Friday, September 2, 2011

Why I love High School Sports

I know I haven't written much the past month. It's a combination of writing so much for Bleacher Report and Cal-Hi Sports. Those have taken up most of my time and there's so much I've wanted to write, especially the revelations I found on my road trip. That will come later this month as I finish up the pieces for Cal-Hi Sports. Til then, I figured I'd tell you why I love covering high school sports.

Back in 2006, I was fresh out of college and looking for a newspaper gig. I was optimistic and inspired from ending my college life writing for the school paper. Yet I knew the jobs were scarce. One day, I drove to 5 papers around Los Angeles and tried to leave my resume. All I got was the "we're not hiring but we'll call you". Thanks to a friend of mine, I got a connection with the LA Sentinel but I still had to pass an interview with the editor.

Long story short (and a story for another day), I was hired in December but my first test assignment involved Narbonne High School and their girls' basketball program. My actual first assignment after I was hired was a basketball tournament at Westchester HS (one of the biggest bball powers in the state - alumni include NBA players Trevor Ariza, Bobby Brown, Amir Johnson and others).

During the tournament, I was assigned to cover a championship game. Verbum Dei vs. La Salle. I remember it well because it was raining and I had to take notes under my umbrella. It was Verbum Dei's first title in almost 25 years and I remember the excitement of being on the field, super nervous and trying to interview as many as I could.

It started me on the road toward covering high school sports. My editor told me from the start that everyone's going to cover the NBA and most folks will see USC/UCLA. Covering high school sports should be your bread and butter and I followed that mantra, covering high school basketball and track and field (where I saw future NCAA champion Jeshua Anderson dominate in 4 events). Those are where the unique stories are.

1st time I saw them: Brandon Jennings (3) had 5 dimes in the 1st Quarter, Jrue Holiday had a near triple double and DeMar DeRozan was possibly one of the best dunkers I ever saw in person. 
The following fall, I covered my 1st prep football season. I had a blast and I got to see how people were galvanized watching kids play football. I didn't have a football team in HS so I didn't see what Friday Night Lights was about until I started working.

Covering basketball not help me become a better fan and better player, it made me realize how much California has such a rich sports history. I've gotten to see a ton of great players as preps (Kevin Love, Larry Drew, Jordan Hamilton and Derrick Williams) and I've met great coaches and colleagues through it. I love watching future stars but I also love hearing how kids grew up together and love playing with each other at a school they dreamed of.

De'Anthony Thomas was a football/track standout at Crenshaw HS and one of the most special/humble stars I've been blessed to cover. He's now a freshman at Oregon. 
One of my favorite HS stories was covering Crenshaw High School's 2009 run to the state bowl game. They were the first school from the LA Unified School District to reach there. Overseeing their undefeated record was a coach who was part teddy bear, part disciplinarian and part comedian who genuinely loved his players and fostered a family atmosphere. They not only had their community on their back, they carried an entire school district that needed the positive feedback.

That's why I love this. I love seeing folks come out to support their teams. Every Friday for the last 5 falls, I've seen kids enjoy the game and I've seen some amazing performances, but I relish in seeing fans come out every week and embrace the newness of what they're seeing. I've seen incredible basketball games and seen how crazy HS track meets can be.

I only saw Matt Barkley (7) once but I got to know Robert Woods (13) as a superstar 2-sport athlete who believed  in being a good person and leader while at Serra HS
I'm proud to say that I got to see several USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins (Johnathan Franklin - one of my favorite stories - and Datone Jones) when they were HS kids. Yet I'm also proud to get to know kids who may not have played college sports, but were exceptional students and leaders. I'm glad I met parents and relatives who support their children and had interesting stories of their own.

I've covered USC/UCLA games and I love the atmosphere since my college games weren't as energetic. Yet I don't find it as satisfying as HS sports. I'm not naive to think prep sports isn't corrupted but it's more fun to see kids shine and enjoy their last moments of childhood. College sports feels like a business and while it's fun, I find more hypocrisy there than in high school sports.

I told people for years that I don't watch Friday Night Lights because I've lived it. I've lived it watching teams in South Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Orange County and the South Bay. I'm blessed because I get to say I knew future stars when they were just kids. I didn't know my dream would take me here but I'm glad it did.

I wouldn't trade my job for anything and I'm thankful that the Torrance Daily Breeze has kept me as a freelancer for this second season. Starting tomorrow, another HS sports year begins and I'll be on the sidelines looking for a good story.

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