Almost a year ago I volunteered to help out with a new newspaper that was starting in our town. I was glad to contribute, but was reluctant to commit to providing too much content due to my day job and evenings filled with my son’s games, household chores, occasional social outings, etc. Plus, it was hockey season and my team was on a roll—so there was a lot of TV that I needed to watch. But, I jumped on board as ‘part-time sportswriter.’
One thing led to another and I went from occasional contributor to part-owner in the venture, The Earlham Echo, in the blink of an eye. Instead of a story every once in a while, I was writing multiple articles—mostly on local high school sports—every week. A whole page worth.
But doing a lot of work for little or no monetary gain has always been one of my specialties, so I adjusted quickly and began to enjoy the effort. I had no trouble writing about my ‘core sports’ (football, baseball/softball, basketball, track), but quickly realized I would have to learn more about others (soccer, volleyball, and wrestling) if I wanted to write intelligently about them. Through my limited experience with these sports, I thought that orange slices and juice boxes were the most critical aspects to soccer and volleyball was played on sand by families during picnics. And the only wrestling matches I had ever seen had involved pile drivers, cool masks, and flying folding chairs. With plenty of help from good people, though, I am getting things figured out as I go.
The biggest challenge I have had is making the transition from fan to sportswriter during games. There is no real harm in being both, but there’s an old axiom in the world of sports writing that says ‘no cheering in the press box,’ and I’ve been trying to adhere to that as best as I can. This has been difficult for a couple of reasons: (1) most Central Iowa high schools that I visit don’t have press boxes, so I just sit in the stands; and (2) my son has been participating in many of the games I’ve been covering. He isn’t on all the teams of course, but many of his friends and classmates—kids I’ve known since they were in kindergarten—are usually playing. Not cheering every once in a while just feels weird.
I’ve been writing for the paper for almost 12 months now, so I’ve made the rounds through all the sports. Here in the middle of winter, I’ve determined that basketball is the biggest ‘no-cheer’ challenge. With the speed of the game, the intensity of the action, and the physical proximity to the game itself, it’s almost impossible to not get emotionally involved—especially given the passionate play of our hard-working Earlham teams this season. During a recent road game when the Cardinal boys rallied from ten points down in the fourth quarter for a win, not only did I ‘cheer in the press box,’ I abandoned virtually all journalistic principles, disregarded accepted safety guidelines, and ignored social decorum in general during the comeback. The game was too much fun to merely be an observer.
But my work suffered. When I should have been taking notes about the action, I was standing up and yelling and high fiving. My first question to Coach Williamson when I talked to him after the game was, “What the hell just happened?” I wasn’t being funny. I really didn’t remember a few of the key details.
Not very professional, I guess, but I’m working on it.