There’s nothing glamorous about covering high school sports.
Yet it’s something I knew I couldn’t escape, because, well, it’s something I enjoy doing.
In college, I was a stringer for The Fresno Bee in California. It was my first real taste of sports writing. My first assignment: Write three paragraphs on a high school football game for the newspaper’s prep roundup. Easy enough, I thought.
In retrospect, I was out of my element. I didn’t know how to take stats, and I didn’t truly understand the game of football to actually write about it. (“Wait, what was the penalty for again?”) Sure, I watched it on TV my entire life but it’s a completely new experience when you don’t have stats flashing on the screen and color commentary blasting in your ears. Regardless, I had to turn in something. Shortly after, an agate clerk called me to say that my passing and receiving yards didn’t match. I fixed the issue and went to sleep nervous that I wouldn’t get another chance to write for the newspaper.
I woke up the next morning sleep-deprived, bought a copy of The Bee and found myself delighted to see my name among other stringers at the bottom of the prep roundup.
That was about 12 years ago.
I’d like to think I’m not the same journalist as described above. For one thing, I have covered hundreds of sporting events. Not just high school, but also professional, recreational and Olympic sports at newspapers in four different states. I interviewed big-time athletes, including Colin Kaepernick (well before the Colin Kaepernick we know now) and Steve Kerr (well after he nailed that game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals). While working at The Salt Lake Tribune, then-Jazz coach Jerry Sloan called me “big man” the few times I talked to him, and Freddy Adu, once known as “the next Pelé,” walked me to my car after an interview just to make sure I made it there safely.
That’s not to say I have it all figured out. I haven’t really been there or really done that. And sure, I covered sports at various levels, but it’s high school sports that I find myself coming back to. Why? It’s there that I believe I stumble upon the best stories and experience sports in its rawest, most passionate form — without dollar signs and big corporate endorsements.
When I had the opportunity to return to sports (particularly at the high school level) after working as a public safety and general assignment reporter at The Gazette for more than two years, I couldn’t pass it up. I understand that covering preps has changed since the Fresno Bee gig, given the advent of better smartphones, mobile Internet hotspot devices and Twitter during this I-want-my-scores-now era, I still think it provides an element of grassroots journalism.
At high school games, I usually have to rely on myself to know what’s going on. I’m usually the only reporter talking to the players and coaches afterward, occasionally giving them their first media experience. And after that, I find myself inside a so-called press box (usually without Wi-Fi capabilities) or my car typing up a few hundred words on a high school rivalry game.
Of course, things could be more nuanced. I remember having to call the sports desk, trying to find dial-up Internet connection at a gas station or driving around a neighborhood to see if I can get free Wi-Fi, all in effort to relay or write up a 300-word game story.
Glamorous or not, I still find myself coming back for more.