Friday, August 17, 2012

A cautionary tale

Here's a post from my old blog, "The Varsity Letters" ... I think it's a fun story and consider it a warning to area athletic directors.

No scaffolding please!

"We’ve all had them. Those moments when you ask yourself, "What the heck am I doing? Is this what has become of my life?" Sure, like most people, those thoughts occasionally bounced around the cranium, but anything along those lines was quickly forgotten Oct. 7, 2006 while covering a football game between Serra Catholic and Beth-Center in Fredericktown. (Remember, turn right at the butcher shop.) Both teams took unbeaten records into the game, and the winner would go on to claim a conference championship.
That winner was Beth-Center. The Bulldogs beat Serra Catholic, 13-6, on an unusually chilly Friday night and went on to win their first 11 games before stumbling against Clairton in the WPIAL Class A semifinals.
It was a major step in Beth-Center’s climb toward the upper crust of Class A football, a place the Bulldogs occasionally hang out.
It’s also the night I thought my life might end while covering a high school sporting event.
Normally, a big game at Beth-Center draws the likes of ... well, me. Maybe one other scribe, possibly a radio station. This Friday night was different as there was an unusually high media interest in the game, including a television crew. At a press box with the capacity of Beth-Center’s, accommodations needed to be made. So, for whatever reason, a 20-foot scaffold was staged behind the main spectator area.
I drew the assignment for the Observer-Reporter. Josh Yohe, the fine Penguins reporter for the Tribune-Review, drew the assignment for the McKeesport Daily News. As guys in the business go, we’re both pretty easy-going, not the type to throw a fuss over seating. So, when the press box became overwhelmed with people, the decision to look for other accommodations was made.
To the scaffold.
So, Yohe and I slung our belongings over our shoulders and made the climb. Twenty feet sure looked lower from the ground.
The conditions were far from ideal. In fact, they were a bit unsettling. But, at least, we figured a good story could be told.
As the game progressed, the wind picked up. The scaffold swayed. The temperatures dropped.
And that was only the first quarter.
Yep, this was going to be one long night, but the investment had been made and, maybe, the thought of getting down from the scaffold was more unsettling than actually being perched atop it.
Mercifully, the second quarter ended (only one half to go) and many of the game’s revelers headed toward the concession stand, located behind the scaffold and below the press box. Among those attending the game was a coworker and his son. The coworker stopped to chat during halftime. Actually, he came over to make fun of us for being on a scaffold. As the conversation continued, the coworker’s son began to rock the recently thrown together structure.
He wasn’t the biggest guy, but the scaffold wasn’t the most stable. What seemed like some innocent pushing on firm ground actually swayed the top of the scaffold with some serious movement.
Not sure what went through Yohe’s mind, but I pictured my immediate future including a rushed ambulance ride to Mon Valley Hospital.
This business, particularly at the grass-roots level, holds its share of surprises and difficult situations, but I sure hope it’s the last time an assignment involves scaffolding.
If it does happen again, it won’t happen as a member of the O-R sports staff as Tuesday night marks my last with the Observer Publishing Company.
Starting Monday, July 9, the main contributor to The Varsity Letters will be the sports editor of the Tribune-Democrat, located in Johnstown. It’s an exciting opportunity, one too good to pass.
The scaffold incident is one of many accumulated over almost 13 years working for the O-R, and definitely a favorite. One reason I waited so long to write about it is, well, I don’t find it necessary to write about myself.
Never considered myself part of the story.
Never will, this lame attempt an obvious exception.
Hopefully, after 13 years, readers realize my desire was to make high school coverage about the athletes. A novel concept, huh?
Made the occasional friend along the way. Made the occasional person(s) upset along the way. Cultivated sources. Worked hard. Every time a player, coach or parent complained about not being an Athlete of the Week, Player of the Year or Athlete of the Year, I felt validated.
When I arrived, Fort Cherry’s Mike Vernillo was ready to break the WPIAL career rushing record. Waynesburg football was set to establish a lasting legacy. Sports that rarely received coverage, were about to make some headlines.
These days, Twitter has become a popular vehicle for communication. Like many, I was hesitant in accepting social media. Like many, I no longer know how to do my job without it. (Yes, I will continue to track the future success of many student-athletes I’ve gotten to know in recent years via Twitter.)
It’s been one interesting ride, and one that lasted a lot longer than originally planned. Yet, it’s a stay I’ll always appreciate."

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