So you want to be a sportswriter? It's all about details … and a lot of words on disc golf, too
This one’s about writing.
Also, I must confess, it’s sort of all I’ve got right now, and for that I apologize.
Last week, for the great Gwenda’s birthday, we took a little mini-trip to Jonesboro, Ark., to take in the “2023 Play It Again Sports Jonesboro Open, presented by Prodigy.”
Should you know what that is, bully for you, because it’s disc golf and disc golf is fabulous.
Indeed, laying down the dough for VIP tickets — $30 a pop — all in one day, we followed from inside the ropes, sometimes from mere feet away, the Nos. 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 21 and 34 ranked players in the world, and some others whose names did not ring bells and have since been forgotten.
If curious about the notables corresponding to that list of numbers, they would be, in order, Calvin Heimburg, Eagle McMahon, Simon Lizotte, Paul McBeth, Isaac Robinson, Chris Dickerson, Niklas Anttila, Kevin Jones and Garrett Gurthie.
I entirely recommend the sport as a thing to play, watch live and watch on screen, and YouTube is littered with the sport.
I’m convinced it’s bound to be the next big thing.
Heimburg collected $8,000 for winning the men’s division, Kat Mertsch $4,250 for winning the women’s. Yet, just the week before, at the season’s first major, the PDGA Champions Cup, Robinson reigned and collected $14,000, while Kristin Tattar, who wins dang near every week, claimed $8,500.
All that and McBeth, now in the third year of a 10-year, $10 million contract contract with disc maker Discraft, won $20,000 last September for claiming his sixth PDGA World Championships.
Point being, it’s kind of a thing.
All right, I don’t apologize.
Disc golf is awesome.
Still, I digress.
So I was out of action Thursday through Sunday.
The Sunday column I hope you enjoyed, about Brent Venables’ alleged rightness, was actually written last Wednesday, before hitting the road. And upon returning, putting out a few fires that needed putting out has delayed output, as has helping my old newspaper, The Norman Transcript, with the first week of the OSSAA state soccer playoffs.
Believe me, I’m well aware Kevin Stitt and Ryan Walters have repeatedly struck again, and I promise to get back to them, but what I have now are the two stories I pounded out for The Transcript Monday and Tuesday nights.
The first, a girls contest between Community Christian School and Crossings Christian, was written Monday after the two teams played.
It’s the second best of the two, because I had more time to write it and I used it to grab a bite, come home, and see and feed the dogs before beginning to pound the keys around 9:15 p.m.
Maybe too many goals were scored to make the writing what it should have been. Maybe the delay to write washed away all the adrenaline that might have made it better.
The second, a boys game between Norman North and Northwest Classen from Tuesday night was written from the stadium, between 10:15 and 11:10, the game having ended about 10, and me grabbing some quotes, adding up some stats and breathing for a minute or two before hitting the keys.
Against a get-it-done-now deadline, and my own sense of what the story should be, I think I wrote about 650 very good words. And yes, that’s a LONG game story, but I like telling bigger stories.
My favorite thing is writing columns from events. My second favorite thing is writing stories from events. Strong, big, ambitious features are often the best stories of all but, alas, they’re often gathered on the phone and written from the office. I prefer the electricity of being on site.
Also, I pride myself on never, ever, writing a “boring gamer.”
Maybe I pulled that off with these two.
Here are those stories, with notes in the margins about emphasizing details, details, details, because all good writing demands them and they’re available everywhere.
Behind Canty, others, Royals roll through first round
By Clay Horning
For The Transcript
The chances a Norman soccer team exits the playoffs with a state championship this postseason appear to be very good.
The Norman North girls have won two of the last three Class 6A crowns and, after finishing runner-up a year ago, stand unbeaten.
But what about the possibility of a second title team coming from Norman and who might it be?
One strong candidate made quite an impression Monday night at Royal Field, home to Community Christian School.
Community Christian is Norman’s private high school. It’s smaller, but its fans love their sports and appreciate coverage. For that reason, when their teams are legit good, deserve the pub and are indeed great stories, I try to tell great stories. Placing them into a context that includes the Class 6A programs in the city elevate the Royals, a Class 3A program. That, and every detail mentioned that present that context is available at OSSAA.com and OSSAARankings.com. They’re not hard to find.
Behind Elle Canty and other stars, the CCS girls rolled past Crossings Christian 7-0, making the first round of the Class 3A playoffs appear easy.
“We started off a little slow, but once we kind of got through the nerves, we started working together,” Canty said. “We started playing up and through balls and we finished our chances.”
Canty, only a sophomore, was electrifying, completing her hat trick with 13:16 remaining in the first half, then setting up the Royals’ next two goals, making it 5-0 with 29:55 remaining, then moving back from the attack to spend her time keeping the Knights from earning their way past midfield.
You’ve got to trust your own eyes and Canty was indeed electrifying. Thus, it’s acceptable to treat it like a fact, not an opinion. Note also the mention she’s a sophomore, which puts greater emphasis on her star power, as well as the mention about how she was used on the field after CCS built its big lead, because it offers something about the strategy and philosophy of her coach (who becomes a bigger part of the story later).
