Sunday, March 06, 2005

Writing about sports

Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken advantage of the season’s full docket of high school tournament action to see some exciting, spirited basketball, and last night, hockey. While so much of the professional world of sports leaves me frustrated and increasingly cynical, the purity, passion and perspective that amateur sports provides can be a welcome respite from the daily parade of corruption and obfuscation rolling downhill from the highest places.

On Friday, the sports editor at one of the biggest weekly newspapers in my area contacted me, asking about my interest in covering two high school hockey playoff games on Saturday night. As a freelancer, one of my rules of survival is, never turn down a paying gig, particularly an event or activity that you enjoy attending. Having written for this editor once before, I appreciated his professionalism and welcomed another opportunity to cover sports.

While there are some in the journalistic profession who look down their noses at sportswriters, I personally think some of the finest writing taking place, is coming from those who cover various athletic events. The rollercoaster ride that sports affords participants, the nightly opportunity for redemption; all of these provide a writer with ample opportunities to display their abilities at painting pictures with words.

One of the participating teams was the high school where my son played four years of varsity hockey at. This was the day’s second contest and some of the current seniors had been freshman during my son’s senior year.

For me, covering the team, seeing his former coach, a man who I have the utmost respect for, remembering my son pouring his heart out night after night during his four years of lacing up the skates—well, it was an emotional evening for me. And the game? For the forth year in the past five, the two rivals played a contest that was decided in the last seconds of regulation, with my son’s alma mater winning this night, in overtime!

To witness the young man who scored the winning goal come off the ice and immediately interviewing this 17 year old, who was so excited, he forgot to take his mouthpiece out and was having trouble processing it all—this was a priceless moment. Seeing the fans chanting the name of this principled coach, in his 11th year at this school, putting the game and sportsmanship first at all times, was rewarding in and of itself. It also proves that coaches can emphasize what’s important and still be successful when the gauge is wins and losses. Not to mention that interviewing my son’s former coach was probably the most literate interview I’ll ever conduct with a coach at any level. This intelligent, intellectual, English teacher, who also loves hockey (as well as soccer and cricket, I might add), is not your everyday run-of-the-mill coach of a sports team. While many coaches resort to clichés and canned responses, there isn’t much that the two of us couldn’t have talked about. It was a test of my concentration to focus just on the immediate events at hand. Even his responses to these queries rang with a sense of the bigger picture that many in his profession miss.

The last few weeks have made me realize that while I enjoy writing about politics and culture, there are ample opportunities for me to use my writing abilities in the athletic realm, also. Good writing can take place in any form and subject area. Sometimes I forget this to my own detriment.


an orange said...

I'm sure it meant a lot to the kid and his coach. I used to play hockey in high school and college, and I remember how excited everyone was whenever there was a reporter present to do an interview. In sports there is so much emotion and passion.

weasel said...

For those who think that sports writing is not real journalism, two words:
David Halberstam

Or for the sycophantic, three words: Jim "Peaches" Baumer.

Jim said...

Thanks for the comments; To an orange, very interesting blog, probably the most unique one I've come across. Yes, I remember being interviewed after pitching my high school to the state championship and the young Bates graduate, who was writing sports for the local daily made all of us feel important and really did a good job treating our hs baseball team with respect--consequently, we really tried to go out of our way to talk with him. Just recently, this former sportswriter, now an editor at a well-known online magazine, emailed me photos he had digitized, of me pitching.

As for Weasel, your comment gave me a good chuckle. I concur about Halberstam; I loved "October 1964" and "The Summer of '49".

There's a writer who writes for Page 2 at ESPN 2, Bill Simmons, who I like read. He really gets sports and tends to capture things about baseball, basketball and the other sports he writes about, that lesser talents overlook. He's a former Boston guy, a die-hard member of Red Sox nation and his writing on the championship last fall was classic.

Here's his most recent column on U2 and sports--