On Monday, Aug. 28, 1995, a cleancut young man, dressed in a smart coat and tie, walked through the front door of The Evening Sun office on Hale St. in Norwich, and into the newsroom where he sat down at his desk. A bit perplexed, he looked around, then called to assistant editor Karen Bergamo and said, “how do you turn the computer on?”
Not an auspicious start to my career, and who would have predicted an 18 1/2-year stay writing sports for Chenango County’s hometown daily?
It was a bumpy road those first few months, and I recently told a friend that I would likely shudder from embarrassment if I looked back at those early offerings. I have always thought myself best suited to autodidactic learning, so I worked to become competent at my craft. Now, 20,000 articles later, I respectfully submit my final piece as the Sun’s sports editor. I’m not patting myself on the back here, but I know it is written much better than my first.
Much of my job has been spent traveling to and from events, and during the tedious drives back to the office, I formulated some of my best opening lines. What you have read in the sports section for nearly two decades is the result of that brainstorming.
Early on in my career, the late Tom Schwan told me about the “two-day lead.” For a Monday paper, the events we cover are at least two days old, so Tom’s advice to me was to write a creative opening sentence to grab the reader’s attention. It was sage advice passed on to him when he began to freelance for The Evening Sun in 1969, and he passed on that useful technique to this fledgling sportswriter. I continue to use that technique today with every story that has my byline. Tom said that any hack can recite the final score in an opening sentence, but a real writer is not only creative, but insightful. I have kept those thoughts in mind with virtually every article I have written.
“These are the times we find out who we really are.” — Styx
As I was packing up for my move to New Mexico, I found a few trinkets of my pre-Evening Sun days. There were a couple of letters to the editor that I had written, and a few men’s softball league write-ups that I submitted to former ES sports editor, Tom Rowe.
The writing process – and the volume of writing – did not come easy to me that first year, and I was open to any and all helpful suggestions. I had zero journalism experience, but I was fortunate to have Tom Schwan as a guide my first few months on the job. I was stunned when I arrived for work on Tuesday morning, Jan. 23, 1996. The late Kathy O’Hara was the first to tell me that Tom had passed away the previous evening. I was nearly catatonic, and numb to the world for several hours. I had a small story left to write for that day’s paper, and I know I didn’t do it justice.
Tom Schwan was a vestige of the glory days of The Evening Sun when Norwich was a thriving small city, and the newspaper’s circulation was as high as it had ever been. As a young boy (I was probably seven or eight years old), my neighbor and friend across the street, Charlie Pike, told me about this thing called a “sports section.” He regaled me with all of the sports stories and statistics that were found each day in The Evening Sun.
Wouldn’t you know it? My parents were ES subscribers. From that day forward until I finished high school, I did not miss a day reading the local sports section.
“Why not think about times to come, and not about the things that you’ve done.” — Fleetwood Mac.
With graduation from high school came college. Four years later, I journeyed into the working world as a self-sufficient adult. Not once did journalism or writing for a living cross my mind. Four years removed from college, it still had not. I have recounted in these pages the day when my mom delivered a clipping from The Evening Sun want ads to my doorstep: Wanted, ES Sports Editor. I applied, but did not get the job. Six months later, the same job was advertised. Again, I submitted my application, and this time my editor for 18 years, Jeff Genung, and publisher, Dick Snyder, agreed to hire me.
From that point, I have seldom looked back. When a story is written, edited, and published, the contents of said piece are typically forgotten in short order. Like time itself, the newspaper business moves inexorably forward. We, as writers, can always count on something new; we have precious little time to indulge in a feeling of accomplishment.
“Don’t look back, a new day is breakin’. It’s been too long since I felt this way.” — Boston
The first days on any new job are filled with anticipation, excitement, and of course trepidation. I transitioned to three different full-time jobs in five years post college before settling in at The Evening Sun. It almost felt like stealing: I was about to be paid to attend sporting events. Of course, I also had to write about those events for you, the readers. Now that was a task for which I was not fully prepared. Now, writing a sports article comes quickly. In my 25-plus years of life before I started at The Evening Sun, I could probably count on one hand the number of sports articles I had written.
Even with all of this so-called experience, I still don’t fully understand field hockey’s rules.