Nor was it all Canty.
Her first goal, though, was all her: gaining possession on the Royals’ side of midfield, becoming the fastest player on the pitch with the ball, dribbling through Crossings’ defense, leaving only the keeper to be beat, which she did.
I really wanted to compare her to Russell Westbrook, the way he used to be faster with the ball than everybody else without the ball, which ought to be impossible. Alas, I thought it would kill the flow, and I wasn’t trying to make the story all about her. At least I got the basic observation in the story, which was another fact, not an opinion.
The run she took to earn goal No. 2 was similarly exciting, yet made possible by freshman Tatum Smith, whose precise through ball put Canty beyond the Knight defense, leaving only the keeper to deke, which she did, before rolling the ball into the empty net.
Mikalin Doan set up the third goal, a chance that included Canty being stopped, only to finish the rebound from inside the keeper’s crease.
Just 4:13 later, it was Canty with the assist, picking her way through defenders across the end boundary, then crossing to Haddee Griffin, who popped it home for a 4-0 advantage.
Beyond Tatum Smith, another freshman, Berkley Smith, stole her own part of the show.
A left-side defender, part of her duties included taking every left-side distance-premium throw-in, a feat she accomplished by using the ball as a brace and flipping her entire body before release: an actual flip throw-in she must have executed 10 times.
CCS’ first goal of the second half began with a corner kick from Tatum Smith, followed by a deflection from Canty, to the foot of Presslee Hartsock, whose first swing was stopped but not her second.
The Royals’ sixth goal, also from Hartsock, came with Doan’s second assist.
The game’s final tally was earned by Tatum Smith, who was taken down from behind in the penalty box; yet delivered by Doan, who took the penalty chance, cleanly beating the Knight keeper.
Many sportswriters think it’s good enough to just get the goal scorers in the story, or the shot makers in the story, or the kid who gets the big hit. Yet, if others make it possible, that can be part of the story, too, so at least have it if you need it. It was clear CCS’ coach wanted to give Doan a chance to score after assisting on two goals. But Smith still made the goal possible by drawing the foul and therefore deserves credit.
I tried to go through every goal as fast as I could, to not get bogged down in them because, seriously, you’re not required to mention every run that crossed the plate, every TD in a 52-45 game or every goal in 7-0 game. But CCS doesn’t get covered much so I tried to get to them all and fast. Still, I might have lost some flow in the effort. Oh, well.
CCS’ success was emblematic of its entire season under first-year coach Don Rother, who Norman soccer fans ought to recall as the very successful former coach of the Norman North boys and girls, the latter of whom he guided to the 2014 Class 6A state title.
His current team is 13-2 (6-1 District 3A-2), its only losses to unbeaten district champion Heritage Hall in a shootout and Class 4A Chickasha by a single goal on the Chicks’ home pitch.
“We’ve had some success and, obviously, I’ve got some talented players, so that makes my job easy,” Rother said. “But I think they believe in themselves now and have a chance.”
I did not even know Rother was at CCS until I saw him on the pitch, but I’ve known him forever and as soon as I saw him I knew there was a bigger story to tell. It helps to know the history of the people you bump into, but if you’ve been covering the same bunch of schools for any time at all, you’re bound to know some history, too. Also, note that I could have called Rother a “former state champion coach at Norman North” and maybe that would have been good enough. But it’s not. The year he won the state title was easy to look up, as was CCS’ game-by game-results — who beat them — and those are the types of details that let your readers’ know you’re looking out for them, so dig them up. All it takes is one minute and the internet, which is on your phone.
Rother was missing his best defender, Kali Matney, who was nursing a sore ankle. She should, he said, be back in the lineup for Thursday’s quarterfinal date at Oklahoma Christian School.
That should help defensively.
And the Royals know they can score.
Canty pushed her season totals to 42 goals and 23 assists, Tatum Smith to 17 goals and 20 assists and Hartsock to 18 goals and eight assists.
“We’re dangerous in the attack,” Rother said.
All those numbers, the mention of Matney, knowing the nature of her injury and the fact she’s the Royals’ back-line leader? I got them from the guys doing the PA in the press box, confirmed her role and future availability with Rother, and was able to close the story looking forward. So get there a few minutes early and ask some questions. I hadn’t covered CCS all season, but as long as I was there, I tried to do it right. Getting the details straight, and using them, make that possible.
Oklahoma Columnist is a reader-supported venture. Free and paid subscriptions are available, but the best way to keep this thing going is to purchase a paid subscription for $6/month, less if you purchase an entire year.
For T-Wolves, a tough night to be the Knights’ opponent
By Clay Horning
For The Transcript
Here’s how good it was for the Northwest Classen boys Tuesday night at Bryan Young Memorial Field.
The Knights weren't sure who scored the game-winning goal of their 3-1 shocker-of-an-upset over Norman North, nor did they seem to care.
The result was plenty.
Despite finishing fourth in District 6A-1, Northwest remains one of eight teams standing and can become one of four on Friday night when they take on Putnam City West.
