In my previous life, I needed to find a part-time job to supplement the household income. When I saw an advertisement for a part time position in the sports department of the Macon Telegraph Newspaper in Macon, Georgia, I jumped on the opportunity and applied for the job.
Days later I was rejected. That didn’t stop me. I sent a letter to the Assistant Sports Editor, Ivan Aronin, and appealed the rejection and told him he had made a mistake in not hiring me.
I was hired.
Those years working in the sports department were some of my most valued memories. I still think back to those days and look through the hundreds of articles and columns I wrote during that time. I worked with a good group of people during those years and learned a lot about the sports industry, working at a newspaper, and writing.
After I was hired, the job was a bit overwhelming at first. My first priority was to answer phone calls with coaches and scorers calling in their scores and statistics of the games they played. There were a lot of them. More than I realized. I pressed through and eventually learned how to put together the scoreboard section in the newspaper. It wasn’t as digital as it is today and getting the scoreboard section to fit was quite an art. It was a fun experience.
Friday nights in the newsroom were hopping as the high school football scores were called in relentlessly. You had to get the information in the computer fast and accurately. It was definitely fast-paced. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it but I soon harnessed the adrenaline of the moment. I love high school football so it wasn’t too much torture for me.
Then the sports editor, Kevin Procter, took a chance and asked me to cover a game like a real sports writer. My first assignment was an American Legion baseball game in Cochran, Georgia. Future major league players such as Mark Johnson, John Rocker and Russ Branyan was playing in many of those games. Eventually I was moved to the part-time sports writer position which allowed me to cover more and more sports. One of my first high school basketball games was a little awkward as the coach fussed me out and refused to talk to me. I later learned he was upset that the newspaper didn’t pick the football coach as the coach of the year. The next time, the coach and I hit it off better and he was always accommodating to me after that.
There is so much I could write about the experiences I had. The initial thrill of seeing my byline in the newspaper and the attention I received from my friends and co-workers at my daytime job. The easiest sport for me to cover was, oddly enough, basketball. You would think with the fast action that it would be difficult to keep up with the play-by-play; however, I devised my own system and learned what worked best for me. The hardest sport to cover was baseball. Baseball has its own scoring rules that I don’t think I truly mastered.
Of course, high school football was my favorite sport to cover. There was one weekend I covered four games over the course of three days because the schools were using the same stadium. In one of the games I decided to try to be the public address announcer. That wasn’t an easy task.
The least favorite for me to cover was basketball. Not that I didn’t enjoy the coaches and players but being squeezed in the bleachers and covering two games really wore me out. Tournaments were the worst. Once the game I covered seemed to be pretty much decided and I wrote my story and packed it in to relax but the trailing team mounted a furious comeback and won the game which forced me to rewrite my story. I learned to never make that mistake again.
After one tournament in Gray, Georgia, I was forced to race around to find a phone connection to transmit my story back to the newsroom. In those days, our laptops were the old Radio Shack kind which required a dedicated phone line to transmit. The school didn’t have the correct ones so I drove all over downtown to find a phone and eventually a nice lady at a convenient store let me use their phone just in time for deadline.
In one of the more interesting experiences was when I wrote a column that was critical of soccer and the World Cup. This gave me my first experience of receiving “hate mail” and the local soccer guru asking “Who is this Milton Hooper cat?”
I eventually left the Macon Telegraph but I missed the action and go hired with a new newspaper in Warner Robins, Georgia called The Herald. I worked with a great guy named Josh Kendall. Instead of covering all of Middle Georgia, we only had the schools in our county. I was able to cover some of my favorite teams.
One my most favorite memories was when the Warner Robins Demons’ girls basketball team was on their way to an outstanding season. I covered a lot of their games and had a great experience with their coach – Tom Mobley. It was always great talking to him and interviewing him for stories. We even worked out a deal where I road with the team when they made it to the state championship game. Unfortunately, the game did not turn out the way we had hoped but it was a very unique experience.
When the newspaper folded, I decided that was it for me. I have not worked for a newspaper since then although when I see an advertisement for a part timer, I get that urge again and it tempts me to apply.