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It's a whole new ballgame for covering sports

December 02, 2007|By JOHN LEAGUE

For several generations, sports have been a big part of my family's life. Sports also have been a big part of my life, as a participant, then a newspaper reader and, briefly, a sports reporter.

I can remember my father religiously following the Washington Redskins and WVU Mountaineers when I was a kid, and telling me about the big local high school football rivalry, circa the mid-1930s.

Two teams met annually on Thanksgiving Day, and the two small communities involved - Charles Town and Harpers Ferry, W.Va. - turned out in full force. Thanksgiving dinners, I was told, were planned around the big game.

That tradition didn't survive to my generation. Football season, unless you were competing for a state championship, usually ended by the first weekend in November. (Even the schools fell victim to the times, as they, along with Shepherdstown (W.Va.) High School, merged in the fall of 1972 to become Jefferson High.)

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When I was in high school in the early 1970s, only boys played on my school's sports teams, of which there were seven: football, basketball, wrestling, baseball, track, tennis and golf.

Old traditions die as new ones develop, all of which has changed not only who is playing the games, but what they are playing and when they play it.

High school sports are the backbone of any local newspaper, the same way pro sports are the province of metropolitan newspapers and TV stations. How we cover high school sports has changed over the years to keep up with the times. "The most noticeable difference in what was covered then (before 1980) and now is that, aside from (there being no) girls sports, if it wasn't high school football, it often didn't get covered," Mark Keller, our sports editor said, after spending several hours looking at Herald-Mail coverage from many years ago.

Spring sports were always difficult for a sports staff to cover back in the "old" days, because you had four teams competing. Although you couldn't cover each event, you could provide coverage if the coaches or managers called in the results.

Now, the number of high school sports has multiplied nearly six-fold, and the entire academic year is busy, from around Labor Day to mid- to late-May, with a few in-between-season breaks. During the season, there's a high school sport being played nearly every day or night.

I asked Mark to provide me with a list of the high school sports played in the area. During the course of an academic year, some 15 sports are offered to boys, and 15 for girl athletes on the high school level. Mark tells me Mercersburg Academy offers everything from skiing to squash.

Most public high schools aren't quite so ambitious, but nearly every school now offers girls volleyball, soccer, cross country, tennis, softball, track and field. For boys, soccer has long been a staple at most high schools, and the up-and-coming boys sport is lacrosse, now played at five area schools. That's thousands of athletic events to cover each year. It's a tough, demanding job, one that's often done with a daily deadline looming.

We have five full-timers covering sports, and another 10 or so part-timers and correspondents. If you do the math, you'll see we don't have enough people to get to all the games, so we do our best to pick and choose.

Our deal with the local high school coaches is this: Worst case, if you (or an assistant or team manager) call or e-mail the results of the game to us, and do so by deadline, we'll get the results in the paper. If you miss deadline, we'll publish the results the next day. Mark said he prefers that results are e-mailed because it reduces the risk of misspelled names.

Our sports staff has a tough job, and, I believe, does it well. Again as we do each season, we ask the coaches for their help. If you have questions, comments or suggestions, you can call sports editor Mark Keller at 301-733-5131, ext. 2332, after 4 p.m. daily or e-mail him at keller@herald-mail.com.

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

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