“We have a normal. As you move outside of your comfort zone, what was once the unknown and frightening becomes your new normal.” – Robin Sharma
My mom once told me I was anti-social. Others close to me, in subsequent years, offered a similar opinion. I preferred the term “non-social.” Working in a highly public position, my tendencies to shy away from social situations were shed quickly. As a writer for a hyper-local newspaper, you’re constantly moving in and out of community events meeting the familiar and the new. One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from the great dame of the Sun, the previously-mentioned Kathy O’Hara. Kathy was often misunderstood, but she was, indeed, a erudite woman who had moved in some exclusive social circles in her all-to-brief life. She told me I was “personable.” I was so shocked by her perception, that I had to flip to the dictionary to make sure she was using the correct adjective. This job changed me – for the better – and it allowed me to meet some of the finest individuals in my lifetime.
To those with whom I have worked closest – the coaches – I will miss our conversations and our friendships.
Early in my career I befriended retired Greene coach and teacher, Bill Case. Bill quickly became a confidante, and we would spend hours on the phone talking about everything and anything separate from the game he was reporting to me.
When I think of consummate professionalism, diligence, and organization, two names from my first year (both are still coaching) come to mind: David Loomis of Otselic Valley and Bob Branham of Norwich. Both are now retired from the teaching profession, but are still at it as dedicated coaches whom I can rely on to report an event on that day of the event – without fail. I have never phoned either of these coaches as a reminder to call in a result, and they are among the few. A special thanks to Mark Abbott of Norwich, who also gave me all of the time I ever needed in reporting on Norwich basketball.
“You play to win the game.” - Herman Edwards
I have worked with hundreds of varsity coaches, and every one of them has coached to win. None have purposely sat a better player (except for discipline or injury) who would give his team its best chance to win. On the junior varsity and junior high levels, winning isn’t always the first priority. Yes, it is nice to have a winning team, but the purpose on the lower levels is to develop players so that they can one day help the varsity. Many times I have seen a bench warmer in grades seven through nine turn into a solid starter on the varsity. The best example of that is Norwich graduate Glenn Van Houten. The first time I saw him on the junior varsity, he was lucky to make it the length of the court without a foul or a turnover. Within three years, he was a key starter on a state championship team, and later, a Division III college player of the year in his conference. It’s every parent’s prerogative to second-guess a coach or question his substitution pattern. The reality is that most parents see their child’s ability through rose-colored glasses, but a coach does not.
“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are.” – Jim Morrison
In nearly two decades in the newspaper business, I have encountered so many unforgettable personalities, none more so than my colleague and friend, Frank Speziale. I remember my first day on the job. After figuring out how to turn on my computer, I went through my day researching old articles, and attending my first game, a girls’ soccer match between Norwich and Bainbridge-Guilford. Late afternoon that opening day, Frank walked in our office on Hale Street and introduced himself. While sometimes maddening, often quirky, and almost always goofy, Frank has as generous a heart as anyone I have ever met. Frank is the definition of unique, and he is talented in all of the arts. People know him as a photographer, but he is equally adept as an artist, sculptor, mason, musician, and carpenter. And of course – like most Italians – he loves his garden. People may think they know Frank based on what they see in the public. There is so much more to him: He is one in a million and he fills every room he enters with energy. Frank and his wife, Pat, are family, and he will be missed.
“For all of its uncertainty, we cannot flee the future.” — Barbara Jordan
My parents and grandparents lived in Norwich most of their lives. I have lived here most of my life, and my three children have grown up in Norwich. I am fortunate to have such a loving family, the best of friends, and a job that was never work. Yet my future now resides in Albuquerque. My partner Aida – the one with whom I intend to spend the rest of my life – lives there, and it’s where I want to be. Check that, it’s where I have to be.
I will miss this small community and all of the events and people that have helped shape my life. To my close friends and family, the miracle of 21st century technology will bridge the many miles. To the hundreds (maybe thousands?) of loyal sports fans, thank you for supporting your sons, daughters, grandchildren, and friends in what I believe is the purest form of entertainment: Athletic competition.
I will continue to follow the exploits of Chenango County athletes, and please feel free to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Goodbye to everyone, it’s been my pleasure to write about Chenango County athletics the past 19 seasons.
Oh, one more thing: Can someone please explain a field hockey obstruction?