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A love of sports and of being first to know the news built a career for me

February 25, 2007|by JOHN LEAGUE

I've read many times by many different writers that regardless of how old we really are, in our minds we always see ourselves in our youth.

At my age, that requires overlooking a few very minor details, such as a balding pate, aching feet, a bad back and worsening eyesight.

I thought about that when I realized it was 30 years ago this year that I graduated from college.

Those college years are the prism through which I seem to view many things, perhaps because I've carried over to middle age many of those college-era passions and ideals.

I met my wife in college. We've had a great life. And we still try to get back at least once each year to a football game, where for one fleeting fall afternoon, we both feel as if we're in our early 20s again.

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While an undergrad, I spent most of my time at one of two places. When the weather permitted, I could be found on the basketball court across the street from my apartment house. It was usually three-on-three, make-it/take-it, games to 11, win by two. Winners stayed up. Losers sat.

It was an unusual day when there weren't two to three teams waiting for their shot at some court time.

We would play for hours, especially on those crisp, beautiful, early April days when you could feel the sunlight on your skin for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. (An eternity can be defined as a Morgantown, W.Va., winter!) I made some friends for life on that basketball court.

And though the playing days are long gone, my passion for basketball still burns, and I hold season tickets to the team I've followed since my youth.

For me, there's no better way to get away from the rigors of the day than to watch a basketball game.

The other place I spent an inordinate amount of time was the student newspaper office.

The student newspaper building was a dump. (Shortly after I graduated, the building was torn down to make way for a parking lot.) In the sports department, where I began my career, there were four typewriters, but only one had all of its parts in working order. It belonged to the sports editor.

Many of the chairs were broken. The desks and desktops were filthy. You usually had to wade through empty Coke cans, fast-food sandwich wrappers and french fry containers to find copy paper on which to write your stories. You could find more phone numbers (and jokes) written on the walls than in the Yellow Pages.

Half the sports staff smoked - we were dumb in the 1970s, and one image-conscious, 20-year-old columnist even smoked a pipe. If the cigarette smoke didn't get you, the stench from that pipe would.

I loved every minute I spent in that building.

I don't know about you, but I felt awkward and uncertain in my late teens as I was making the final turn from adolescence to adulthood. When I summoned the courage to walk through the front door into the sports department, offering myself as a volunteer reporter, for the first time in a long time, I felt I belonged.

That squalid newsroom, and every newsroom I've been in since then, was as comfortable to me as an old pair of running shoes. And writing about sports blended both of my passions.

When I began my career, I turned from sports writing to news. I loved being the first to know what was going on and the story behind the story. Though I haven't played basketball in years, I've been coming through the front door of a newspaper for more than three decades.

Just as I looked forward to playing basketball on those warm April afternoons, I look forward to coming to work each day. I still get a thrill each morning opening the paper and seeing what I have helped to create.

When I speak to young people, my message is always the same: Match your passion with your career, and you'll never work a day in your life.

It certainly has worked for me.

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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