They asked me to write a few words to introduce myself to our readers as the new sports editor. I’d love to tell you that I was once a great athlete with a vast personal knowledge of major sports. Except it wouldn’t be true.
I once played baseball. Pee-Wee league. When I was 8. I got around the bases once. I missed the plate and had to run back from the dugout to score.
But I love baseball. I enjoy seeing a good duel on the diamond at any level. I’m a lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs. (And, as Back to the Future 2 predicted, 2015 is the year.)
As a baseball fan, I appreciate the big plays — the grand slams. But I love seeing the well-executed small ball — the safety squeeze being my idea of an amazing feat.
The closest I’ve come to baseball greatness was running the registration computers for Florida State coach Mike Martin’s baseball camps in 1992.
I also played basketball. At a Division III college. And I only played in intramurals. In the B-League. I never started a game. I had a mean lefthand outside hookshot that was a great surprise weapon. As long as no one was guarding me.
I love basketball and I’m a lifelong Tar Heels fan. (I don’t believe in letting that influence our coverage, which should focus on all the major programs in the region. Besides, my son is a junior at N.C. State and will call me on it.) I care less about the NBA than college hoops, but I have great respect for certain players.
I’ve had a few somewhat close calls with basketball greatness.
I was checking out at the Fresh Market in Aberdeen a few months back and the clerk told us that Michael Jordan had just come through the line ahead of us. My wife used to teach at the private school in Huntersville that was owned by Stephen Curry’s mom. My dad played point guard for Mullens High in Wyoming County, West Virginia, in the ’50s, under coach Lewis D’Antoni, whose son Mike later coached in the NBA.
I asked the late Dean Smith a question during a press conference in 1997: “Why did you change your starting rotation?” This was after a Maryland game in which UNC blew a big lead. The coach seemed pretty irritated with me and basically said who starts isn’t that important. I asked Coach K the same question a week or so later after the Blue Devils played Wake Forest. He had pretty much the same answer.
I also had a conversation in line at FSU once with future NBA championship team member Sam Cassell. Regarding what makes a great cheeseburger. (Dijon mustard.) And future NBA player Bobby Sura once tried to claim he had the winning ticket and cheat me out of a TV that I won at a drawing. Not that either of them will remember these incidents if you asked them today. But Sam just might remember those burgers at Cash Hall.
As much fun as it is to drop names and share stories about the old days, that’s not the purpose of a local sports page.
I was hiring a sports writer a few years ago at the newspaper in Lincolnton, which is between Charlotte and Hickory. I received an application from a writer working for another paper who told me he knew how to write great sports copy. He said the key was to list as many names of local kids as possible in order to sell more papers.
It wasn’t the most professional move of my life, but I felt inspired to write back with some advice. It went something like this: “While we do include the names of local athletes in our articles, the ability to do this is not what will distinguish the applicant to whom we will offer this job. Listing names will promote the readership of those players’ families and friends, perhaps selling hundreds of papers on that particular day. Instead, we are looking for a writer who can craft compelling articles about one or two athletes at a time, so that thousands of readers who did not know those young people previously will be moved by their stories and want to keep coming back to the paper for more. If you have any writing samples demonstrating that type of storytelling, please share them.”
We’ll be sharing some stories about local kids in the sports pages of The Robesonian. We’ll also include coverage of other sports, but it will be the local stuff that distinguishes us from anyone else. If our sports pages aren’t already essential daily reading for you, we hope you’ll come to consider them such.