Thursday, March 4, 2010

Going around, coming around

It’s been a couple of weeks of long drives home. With back-to-back girls and boys post-season basketball filling the calendar, the members of the Star Courier’s two-person sports staff have needed to stretch ourselves kind of thin in order to cover as much basketball action as possible. As the “non-editor” member of the staff, it’s meant the longest drives have generally fallen to me. That’s only fair, because editor Mike Landis often has needed to both cover a game, take pictures and write a story, and also get back to the paper in time to put it all together into the sports pages you pour over the next morning. For both of us, though, it’s meant a series of “on-the-fly” stories and pictures that need to get to the Star Courier as quickly as possible. For me, especially with a crazy-early weeknight deadline, it has meant finding a WiFi hot spot or some other internet connection, so I can transmit stories and pictures via email, a not-often-easy task in some of the smaller burgs I’ve traveled to. But while I’ve been pretty lucky at finding a source and electronically filing my stuff, there’s always a bit of angst regarding another portion of the information waiting to be received at the paper.
The stats.
For many sports fans, the statistics that go into the box scores on page 2 are what it’s all about. In a couple of cases, that’s all taken care of, with stat-king Jerry Salisbury providing the info on Kewanee boys basketball and, in football, the Star Courier’s Rocky Stufflebeam keeping track of the Titans. But for much of the rest of the time, we’re at the mercy of the athletic directors and coaches of the teams we cover, who forward the contents of the official scorebook our way via fax or email. That’s sometimes tougher than it sounds, for a variety of reasons. And for me, it’s a prime example of that old saying: “What goes around, comes around.”
You see, once upon a time, I was the guy who handled--and submitted--the stats.
It was the winter of my sophomore year in high school. I had blown out my knee in football that season and was still hobbling around--on and off crutches--as I waited to see if it would get better. I didn’t know it then, but the injury, despite surgery and extensive rehab, would never allow me to play contact sports again. But at the time, I was just looking for something to do while I waited. I was used to being busy with football, wrestling and baseball, so I guess I looked a little lost.
The varsity basketball coach, who was one of my football coaches, too, took some kind of pity on me and made me an offer.
“How’d you like to keep stats for us?” he asked.
It sounded better than using the time to catch up on my algebra, so I became a member of the support staff for the Galva High School basketball team.
There are a lot of back-stories that go along with that experience, of course. Chief among them is my memory of the time the head manager, the late Jon Johnson, and I missed the bus home because we were “looking for towels” (manager-speak for talking to cheerleaders when we were supposed to be getting the equipment packed up.) You can only imagine the reaction by the coach and our parents when that misdeed was discovered, but those stories will have to wait for another time.
It was what happened after the first home game that revealed the truest nature of what I had gotten myself into. I gave the scorebook to the head coach. After a quick look, he handed it back, along with a lengthy, scribbled list of names and phone numbers.
“Here,” he said. “Call these guys.”
“These guys” were the area newspapers and TV and radio stations that were anxiously awaiting the results of our game. For the latter, it was just a matter of rattling off the final score and maybe the high-point men. But for the newspapers, it meant the arduous job of reading off the full box score, over and over again, to the likes of the Davenport Times-Democrat, the Peoria Journal Star, and, yes, even the Kewanee Star Courier. Remember, there were no fax machines in those days, and email was years and years away, so it was just me...and those guys.
After a few games, I kind of got to know some of them, and, I guess, they got to know me, too. Thinking, only part-correctly, that I was paying close attention to the games, they started asking for more details. I still remember one close contest, which involved a dramatic, fourth-quarter comeback, that found me rapidly recounting the exciting details to one newspaper after another. A few days later, I received the fruits of my labor: a check from one of the papers for the princely sum of six dollars.
I was, finally, a paid member of the working press.
I felt I deserved it, too, because while I was frantically rushing through my list of calls, something vitally important was going on right outside the door of the coaches’ office where I was trapped with my duties. The “sock hop,” which was the name for the no-shoes-allowed-on-the-gym-floor, after-game dance, was going on without me. Between calls, I would anxiously peek out the door to see who was dancing with whom. By the time I heard the strains of “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling,” by the Righteous Brothers, which was usually the last song of the evening, I knew I was doomed to another cold, lonely walk home while all the cute girls were happily being ferried home by upperclassmen who possessed a couple of things I lacked--cars and personalities.
I really discovered writing as a potential job in college. But instead of journalism, I spent most of my working life as an advertising agency copywriter and creative director, a career that was interrupted when I started messing around with cancer a few years ago.
So here I am again, watching games and making last-minute contact with a newspaper. I really do enjoy what I’m doing now, and I even try to pay attention to the games most of the time. So it’s true, that, for me, what goes around truly has come around again.
There are some long hours and late nights this time of year, but there’s some good news, too:
You see, nowadays, the cutest girl of all is waiting for me, right at home.

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