This came to mind over the past week – this sportswriter thing has been going on for 50 years now.
It doesn’t seem possible. But, you know what they say, “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
As a kid, the idea of being a sports journalist never crossed my mind. Sure, I loved reading Jim Murray and Bob Burnes, but the idea of spending my life writing about football, baseball, basketball and a variety of other sports…it just never came together. checked in.
Also, if I was playing shortstop for the Cardinals, when would I have time to write?
The reality of my limited athletic abilities dawned on me during my freshman year in high school. A friend of mine was working at the school newspaper at the time. One evening while watching an American Legion baseball game, he asked me if I would be interested in helping him cover sports for the Mater Dei Lance.
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I tried it. It wasn’t as fun as baseball, but it wasn’t terrible either.
Then two things happened that made me consider sports writing a calling.
First, my high school administered the professional Kuder survey. My scores indicated that I was best suited for a life in the newspaper industry. In fact, that may not be entirely accurate. The scores also showed that I had little aptitude for anything else.
Honestly, even though I remember this thought popping into my head, “If you can’t play baseball, getting paid to watch baseball is probably the best thing to do.”
The following semester, I was the sports co-editor of the Mater Dei Lance. One day, Mike Nobis, then sports director of Mater Dei, called me aside. He asked me if I would be interested in doing Mater Dei sports reporting for the Highland News-Leader.
Payroll? A handsome $5 a week. That’s not even soda money by today’s standards. But it was $5 more a week than what I was earning.
More important than the money was the signature.
I try not to be a proud person, but the first time I opened the diary and saw this signature…I was hooked. The sense of accomplishment was palpable. Unless you’ve worked in a newspaper, this feeling is probably inexplicable.
One of the first lessons I learned was that the excitement of seeing your name in print fades quickly. It’s a double-edged sword. Your name above a newspaper article exposes you to criticism from players, coaches and parents. It’s hard to absorb, but you don’t survive in this business without being tough, so it’s an important lesson to learn early.
When you work in a journal, lessons follow.
Over time, you learn that the unthinkable is true – going to games becomes a job. When I was 20, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to go to a baseball or basketball game. But, life intervenes. You are getting married, you have children, there are birthdays and weddings you want to attend. And, sometimes, you just want a night’s rest.
After a few years, you understand your work better. You realize that the real satisfaction of your work is not the praise you occasionally receive after writing a well-crafted story, but rather the realization that you have earned the respect and trust of your colleagues, coaches and players.
The first time a coach confides in you, makes it clear that they trust you with timely information that you need to sit on for a few days, that’s when you know you’ve arrived. This is where you’re glad you took Kuder’s professional investigation seriously.
Now, 50 years later, it’s gratifying to know it’s still fun. That those constant late nights and weekends resulted in friendships that lasted beyond practice and play days.
Looking ahead, the future of the newspaper industry is uncertain. I just hope the kid in high school today who realizes he can’t turn on the heater gets a similar opportunity.