By Michael Lewis
During the glory days of newspapers, many of us cut our teeth covering high school sports.
Yours truly was no exception. My first professional press pass in 1975 was a Section V basketball credential, which was more like a card, something that you can put in your pocket (Yes, yes, I know this is from 1977, not 1975, but I could not find my latter credential).
I loved covering high school sports, then and now. You get an opportunity to cover all sorts of sports, including, but not limited to football, basketball, soccer, baseball, wrestling, track and field, lacrosse, volleyball, softball, tennis and swimming.
My first beat was the City-Catholic League, a unique merger of the inner-city and parochial schools in Rochester, N.Y. It made for some intriguing scenarios. City schools always felt schools such as Aquinas Institute, McQuaid and Bishop Kearney recruited athletes.
Aquinas and McQuaid supporters hated each other and both sides felt I gave the other extra coverage. I wouldn’t have been surprised if some readers or fans were measuring column inches.
On the better side, I got to meet Ron Broadbent and Jeff Farnsworth, who were the head coach and goalkeeper at Spencerport High School in a Section V Class A championship game. Yes, they’re the same men who eventually became presidents of the United Soccer Coaches.
As a high school writer, you do your own stats and keep your own baseball box scores.
As any high school sportswriter will tell you, they can make for some interesting stories.
For example, the right field fence at Bloomfield High School was only 220 from home plate. So, whenever a ball flew over the fence, it was a double, no matter how far it was hit.
I remember a couple of games at Madison High School where a point somehow dropped off the scoreboard for the visiting team, even though my notebook said otherwise. Madison wound up winning by a point. Since my book was unofficial, I could have talked to the end of time commenting that something was rotten in the state of Denmark. The next time I covered a tight game at Madison, referee Gene Monje ran over to the desk where I was sitting and said out loud, “This book is the official book.”
In my first year as a writer, I covering the New York state wrestling tournament in Syracuse. I wound up writing three stories about the same event for as many editions. Yeah, I know some writers have to do it today, but I had some “primitive” materials — a typewriter (kids, ask you grandparents about what one was) and a telecopiers, which took either four or six minutes to send a typed page back to the newspaper.
So much news was being that day, I had to change the stories drastically from one edition to another. By the time my third and final story had to be written, I did not have time to type it out and telecopier it back. Instead, I dictated it, writing it as I went along, looking at one notebook for quotes, the other for facts. It was a crazy night for a rookie writer but a memorable and educational one.
After two years, I was given an offer I could not refuse by our sports editor, Phil Fuhrer, quite possibly the best editor I worked for, was looking for someone to work the late shift on Saturday and Sunday nights. The trade off was that I wouldn’t have work on crazy Friday nights when 120 teams in the Section V area (Rochester, the suburbs and the boondocks) would call in their results. Everyone on the desk would have to chip in taking those calls and several of us would do write-ups. So, I got Thursday and Friday nights off and I got to come in late on Saturday and Sunday. Yes, I got home later than usual after those nights, but it was worth it.
I got to understand the composing room and how a paper worked much better. The big thing down for the foreman was to get the paper out on time. Sometimes there were late-breaking stories, which certainly pushed things to the brink. I learned a ton of diplomacy in the composing.