry, and NBC sportscaster Maria Taylor.”

As Laible prepares to co-host the Thanksgiving dog show and continue season two of her “Speak Up Sports” podcast, she reflected upon her success and the opportunities that have come her way.

“My parents are the reason for what I have accomplished. They’ve given up so much time for me. My mom has helped pull me out of my comfort zone to talk with so many big names in the world of sports. She and my dad have been great role models.”

Anna Laible desires a future career in live broadcasting and dreams of calling the play by play for an MLB World Series. Until that day is realized, she’ll continue to enjoy interviewing famous people in sports and sharing her stories with her young readers at Sports Illustrated.

Anna Laible is a reporter for Sports Ilustrated Kids. On Thanksgiving Day, she will co-host the National Dog Show Jr. that will be aired at 2 p.m. on NBC's streaming service, the Peacock platform. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO