Tag: sports writer

Friday Flashback: The Best Job I Ever Had

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I have had many interesting jobs throughout my life.  I have been in the military, worked as a private investigator and my current job as a litigation technology specialist but there was one job experience I will never forget.

I couldn’t believe it when I received the rejection letter for the job I had applied for.  I just knew I was the right fit for the job when I saw the ad in the Macon Telegraph Newspaper for a part-time clerk for the Sports Department.  I couldn’t believe they weren’t even going to interview me for the job.  Instead of tossing the rejection letter, I did something rather unorthodox – I wrote them back and told them it was a mistake for them not to hire me.  I would find out later that this impressed the Assistant Sports Editor so much that he called me for an interview.  I was hired for the position.

I didn’t start out doing the exciting stuff – far from it.  In fact, it was rather boring in the beginning.  I worked my shift taking phone calls from coaches and stat people on their baseball, softball, golf and whatever sports was being played in the spring.  I would take the information and type it into their antiquated computer system.  It was some form of a Macintosh system which was quite the learning curve for me. I was also trained to do the scoreboard section of the newspaper.  This involved me making some important decisions on what to cut or what to add to fill in the space that was available in the sports section of the newspaper.  I would do my best to measure the section and then send it downstairs where they would print it out and position it.  Before the deadline of each edition, I went downstairs and told the press operators what to cut and how to fit the scoreboard in.  I’m sure they probably do that a lot different now.

Remember this was a part-time job for me.  I was already working a full-time job at the time and I worked three nights a week at the newspaper.  My shift would run anywhere from 6 p.m. to Midnight including some weekends as well.  During the week I would go straight from work to the newspaper.  It was a hectic schedule at times and, although I liked getting paid, I enjoyed what I was doing.

The first five months breezed by and I thought I had a handle on the job until the first night of high school football hit the sports department.  I was warned but hardly prepared for the chaos which occurred in the newsroom on a Friday night in the fall.  It was madness.  Phones were ringing off the hook.  People were scampering everywhere.  Stress levels were on DEFCON status.  It was quite an experience which has caused others to quit with little or no notice.  The phone calls were called in at a frantic pace.  It was just for the scores of the games but statistics and short details of each contest.  One of the things that was required was to get the stats for BOTH teams in a game.  At times, most people calling in where giving the stats just for their team.  I got a little experience writing a short paragraph on a few games from the reports that came in.  One of my hidden talents which often amazed folks in the newsroom was that I knew the mascots for every public school sports team in the state of Georgia.  My memory isn’t as good now but back then I could tell you every nickname from the Villa Rica Wildcats to the Johnson Atom Smashers.  I loved being involved with sports.

Writing those short blurbs got something started inside of me.  I soon felt the desire to do more.  I approached the Sports Editor one day about letting me cover a sports event and write about it.  He obviously thought I could do it because one day he gave me an assignment to cover an American Legion baseball game in Cochran, Georgia.  It wasn’t the major leagues or even the minor leagues but I didn’t care.  It was a start.  In the game I wrote that Post 3 dented the scoreboard – literally – when Mark Johnson hit a homerun off the outfield scoreboard.  Johnson would later be drafted by the Chicago White Sox.  The team also had other future major league players such as John Rocker and Russ Branyan.  It started another phase for me in the job for me and I loved it. You can’t imagine the thrill of seeing your name in the byline of a sports article.  The Sports Editor eventually promoted me to another part-time position which allowed me to cover more sporting events.  I wasn’t the best writer but I learned a lot about it and enjoyed covering the games.

Here were a few of the experiences that come to mind:

  • Spending an entire Saturday covering the midget football Super Bowl games.
  • Covering four high school football games in three days at one stadium.  When the public address announcer failed to show for one of the games, I decided to give it a try.  I have never done that again.
  • Covering the Flag City Shootout which was one of the world’s largest softball tournaments at the time.
  • Being forced to climb on the roof of the press box at West Laurens High School to cover a high school football playoff game.
  • Covering the first game played when Middle Georgia College resurrected their football program again.
  • Witnessing sports writers from Nassau, New York get kicked out of the press box at Georgia Military College for criticizing the officiating at a junior college football game.
  • Packed like a sardine in small private school gyms during holiday basketball tournaments.
  • The time I had my story finished and scrambling to change it when the losing team came back to win.
  • Locking my keys in the car when at a private school football game and an FBI agent helping me get it unlocked.
  • The girls’ basketball coach who wanted to read what I was going to write and got mad at me when I wouldn’t let her.  Sorry but her team stunk so it was a challenge to write a positive article anyway.
  • Using that darn Tandy Radio Shack portable computer.
  • Driving all over Gray, Georgia looking for a phone line to send my story back to the newsroom.
  • Wade Moore – the best stat man ever.
  • Learning how to do scoring in baseball.  I could have done better with college level algebra.  Believe it or not, the easiest sport for me was basketball.
  • My first ever trip to Sanford Stadium and meeting the legendary Larry Munson.
  • My first experience writing a story on an Atlanta Falcons game.
  • Going into the Falcons’ locker room to interview players.
  • Doing my best to keep from being one of those sports writers asking dumb questions.
  • Standing at the locker for Andre Rison with other reporters waiting to interview him and being told that he had ducked out to avoid being interviewed.

I was also given the opportunity to write sports columns which also produced my first “hate mail” when I was critical of the United States hosting the World Cup and how boring soccer was to Americans at the time.   At least they were reading it right?

I had never dreamed that I would want to be any kind of writer but being a sports writer lit the fuse inside.  I can assure you that it isn’t as glamorous as you might think.  It is a LOT of work and very stressful but I loved it.

So why didn’t I do this job full-time?

I tried.  When openings came up in the sports department I applied but was turned away for various reasons.  One time I was told that although I was talented, the newspaper wanted to hire a minority for the position.  Yeah, that one threw me a curve ball.  Another time I was told I just didn’t have enough daily experience although, at the time, I was doing more work than some others.  I also assumed that the absence of a college degree in journalism hurt my chances as well but sometimes you just don’t know what you want to do until you are doing it.  That’s kinda how this happened for me.

I decided to leave the Macon Telegraph but it wasn’t because I was never hired for a full-time position.  Actually, I was promoted at my full-time job and I needed to cut back on the part-time work.  I attempted to work for a newspaper closer to where I lived at the time in Warner Robins, Georgia but the place was badly mismanaged and headed toward going out of business anyway so my time there was very short.

At some point later a new newspaper was launched in the county and I went to work with the sports editor there.  I covered a lot of high school football and basketball in our county which was different than coverage in the larger Middle Georgia region.  I had some good relationships with most of the coaches.  I got to know the coaches at Warner Robins, Westfield, Perry, Northside and Houston County.  I even accompanied one of the coaches and his girls’ basketball team on their trip to play in the state championship game.  I had hoped for a better outcome but unfortunately I had to write a different story.  Covering that girls basketball team that season was magical and something I have never forgotten.

This part-time job which started out as being a “stringer” led to many other writing opportunities for me.  Although I have had some success with writing for magazines and self-publishing a few books, I think back to those days in the sports department at the Macon Telegraph.  I will be honest with you and admit that I am tempted when I see an ad for a part-time sports writer now, especially when football season approaches.  I won’t say that I won’t come out of retirement and do it again but it is not very likely that I will.

Looking back on it now, I am glad I was never hired for a full-time position.  It all worked out the way it should and I have had success with my current job but I still feel that twinge on Friday nights in the fall.

 

 

 

 

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Friday Flashback: Sports Writer Days

sports_writer_385x261-300x203In 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.

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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.