News Columns & Blogs

Memories of a sports writer

Last week, I took you throughthe first phase of my newspaper career at The Eagle. Riveting stuff, as I recall. I’m sure you’ve been on the edge of your seats, waiting for Part II.

But Part II is what you’re getting today, like it or not.

So we’ll pick up the story in 1991, after the high school extra, “Score,”  that some of us produced for four years folded.

My sports editor at the time, Tom Shine, decided to put me back on the Wichita State beat, which I had previously in 1980-81. I was older now, more assured and, honestly, a much better reporter, which is the essence of covering any beat. The best beat writers are really beat reporters. It’s getting the story that is the most important thing. Not that good writing isn’t important because I think it always is. But if you don’t cover the beat, you don’t have stories to write.

Make sense?

Anyway, this time I spent four years on the WSU beat, traveling to garden spots like Terre Haute, Ind., and Cedar Falls, Iowa. Actually, it was a blast, even though the Shockers’ basketball team, coached by Mike Cohen and Scott Thompson, was abysmal. WSU literally won a handful of road games during my four seasons on the beat.

But our traveling party included sports information director Scott Schumacher, KAKE television anchor Roger Wallace, who did the TV games at the time, Mike Kennedy, Steve Shogren and Roger’s analyst, who was Tom Kosich.

We all got along well and that made the road trips bearable. And as bad as Shocker basketball was during those years, Shocker baseball was a different story. I covered WSU in the College World Series three years in a row, from 1991 to 1993. The Shocks were loaded with great players and good guys and covering that team is one of the highlights of my career.

Still, I was ready to get off the beat by the end of the 1994 baseball season and try something new. I became the sports department’s general assignment reporter and was given great freedom to find good stories and write them. My emphasis was producing a good Sunday reader each week. I was a GA for about two years before kind of stumbling into the columnist position.

When our columnist at the time, Fred Mann, decided to move to our news side, I pushed for the job. Fortunately, the sports editor at the time, Sherry Johnson, was open to the idea. But she first wanted to give me a trial run and asked me to come up with some columns.

One of the first I wrote was about the 1996 United States women’s gymnastics team, and it wasn’t entirely flattering. The editors at The Eagle put that column on Page 1A, to my surprise, and it created some feedback, much of it negative. Little did I know that was going to be the story of my life as a sports columnist.

I didn’t flench. One of my next columns called for the firing of Scott Thompson as Wichita State’s basketball coach. I had covered Thompson’s teams for three seasons and consider him one of the best people I have ever been around in this business. But the Shockers were awful and Thompson, who appeared to be a good hire after some success as Rice, wasn’t turning things around.

It wasn’t long after that column that Thompson was, indeed, fired. And Randy Smithson was hired. I would go on to have a hot and cold relationship with Smithson during his four seasons as coach, writing some of the most critical columns I have ever written about a guy I have always had respect for.

Column writing is an interesting profession, and it’s not for everyone. At first, I wasn’t sure it was for me. I was getting a lot of feedback, which any writer enjoys, but a good percentage of it was hateful. It was a brand new world and it took me time to understand why people were so fired up about the things I was writing.

My editors – first Sherry Johnson and then Kirk Seminoff – were encouraging. More than once, I’m sure, they talked me off the ledge. Honestly, though, I did enjoy the give-and-take with readers, even when they disagreed. I enjoy conflict, what can I say. But I also know, I think, when to turn it off. And I have always understood that sports is not about life and death, usually, and that a difference of opinion should not become a character assassination.

Readers, for the most part, have been tremendous. Even most of those who don’t agree with something I’ve written. No columnist wants total agreement with what he/she writes. That would be boring and it would mean the columnist wasn’t doing the job.

I have always had strong opinions (just ask my friends), and I have never been shy about sharing them. And they’re just that, opinions. Neither right nor wrong, although I certainly believe everything I write.

Writing columns has given me the best years of my journalism career. I’d like to do it another few years before starting to perhaps slow down just a little. I hope, though, that I’m always writing at least occasionally for The Eagle, where I have worked since I was 19. Apparently I like it.

Thanks again for reading and for indulging me as I write about me.