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Times change, but the schedule doesn't

Feb 24, 2014 - By Randy Tucker

I figure I've written up about 2,000 games over the past 20 years -- and that's just basketball.

The first newspaper sports story I ever wrote covered a wrestling match between the Torrington Trail Blazers and the Lusk Tigers way back in the spring of 1981.

In those days, we wrote our own headlines for the Lusk Herald. Always a fan of alliteration I wrote, "Torrid Trailblazers Trip Tepid Tigers." I thought it was catchy, but the editor didn't agree. After a little persuasion, he came over to my side. We ran the headline. This fall marks 20 years writing sports for this paper. Thankfully, I don't write headlines anymore.

A quick scan of my computer files reveals about a mile of sports stories covering teams from Fremont County. By far the largest category is high school boys and girls basketball, with stories covering something like 2,000 games in the last two decades. Add about 900 football stories, 200 track meets, 50 wrestling matches, 30 volleyball games, 20 tennis matches, five swim meets and one soccer game, and you have a busy part-time job.

In the process of covering all these games, interviewing hundreds of coaches and trying to correctly spell the names of several thousand teenagers (especially overly sensitive teenage girls) there are a few incidents that stand out.

I had an editor a few years ago that was always hounding me to add more coach's quotes to a story. I disagreed. Coaches have thanked me universally for not quoting them very often, particularly in the heat of the moment.

Unlike the vast majority of sports writers who never coached at the varsity level, I've been in the coach's position -- furious at an official's call, an incident with a parent, administrator or with a player submerged in a fit of selfishness. Most of the time all I have to do is put my notebook down, and the coach reconsiders the comment.

Occasionally the coach adamantly tells me to write it just like he or she said it. I have a standard reply for comments that probably shouldn't be made: "If I print that, you're going to end up in the superintendent's office on Monday morning, and it's not going to go well for you."

That usually calms the wild beast. Most of the time the coach thanks me. But on a dozen or so occasions, the coach has continued to demand the quote be published as is.

In those cases I called the coach the following morning before my story went to press and read the quote back. The retraction rate is 100 percent. Those quotes never make it on the page.

So many parents and administrators now scour the pages looking for any excuse to "get even" with the coach, that there is no need to add fuel to the fire. There are writers out there trying to make a name for themselves on the back of the local coach's reputation, but count me out.

When I started 20 years ago a parent rarely spoke about a story. The only interaction we ever had was to request copies of photos. That's changed. The self-esteem movement (I prefer to call it the self-aggrandize movement) has found its way to the field, court, mat and track. It's not a good thing.

My friend Tim Ervin said it best a long time ago. "Parents can't be objective about their own children."

He was right. In far too many parents' eyes, little Nancy or Jimmy is just a step away from the NFL or the WNBA. At any rate, they're definitely Division I material, but only in their parents' myopic eyes.

I had a father stop me last year at the Class 1-A West Regional to inform me that his son was the best point guard in all of Wyoming. "Including Gillette and Casper," he said.

I couldn't resist.

"Who is your son?"

He told me.

I said, "Who?" and the conversation ended.

The kid hadn't even made the varsity on his 1-A team.

Sometimes it's jealousy within a team that presents itself in comments parents make. One parent recently informed me her child was just as good as the team star. Not too diplomatically, I replied "No they're not." Once again, conversation over.

The funny thing is that fans from a rival team I also cover overheard the encounter and a few weeks later parodied the incident back to me in hilarious fashion.

Maybe the best story didn't involve a parent at all, just an irate fan. Sadly, hopeless people sometimes align themselves with their local high school team in almost psychotic fanaticism. During a heated county rivalry game years ago, fans got all over one of the other team's players. The kid was cool. He grinned and blew a kiss to the angry section. I started laughing, and the fan didn't think it was funny. He came charging down to me as I took photos on the floor.

"You think it's funny?" he yelled.

"Yeah, it was pretty funny," I said. "Go sit down."

He didn't like my answer and a sheriff's deputy on duty came over to see what was going on. "Everything OK, Randy?" he asked.

"Sure," I said. "He's just a little worked up."

In a second the guy was jumping up and down screaming at the peace officer.

"I ain't afraid of you, Deputy Dog!" he yelled.

Long story short, he ended up on his face in the parking lot and spent the rest of the game in the back of the deputy's cruiser. The deputy watched the rest of the game, then took the clown to Lander to spend the weekend in jail.

So, to put it perspective, yes, it's your son or daughter's final game. I understand. But to me, it's Saturday night. I have six stories to write, and my deadline is just an hour away.

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Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired educator.

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