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Sports desk a fun but busy place

October 10, 2004|by JOHN LEAGUE

My career in newspapers began during some soul searching as a confused college sophomore.

I had taken classes in a number of courses, trying to find a major that suited my interests and skills. First, there was physical education, then it was on to education, then to business. None fit.

All the while, the academic clock was ticking while my savings account was dwindling. I was just as confused about what I wanted to do with my life as I was on the day I entered. Yet I needed to make a decision.

One night while driving around my hometown contemplating the options, something clicked.

I had had some modest writing skills. And I had always had a passion for sports.

So, in one of the wonderful moments of clarity, it hit me: What if I combined the two and made that my life's work?

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I saved my money and transferred to a college with both a journalism major and a college newspaper.

And on a cold day in January 1976, I summoned up the courage (along with a friend) to walk into the student newspaper and offer myself up as a sports reporter for my college daily.

From that moment on, my life was forever changed.

By the time I had graduated, I had left sports for news. Still, that was a special time. I loved every minute of it. Sports is where I learned about the basics of the newspaper business, and the hard truths about sports writing and working for a morning paper.

I learned to write by writing a story, sometimes two, every day. Hard work and a good editor went a long way. It's also where I learned to write on deadline. I can still remember the first night basketball game I covered. The game ended at 9:15 p.m., I had 12 column inches to fill, and I had to file the story by 10 p.m. The butterflies in my stomach that night were as large as hub caps.

The hard truths: I learned that working for a morning paper meant surrendering your nights, weekends and holidays to your career. That was easy to do as a single, 20-year-old college student. It's not so easy if you wanted your life to include marriage, family and a semblance of a social life outside the newsroom.

The late Darrell Kepler, who for a time served as The Morning Herald sports editor, for several years had a schedule in which he worked every night from Thursday through Monday, taking Tuesday and Wednesday off. Darrell was a single parent. I don't know how he did it.

One of the tougher jobs at The Herald-Mail (and at many papers) occurs every Friday night during high school football season. At 9 p.m., our sports desk is looking at four or five empty pages. No stories have been filed. No photos. No box scores. By 1 a.m., the stories and photos have been filed and edited, and pages completed and paginated, mainly with the results of local sporting events.

That's why, to this day, I respect and admire sports staffs at The Herald-Mail and elsewhere. Most who work in sports could do many other things with their lives. Yet their love of sports, or the newspaper, or writing keep them at the ballpark behind a portable computer pounding out stories at night, on deadline, frequently on weekends, and occasionally on holidays.

It's great fun, but it's a sacrifice.

So I salute our sports staff for the great job it does and the effort made daily so that the next morning, our readers can open the paper and relive games and events that are part of the fabric of our community.

John League is editor and publisher of The Herald-Mail. He may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7073, or by e-mail at jleague@herald-mail.com.

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