Since starting in journalism in August of 2002, I can probably count on just two hands how many times I have traveled to a high school sports event just to watch.
That does not include games that come before or after ones that I am covering, or underclassmen games. That also doesn’t include the times I watched my brothers Chris and Mike wrestle, and there were just a few times I got around to doing that.
In fact, in the past 10 years, I can count aside wrestling meets involving Chris, only four such occasions where I traveled to a game solely to watch. Three times involved Rock Falls boys basketball. The other time was when my 2001-02 Sterling girls basketball team got inducted into the SHS Athletic Hall of Fame.
This past Friday marked one of those rare occasions where I caught a basketball game that I was not covering. I wanted to see how good Winnebago (ranked No. 1 in the latest AP 3A poll) was, and they were playing at Rock Falls.
I moved around as the game quickly became a blowout, talking to a few different people about a few different things. Driving back home, I felt great knowing that the time spent was worth it.
The subject of high school sports journalists, such as myself, attending games that I would normally cover is a sensitive subject. For example, I cannot wear certain colors of clothing to the games as to show favoritism toward someone. I also cannot chat with the players and coaches during this time, or sit close to the bench or the gravitational die-hard section. I can’t cheer, root, wave my hands, or react in a way that leans me toward a team.
However, during this Rock Falls-Winnebago game, I got stuck sitting right behind the Rock Falls bench during the first half. I was talking to someone I know from Rock Falls and before I knew it, the game was about to begin.
But who says a journalist cannot have friends?
I think that, early in my career, I tried so hard to not talk to anyone I knew for fear of journalism integrity. Then people would come up to me and talk. After so many times of that, it didn’t really bother me to be seen talking to someone wearing team colors.
Over the years, I got to know so many people and had a high school sports circle of friends. Most of them were message board posters from Northern Illinois Sports Beat, some of them message board visitors, and some even coaches and athletic directors. If someone knew I was coming to town, there would be some occasions where we got together beforehand. And, of course, I was always the quiet one.
Then came a time when I scaled back the number of sports events I went to. This started happening toward the end of the 2012-13 spring sports season. That’s when I met Nicci, and started our friendship. I traded my sports for some of the things she did, and traded my sports for surrogate unclehood for her three children.
So I disappeared for a while, but I wouldn’t have gone back and thought twice about it.
As I have mentioned time and time again, my friendship with Nicci brought out the social aspect of me. I was less shy and talked more. When my co-workers at the gas station kept telling me that I was “breaking out of my shell,” it felt really awesome. I scaled back NISB to just an occasional blog, and eventually whittled it down to an ill-fated Sterling, Newman, Rock Falls sports website that never got off the ground. Then came the dream job of coming back to Sauk Valley Media, and I would be a fool not to pounce on that opportunity.
After our falling out, and after a semi-depressive state, sports came back into the forefront. Only, this time around, I wasn’t shy anymore. When people know that I have seen quite a bit in the local sports scene, they’ll flock to me and ask questions. They used to know me as someone shy who wouldn’t talk much. Now that I talk back, I see they are going to talk to me again, and again.
That’s what Friday’s time at the game reminded me about.
It has made me wonder if going to more high school sports games, and talking with high school sports people, is something that can help me in my never-ending quest to combat the social difficulty that my Autism gives me. I have to tell them up-front that I have that particular night off from the newspaper.
I have a legitimate excuse, also. As a voter in the Associated Press prep basketball polls, I would like to see the teams that I am considering ranking.
When I’ll get around to such games will be a challenge, given the work schedules of two jobs. And I have friends that are not into high school sports – one of which I had dinner with over the Broncos-Steelers game last night at Johnny’s – to spend time with also. Family, also. It’s better than sitting at home staring at walls. And I won’t be bored any time soon. Or depressed.
Life is starting to take shape well. I’m happy with the way things are going.