MECHANICSVILLE, Va.—When I was much younger, dumber, and far more arrogant than I am at 52, I worked as a sports writer for a daily newspaper in Shreveport, Louisiana. While there, I suffered from a disease common to my profession: that covering high schools was beneath my (in my mind only) vast talent.
I have had nearly three decades to revise that viewpoint. My resume now includes two published books, international reporting on health and the environment, and a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. I have covered things that matter to the planet as a whole.
But, unlike in my youth, I now recognize the importance of my sports work—largely focused on high schools again—to the community I cover.
Monday, I found myself living a demonstration of that concept. A high school baseball team was in the first round of its conference baseball tournament. And it lost a game team members know they should have won.
The team’s season was over, and so were the high school careers of several kids I have known for years.
I could see the pain in their faces, but they are well coached, well disciplined. They maintained their sense of professionalism, tending to their home field even though they would rather crawl under the bases than pull them from the paths or smash the rakes against the dugout walls than smooth the scuffed portions of the infield.
Afterward, the mother of one came up to thank me for all that I’ve done for her son and family (which includes another son who is an assistant coach, and a deceased husband who was recently inducted into a softball hall of fame). I was uncomfortable—she was choking up and I avoided eye contact with her for fear the tears might be contagious.
I needed to get to another assignment. But before making a convenient exit down the left-field line to the parking lot where my car was stashed, I felt I compelled to do the human thing. I gave her a hug.
If that’s against the ethics of my profession, fuck the ethics.
In the parking lot, I found several of the players unable to leave—commiserating over seasons and careers that ended prematurely. As I passed them, I wished them well, but instead of nodding and getting back to their misery, they stood up, shook my hand, and again thanked me for what I had done.
Another—the son of the aforementioned mother—had been sitting in the cab of his truck with his girlfriend. He got out and intercepted me before I reached my car (I never saw him coming as my eyes were focused on the grass growing through the cracks in the parking lot) and thanked me, too.
Assuming anyone is around to write the history of the world 100 years from now, none of this will be deemed important enough to mention. But for these kids—young men—and their families and friends and teachers, my coverage meant something, something more than mere reports of emergent adults playing a game.
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