Admittedly, I have a soft spot for Oklahoma City Public Schools. I grew up two miles from Northwest Classen and my dad spent two terms on the district’s school board. So maybe that’s why I had no qualms leading with the opponent rather than the hometown team. Also, the hometown team lost, so maybe spend some time on the opponent and not make the hometown team wallow in its failure.
Further, I went to several Northwest players and coaches trying to nail down the scorer of that second goal. They didn’t know. Maybe somebody nudged it across, maybe they nudged it across after it was over the line, yet nobody claimed credit. So it could be a sportswriter’s nightmare, trying to write around the lack of knowledge of a goal scorer; or it could be a great note — a huge detail — from a great win. I went that direction and made it my lead. Don’t be afraid to use what you know (or what you don’t know) creatively in service of the story.
Though he didn’t think his team offered its very best, North coach Kahlil Benalioulhaj gave the Knights all the credit.
“The should have probably finished second in their district but they finished fourth,” he said. “They felt like the odds were stacked against them and, like most underdogs, they gave everything they had and they did a fantastic job.
“They executed their game plan very well. They put three goals in on us and we hadn’t given up a goal several games”
About the Knights’ second tally?
It came with a few ticks less than half an hour remaining when Federico Palacios took one of those fantastic corner kicks that takes a turn at the top of its flight and heads toward the net.
North keeper Will Sutherlin, who entered having not allowed a goal since the Timberwolves spent a weekend out of state more than a month ago, was there to stop it, though the bending-hard-and-fast ball somehow squeezed through him.
What wasn’t clear was who put it in the net, Palacios from distance or a teammate on the doorstep?
Nobody on the Knight bench could come up with a name, leaving Palacios to finish with a goal and two assists rather than a hat trick of helpers.
But for the bleachers on Northwest’s side, the score took the wind out of the stadium and seemed more and more impossible as the game continued.
I can tell I was enjoying writing this in real time. The flow was there. I was typing fast. I got out of the lead, brought it back to North’s coach for a good quote and then returned to the lead, with the details to make it come to life: describing the arc of Palacios’ corner kick; naming the North keeper it squeezed through; explaining the success that keeper had been riding coming into the game, all of which was available at OSSAARankings.com, where anybody could see North had pitched five straight shutouts and that the T-Wolves were last scored upon in an out-of-state tournament. I’m pretty sure that tourney was in Alabama — Huntsville was the last opponent — but I couldn’t be positive and couldn’t find out at 10:45 p.m. trying to be done by 11, so I wrote it the way I wrote it.
Impossible because the T-Wolves might have owned possession at an 85-15 rate.
Impossible because at almost no point did North seem to have less than a three-to-one shot advantage before ending the contest with 21, 13 more than Northwest.
Impossible because Knight keeper Wilmer Cruz finished with 12 saves, about half of them difficult and huge.
Northwest proved it was dangerous early, carrying possession and making North’s back line have to stiffen in the opening two minutes.
From there, the game appeared to turn, the T-Wolves owning the ball, the chances and pretty much everything until Palacios found Jose Regalado in the 19th minute from short range on the left side, handing the Knight’s the game’s first lead.
All of this up to Northwest scoring the game’s first goal is an example of believing what you’re seeing and letting your own eyes be your best sources. I took notes, on opportunities and game flow, and kept stats, too — details, details — and with that was able to back up observation, adding authority to the description.
North tied it with 4:06 left in the half when Owen Whitman put the ball past Cruz from near the PK mark off a feed from Bostyn Carroll.
Not 30 seconds later, North broke through two-on-one, Tyson Simmons and Alex Sonne against a lone Knight defender, who chose to defend the ball. That left Sonne to send it to Simmons, who one-timed it from about 13 yards only to be stoned by Cruz.
I did not know I’d later chronicle North’s best scoring chance that didn’t go in. I only knew I might need it, so I wrote down the details: the defender’s choice, the pass, the one-timer, the save, the numbers of the players with names to be added later. You could tell a story without that kind of specificity, but why would you want to?
North (10-5) finished with 11 post-intermission shots, six post intermission corner kicks and what seemed like chance after chance.
Yet Cruz kept getting in the way of the best of them, while others weren’t struck solidly and others finished wide or over the frame.
One of those nights when one of those nights can’t be afforded.
Benalioulhaj said “not finishing” had “been a theme” during the regular season.
“We were close many times,” he said, “but close isn’t enough.”
Despite going out in the first round of the playoffs, the T-Wolves still took home the District 6A-2 crown, running the table one season after claiming the program’s seventh state title.
That, and the journey can still be its own reward.
“So grateful for all of these players,” Benalioulhaj said, “and for all the hard work they put in.”
When the hometown team loses, or its season ends, you have to chronicle the failure, but you don’t have to kick it when it’s down. For the high schools at least. Porter Moser’s Sooner basketball team is a different story. I digress … Anyway, Benalioulhaj and the T-Wolves won their district and won state a year ago, so it’s good to remind everybody. It’s good, too, to close with a positive quote. Voila.
That’s it, that’s the story. Or the stories. Or the stories about the stories.
Hope it was helpful.
Hope you enjoyed.