We are in the heart of the winter sports season. Girls basketball sectionals were last weekend, and none of the teams I cover survived to regionals. I believe that’s the first time that has been the case since I started working for my paper. Boys basketball has two more weeks before sectionals begin. I covered the girls state swimming and diving meet last weekend and will head back in a week for the boys finals.
A few stories from the road that don’t involve possible drug raids.
I’ve been lucky to have several terrific basketball games this year. But perhaps the best was one I did back in mid-January. The best girls team in our county, CG, who got as high as #7 in the 4A rankings, traveled my direction to face a big conference rival, NC. NC jumped all over them early. It was 23-4 late in the first quarter as NC was hitting everything they threw up.
CG steadied themselves, hit a three to cut it to 16, and slowly worked their way back into the game. A 9-0 run made it an eight-point deficit at the half.
In the second half they kept battling but still trailed by 7 with 5:00 left. Then they started drilling threes and NC suddenly couldn’t buy a shot. CG took the lead on a deep 3 with 1:30 left, then hit all four free throws in the last minute to win by five.
It was such a ridiculous comeback that some of the CG girls were crying out of disbelief and happiness after the game. It was a fun game to write about, but also nerve-wracking. I had to change my mental pre-writing process about four times as the game ebbed and flowed.
I got the CG girls two more times before their season ended, including a win that clinched them a share of the conference title. That was a huge deal for them, as their conference has produced nine of the last 13 state champions, and one (mythical) national championship team. They were a fun team to watch, their girls are great to talk to, and their coach is probably my favorite across all sports. Damn shame they ran into their nemesis in sectionals and couldn’t get out.
My total margin factor is looking good thanks to a couple big wins by my teams. It is currently +44, and that’s with a 42-point loss in there. It could be worse. The same team that lost by 42 lost by 69 two nights later. Fortunately I was not at that game.
I’ve shared before that one of my favorite things to do before games and during breaks in the action is check out the track and field records boards posted in most gyms. I found an all-time winner last night while doing a boys game.
I was at a little 1A school. Most of the records were recent, but there were a couple that pushed back into the 80s. But two really stood out. The boys 800 record was set in 1956. And the boys 100 record was set in 1949. Nineteen forty-nine! By far the oldest record I’ve seen, which automatically makes it the coolest. My buddy Ed in ATX said the time (10.9) was in doubt because it was surely hand-clocked. He also suggested I track down the guy who set the record and see what he’s up to. If the home team was within our reporting area, I would absolutely do that.
As I said, I had the girls state swimming meet last week. It’s kind of amazing how good swimming is here in Indiana. Each time I cover a state meet, it seems like some kind of national record is broken. This year, my home ‘burb school, CHS, won their 28th straight state title, putting them one off the national record for most consecutive titles in one sport. I was not covering them, so that only filled a paragraph way down my story. Their 200 medley relay team also broke the national public school record, and two other swims of theirs were the second-fastest high school times on record. Some girls from California or Florida may go out and break those times next week, but it’s pretty cool that some kids from the Midwest are putting up numbers like that.
Finally, I was reflecting on how my process for writing has evolved over the six years I’ve been covering high school sports. I guess it’s not really the process that’s changed, but my inner writing mechanics have. The way my mind processes material during the game so I have a framework for what to write about afterward. How I identify what parts of the game are important so I can recall them when it’s time to write.
I remember the first couple years I wrote, I would struggle to find a way to get to 250-300 words, which is about the minimum my editor wants most nights. There were nights when I sat there, having tapped out a crappy lede, thrown in some stats, tried to highlight a key sequence or two, and after I added a quote, I was still sitting at 300 words.
I think my interviewing has gotten a little better, although I admit I’m still not great at those quick, post-game conversations. I get better material from coaches and players than I used to, though.
Now, even for a shitty game where there’s not a lot to write about, when I get through my first draft I’m usually well over 500 words. Not all of my stories are great. And our editor doesn’t ask for greatness when there are many nights where we’ll have 30-40 minutes to get him a complete box score and story. But comparing the stories I file today with the ones from my early days, I think the current ones are much better. I can always find an area where I could have written better or given more detail or explained a stat better. In general, though, I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do: giving people who were not at the game a feel for what happened.
So, anyone want to pay me handsomely for my mad journalistic skillz?