So you want to be a sportswriter: the high school column
Writer’s note: As explained in a previous column or two, I continue to write a Sunday sports column for my old employer, The Norman Transcript. Also, Saturday afternoon, the Norman High girls met Edmond North in the championship game of the Class 6A state basketball tournament, aka “STATE” at Lloyd Noble Center.
Though it’s not my usual fare at Oklahoma Columnist, and those same Sunday Transcript columns are simulcast here — or, really, vice versa — I still couldn’t not make that my Sunday column. It’s a state title game for a program that had already won two of the previous three crowns against the undefeated reigning champion.
Were it a conference title or national championship football game, or a Final Four, it would demand double coverage — game story and column; or even triple coverage: game story, column, notepad — so how can you not try to do that with your most important high school coverage?
When I was in charge at The Transcript, that meant doubling up on Crosstown Clashes — Norman High vs. Norman North — for football, basketball, soccer and baseball whenever we could; of course for state championship games and, occasionally, a huge regular season contest, like the night 9-0 NHS faced 9-0 Westmoore for a district football crown during the latter years of the great Butch Peters’ run atop the program (actually, I’m not sure we doubled up for that; but if we didn’t, I promise I wanted to).
If you’re a one-man or -woman shop, but you print just one, two or three days a week, good chance you’ve got the time to write both stories yourself, not facing a nightly deadline, so do it. Even if it becomes a critique and not entirely positive, and even if you get flack for it from some of your readers, they’ll come back and read you the next time because now they’re invested in your words even more.
Of course, if it becomes a critique, find a way to be true to yourself while also being sympathetic to your subject. Nobody played “terribly,” they “struggled.” Nobody was “dumb,” but “misguided.” No team “turned it over with wild abandon,” it just “couldn’t handle the pressure,” of the opponent.
When writing about colleges and up, take the gloves off. Just don’t forget it’s still about writing truth, not coming up with the most infuriatingly indefensible take, because once it becomes performative all you’re doing is shredding your integrity.
In summary, column writing good, even covering the high schools. Also, you’re not trying to make enemies, only tell a compelling, palatable, truth.
The one I wrote yesterday?
Not my best, because the story I was telling wasn’t the best, because it couldn’t be, because the hometown team lost. Still, a good column, I think, that got to the heart of the game, that placed the contest and the achievement (or lack of it) into context, that closed with high sympathy.
You be the judge.
As always, comments are welcome.
On the column itself, or the philosophy that led to its getting written.
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