Friday, September 1, 2023

Insight: Spin move to pay dirt

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

In 48 years of working for newspapers, by far and away the most difficult task I’ve ever undertaken is reporting about high school football games. One might think it’s a breeze to show up, watch the game, and write an article about what happened afterward.

Covering high school football games was
probably the most challenging work that
Ed Pierce did when he worked as a
sportswriter for a daily newspaper
But that’s only part of what a high school football reporter is expected to do. It didn’t take me very long to find that out and my trial under fire took me as a journalist to places and situations I never imagined while sitting in a college classroom learning about how to write and construct a newspaper story. Here’s just a few examples of the challenges I had to overcome in reporting high school games over the years.

In my first-ever assignment for a daily newspaper in Florida covering prep football, I climbed the bleachers, stepped into the press box, and asked, “Who’s the official scorer?” To my dismay, in unison the few people in the press box screamed at me, “You are.” That meant I had to keep track of how both teams scored, the number of yards a touchdown was scored from, and the time of the score, along with keeping my own notes for the newspaper article.

My newspaper required me to not only submit a full story about the game but also to submit a full box score for both teams, which included passes completed, passes attempted, passing yardage, number of interceptions, rushes, rushing yards, receptions, receptions yardage, fumbles lost, fumbles recovered, penalties and number of yards penalized, number of punts and average punting yards. That was in addition to listing every scoring play and time of scoring, scores by quarter and final score.

Once cell phones became prevalent, the newspaper I was working for also required me to call in to the sports desk at the end of every quarter and at halftime so the score could be posted live on the newspaper website.

Games typically started at 7 p.m. on Friday evenings and those covering games knew to keep a close eye on weather reports and updates because if lightning was observed nearby a game, the teams were sent to the locker room for safety reasons, and it was an automatic half-hour delay. Games were played however, if it was raining but without thunder and lightning.

Another significant factor for me was to check the press box ahead of the game to see if there was room for the press in there. Often, I found that every seat in the press box, other than the referee assigned to keep the scoreboard clock, was filled by a coach of one of the teams wearing a headset to communicate to the playing field below or a bevy of team videographers. Eventually, I chose to stroll the sidelines, but that required keen vision when I was standing on one team’s 30-yard line and the opposing team was on the 10-yard line on the other end of the field.

After the game ended, I had to go out on the field and interview players or coaches. Sometimes they had a group prayer and that took time while my article deadline was ticking away. At first, my high school football articles and box score information had to be at the newspaper by 11 p.m., but within a few years, that had dwindled down to 10:30 p.m.

Many games started at 7 p.m. but didn’t end until 9:45 or so, that is if the game there didn’t experience lightning or other issues, such as the field lights going out and then restarted, extra time devoted at halftime to presenting the Homecoming King and Queen, honoring championship teams from years past, or overtime.

Some high school teams always made sure that reporters had a complete roster of jersey numbers and that was helpful, but on at least one occasion I can recall a high school team removing a player during the afternoon before a game for an academic infraction and replacing him on the roster with his cousin, who also had the same last name, Johnson, and the same first initial of “M.” Going off the roster I was provided in the press box, at halftime I mentioned to one of the team’s assistant coaches that their running back Johnson was having a great game and he agreed. I featured his three touchdowns prominently in my article only to learn the next morning about the last-minute roster switch, that Mark Johnson was not Marcus Johnson and ended up with major egg on my face.

My Friday evenings would typically end with me getting the quotes, dashing to my car, totaling all the box info and either dictating the article with quotes inserted and the box score to the sports editor by phone or finding an available Wi-Fi at 10:15 p.m. and transmitting it to the paper by laptop. The stories were constantly being written and revised in my head as the game went on. This wasn’t rocket science, and eventually I took great pride in being the first one to turn in my articles, season after season. Now you know the rest of the story.

No comments:

Post a Comment