Must have been about 15 years ago. Can’t remember exactly, but it was back when I was writing sports for The Oklahoman.
I worked the “Preps” beat and it was easily the most-challenging of any of the jobs I had worked before or since. Remember, this was pre-Twitter and pre social media. The Newspaper-internet relationship was in its infancy. A lot of people still waited until the morning to get their sports news.
I loved that job. I loved that beat. I took a lot of pride in trying to know everything there was to know about high school sports in Oklahoma, the players, the schools, the traditions and of course getting to know the coaches, too. I got a charge out of the importance our paper gave to high school sports and the responsibility I had.
So, one June day when I got a call from then-football coach Gary Rose at Carl Albert High School asking if I wanted to join some of his coaches and a few others to play some golf, you can imagine how I excited I was.
Now, obviously I had a professional relationship with Rose and knew some of his assistant coaches, considering Carl Albert was an absolute powerhouse football program and was also successful in a number of other sports, too. I had spent a lot of time at Carl Albert covering a lot of different things and featuring their teams and athletes and was friendly enough with them that they knew I loved golf.
The truth is, while I had worked at two other newspapers before coming to Oklahoma City in the fall of 1998, I didn’t understand the need to develop relationships with the subjects I covered. Oh, I got to know some folks, but I didn’t ever make the effort until I was taught by a great group of reporters, including Mike Strain and Murray Evans and editors Mike Sherman and Berry Tramel, how important it truly was. Preps mattered. The Oklahoman was “The source” for high school news, and I’m glad to have been part of a group of sensational reporters who worked that beat before and after me at the paper.
Naturally, like most sportswriters, I had always wanted to be on the field, court – wherever. And not shockingly, like most sportswriters, I learned at an early age my playing career wasn’t going to happen. Writing about it was the closest I could get. I was definitely content with that.
Well, back to the golf. I went and played with Rose and his staff and then I went again. I became enough of a regular that they called me “coach.”
I never corrected them. Not once. Why would I? Pretty sure they called me “coach” because it was me and a group of guys who were actually all coaches. They just lumped me in with them. A clear oversight. I didn’t care. It was perfect.
Never told anyone this before and I certainly didn’t tell them then, but that was one of the most-important moments of my professional career. It was obviously an accident, they knew I wasn’t a coach, of course, but by calling me “coach” I got what I always wanted – to be part of a team. Finally.
I had been in lockerrooms after a big win. I had been on a team plane with a victorious group. I had been on the field, the court, the dugouts to see the best of celebrations, but those were never my teams, or my victories or my celebrations. When you give up playing on teams in seventh grade, that’s what happens.
Seems kinda silly. There was no team that summer day. It was just a bunch of guys with golf clubs, but to me, it meant I had developed enough of a relationship with enough different people that I was part of a group, a “team,” that had never been open to me before. It was my win.
Sportswriting is the opportunity to bring a perspective to the reader that he or she might not get. Sportswriting can be the go-between for the consumers of sports to the ones on the field and the court. I could never play, but this was my opportunity to be part of the game. I was never going to be able to be the player who ran onto the field in front of thousands of fans, or even got to wear my high school colors and represent something bigger than just me.
Sometimes I even wish I could play, or coach.
So, the next best thing was the desire to be accepted by those who have – the ones in the arena, under the helmet, or on the sidelines calling the plays.
That summer of golf, which turned into several more summers of golf with the Carl Albert coaches, provided me that.
Now, I don’t golf with those guys any more and I’m not on any “beat” any more either. I don’t do the lockerroom interviews with the Thunder or crash in a coach’s office to borrow a phone line so i can transmit a story back to the paper (we did that in the pre-internet days), but I think about those things a lot.
It’s been a long time since I’ve done any of that. I miss it. And it’s been a long time since I’ve been called “coach.” I miss that more.