When we rolled this venture out in December, this new digital outlet of ours, we wanted to be hyper-local. Our idea was to hit as much as possible in our local area and be there for our readers and advertisers. In doing so, we become more collaborative with the business, government and education sectors and actually become just as much a value to their respective efforts, as they are to ours.
This winter sports season, particularly this weekend, that took on a whole new meaning.
I played a lot of hoops as a kid and in high school. So covering these basketball teams, girls and boys, it became difficult for me not to signal the occasional travel while kneeling down with my camera. I’m sure many saw me signaling TRAVELLL! while covering the games. One game in particular I had to remove myself to the opposing school’s cafeteria because I was getting louder and louder with my disappointment in the referees allowing one very prolific scorer to slide around like Nancy Kerrigan on ice when she had two good knees.
I don’t interview opposing coaches. The main reason being that I just don’t have the time, but the other reason is I’m local..who cares what the other coach thinks about our teams, and that includes my brother John who coached a Wapello girls team that came back to score 31 points to beat my Holy Trinity girls team.
He kept trying to give me quotes on the way out.
“I’m not talking to you, couldn’t you think of your brother at a time like this? 31 points…really? I gotta go interview Tony now. Do you have any idea how fun that is NOT going to be? Take one for the team bro’!”
And I’m building relationships with these coaches, too. So these are MY coaches. Hyper-local, baby. You need something, I’m here, just don’t yell at me if I ask a tough question or seem stupid. I can do the hoops, man. I know defensive schemes, press configurations, box-and-1, 2-3 zones…but Fort Madison High School wrestling coach Ryan Smith must think I’m a bloomin’ idiot.
Wrestling I just don’t get. You try asking a Ryan Smith or Derek Doherty or Luke Rickelman wrestling questions when you honestly think there is a move called the “Pelican Brief”…something about contorting your opponent so he looks like a bird all while holding his singlet. I try to act like I know what I’m talking about, but more often than not, I just hold my phone up and they talk…helpin’ a brother out.
But in the media world, these are MY athletes. I don’t like it when I go into a lockerroom or gym and see other media talking to my kids. Get out.
It never hit home harder than this weekend. I was watching Ryan Steffensmeier wrestle the No. 1 ranked Drew Bennett in the quarterfinals of the state wrestling tournament in Des Moines. Mat 5… Wells Fargo…ref whistles action…and the boys start stalking each other. (You gotta see it, they actually slap at each other’s heads a bit. I think that’s like a handshake for us nerdy types).
Ryan pushes and pulls on Drew for a while and then gets tied up. Bennett tries and tries to get Ryan pinned, but you see…Ryan’s made of rubber! Remember Stretch Armstrong? That’s Ryan. He’s plastic coated and full of this pliable jelly stuff. I swore his arms were gonna come out of his skin. I literally…I’m not messin’ around…backed up. I felt awful for him…”Dude….that looks like it hurts…BITE HIM – or something.”
But Ryan kept fighting and squeezing his way out of a pin and Bennett never pinned him. I couldn’t have been more proud of a kid that wasn’t my own in my entire life. What he was going through at that moment, and he had to be thinking this isn’t going well, but he’s not going to pin me. And he didn’t. Ninety minutes later that same boy came out and pinned a kid in, like, 90 seconds. I told Smith after that match I thought I was going to hurl. Seriously. These kids get on the mat and my stomach’s in knots.
I didn’t get to see Ryan’s cousin Harlan Steffensmeier face the No. 1 kid in his 138 lb. division, Triston Lara, live because I had a commitment in town Friday night. But I went 83 mph on the way home to catch the match on television. But I’ll bet $20 that kid came off the mat with the same look on his face he has when he wins. I’ve got pictures, that kid’ll be wrestling his tail off and “look at me” over a body. The look in his eyes says one thing to me… “you’re next”. That young man knows what he’s doing.
And it’s not just the wrestling. I was genuinely excited when the HTC girls beat Central Lee this year, or when Connor Conrad put up 40 against Central Lee, or when Treavor Kokjohn put a dunk down recently. Cory Hopper did it, too, but on the other end of the gym so I didn’t get the picture. That kid owes me one.
The reason for this article is just to re-iterate. We are hyper-local. We do focus on our kids, our businesses, our schools and our people.
So every now and then, if you see me losing my objectivity, just smile. It can’t be helped. We’re on your side.
But that’s Beside the Point.