Entire Day of Covering Preps Becomes Learning Experience

(This Blog entry was written on October 31, 2011)

I came into this past Saturday thinking I could cover three things. As the day drew closer, I didn’t actually think this was possible. But I wanted to try to do it anyway.

The three events were: the Oregon XC Sectional, the Forreston Football game against Hales Fransicsan, and the Harlem Football game against Hononegah. 

I did research and alerted beforehand that I was going to cover the first two games. I didn’t tell anyone about covering Harlem-Hononegah because I wasn’t sure if I had enough energy to do so, and didn’t want people to waste time. Thankfully the gate honored the pass on the fly.

If I wasn’t covering anything, this would be a typical day in high school sports paradise. There is a pencil holder on my desk that reads “I want less WORK and more $$$ for not doing it.” If money grew on trees and I could do what I want – this is what I would be doing.

I also came into Saturday wanting to tweak the way I cover things, as well as tweak the way I write. In this day of age in the journalism business, sticking to one tried and true format doesn’t go far in the ever-changing scheme of things.

I challenged myself to write just 600 words on each game. This is a far cry from the typical 1,000+ I’m used to in website writing. I write long on the website in order to explain detail and how things led to another – in other words make the newspapers look like MASH unit doctors. (Okay, a more nicer term would be “supplementary coverage.”)

Thousand-word stories have no place in newspapers. If I want to prepare for that next level, I need to shorten my stories and cram it all into fewer words. I try doing this all of the time, but I had something going for me that day: Because of a tech snafu with the website, I stayed up all night after covering Sterling soccer on Friday night. So I went into the triple-dip with no sleep. By the time I would be getting home from this, being so tired would literally force me to write just 600 words.

***

So here’s an account of the Saturday triple-dip:

I was running a little late getting to Oregon for the Sectional Meet. I tried to catch some shut-eye around 8 a.m. and got about two minutes worth. Then that turned into a slow time in the shower and getting cleaned up. Knowing I was going to stumble, and possibly run off the road, I had three bucks on me to go to Aldi for a 12-park of pop. I got to Park West in Oregon late enough to where I parked in the school parking lot and ran the 1/4 mile to the finish line.

They say covering cross country is one of the easiest things to do. However, research and knowledge of the effects of running three miles will make for a good story (as opposed to fact-and-stat writing). There was a back-to-back series of XC meets at Erie and then Byron that helped me understand cross country a little better. When football is dominant and volleyball is also as dominant, sometimes cross country gets shuffled behind.

Charlie and Andy were also there covering the meet, and I stuck by them for most of the time. I also saw one of my Winnebago friends, Bruce, there as well. I got my pics in one spot, then video in another spot not too far away. See how easy it is? Right. After the meet, however, it took nearly two hours to finalize the results and print them off. Not good for someone like me who was up for now 24 straight hours.

By the time I walked all the way back to my car, it was 1 p.m. with the football game at Forreston starting at 1:30. I’m already past my pre-game comfort zone as far as getting there early is concerned. I go the wrong way out of Oregon and after exiting Mt. Morris I Chuck Yeager’ed it to Route 72. The car topped at 93 MPH (one shy of the car’s best of 94 on the Abe Lincoln Bridge in LaSalle).

Sure enough, I get to Forreston with 11 minutes on the pre-game clock. Andy had also made the drive (probably much safer than my drive). The morning was cold and I had my jacket on, but it got warm soon after and I was alright with my short-sleeved shirt. Forreston is a confusing place to cover a football game at sometimes, since the scoreboard is slow and I can’t get an accurate reading on yardage lines. Other than that covering the game went off without a hitch.

Since this was a much-hyped game, I was asked beforehand to text updates to my friend Patrick in Chicago. I don’t mind doing that, but sometimes it takes away from the job I’m trying to do. So along with Patrick, I added Edgy Tim, Bill and my friend Rick to the text update list. It’s hard for me to do that with the buttons on my phone being so small, and my fingers too big. Just call me old-school in this regard, I would simply like to concentrate on covering my game and not worry about what’s going on elsewhere. Maybe if I wasn’t trying to snap a picture or take video I would have an easier time providing updates.

Forreston won a good game 31-28.

One thing I learned from covering this game is to not use cheap pens to write things down on. My pen didn’t run out, but was kind of a nuisance. The way I cover football games changed after the next game.

The break before the Harlem-Hononegah game was changed. I was supposed to meet Rick for a quick bite to eat before we went to the game, but he had other plans. So this gave me some time to drive to Harlem and walk around to keep myself awake. The weather got much colder as game time fell.

Cheap pens and fat notepads do not mix when it’s bitter cold outside. My jaw was stammering and my knees were buckling as I roamed around the Hononegah sideline throughout the game. Not to mention, plenty of scoring and little defense. I tried to keep up with the game, and was able to get plays written down. However I was not able to mentally formulate a storyline inside my head – and thus called the game off. I figured that would be the case.

By the time I left Harlem, I had been awake for 31 straight hours. Then came the drive down home. You try driving down Route 2 in deer-infested late October, at night, after being up for 31 straight hours!

Of course I went to sleep right after I got home, but awoke enough to get the two articles written in timely fashion (to my standards). I didn’t go as in-depth as I normally did, but at the same time didn’t go below 600 words on each article.

***

What I learned from this Wild Ride:

1. The football notes formula I had been using for years turns obsolete when trying to meet a maximum-word limit. I have recently begun using a football stats worksheet to help in setting up box scores. If I just used that as my game notes, and writing a scoring summary (agate-style) on the back of the worksheet, it may clear my head a little easier and prevent arthritis. I will begin experimenting with this strategy on Friday night – where as of now I don’t know.

2. Never write 1,000+ word soccer articles. Never.

3. Aren’t individual sectional results available on the IHSA website? Even in this particular meet where almost all of NISB’s small schools were in, going by that is data enough to supplement the margin notes and interviews during the race.

4. Set a “leave-the-house” deadline, even for the shortest of car rides. Oregon isn’t much of a car ride for me, but you never know with traffic in Sterling and Dixon.

5. Don’t buy a pork chop at Forreston. Worst ever.

6. Tell people that I see no sense of urgency in knowing what a quarterly score is during a football game – unless you are my boss. The less time I text updates, the more time I have to do stats at halftime. And for crying out loud, NEVER EVER call me during a game, especially if you know that I am covering a game!!!!

7. Protect the head, regardless of what it does to my hair. Hoods on top, stocking hat, whatever. This will take a long time for me to learn because I naturally just don’t do it.

8. I can’t do a triple-dip after staying up all night. Just can’t. However, if this comes up another time I’ll be sure to get plenty of sleep before. I’ve covered multiple basketball games at tournaments, but this is a completely different situation.

Hopefully lessons are learned, and the opportunity comes up again. Next week is Volleyball State Tournament time, which should be another absolute melee.