The personal stories at the heart of sports bring out some of the best writing in journalism. The reporters of the following stories use active verbs, vivid nouns and sentence rhythms to craft strong images and a wide range of moods. We can all learn from them.
“Eat, drink and be scary” by Wright Thompson of ESPN Magazine is a first-person account of trying to eat like a football player. Thompson narrates his attempts to match University of South Florida defensive end George Selvie bite for bite during a day of binge eating. Here Thompson starts the competition at breakfast:
We sit down, and the waitress comes over. “Let me get the breakfast sampler,” he says. Two eggs. Hash browns. Some buttermilk pancakes with butter and syrup, plus the Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance of pork: bacon and sausage and ham. I grow confident: He’s not going to beat me on this triple-team. I own the pig. One of my best friends makes his own bacon and sausage and has a swine tattoo on his arm. Pig? Come into my kitchen, George. “I’ll have what he’s having,” I say. sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?section=magazine&id=3604181
Mike White’s “Funeral for a teen whose bravery touched so many” in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will grab your heart. White uses simple words to describe the service for John Challis, who while battling cancer smacked a single in his only time at bat for his high school team. What impresses us about White’s story is how he honestly shares his own emotions:
In almost 30 years of covering high school sports for the Post-Gazette, I have had scores of parents call in wanting coverage for their child or team or to complain about a lack of coverage. But on a night in late June, I got a parent call like no other.
“Mike, neither the doctors or me think John will make it more than another week,” Scott Challis said. “We want you to be the one to write John’s obituary. Will you?”
… I had never met John before I wrote a story about him for the first Sunday in May. I have interviewed thousands of high school athletes, but I have never cried interviewing one — like I did that day with John. Our photographer, Matt Freed, also cried while making a video of the interview for the Internet. John cried, too, when he asked me if I had any kids and I told him I had three sons.
[b]Determination and frustration
To protect pitchers’ arms, major-league managers usually restrict the number of pitches they throw in a game. But as Tom Wyrwich of the Seattle Times shows in “Former high school pitcher hopes rules are changed to protect young arms,” high school coaches often don’t take such precautions. Here’s how Wyrwich begins his story:
No way. Jason Koenig was not leaving this game.
On a crisp, spring evening, with the sun fading toward the Olympic Mountains behind home plate, Koenig’s baseball career at North Mason High School reached its peak — only moments before it disappeared.
Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez finds compelling stories in places far from the crowds. For a column about Olympic boxer Shawn Estrada, Lopez visits the hospital room of Estrada’s father, Juan, as his family tries valiantly to find a way for him to watch his son fight for a medal on television:
All day Friday, hospital administrators tried to wire the hospital for cable, so that if he was conscious and well enough, Juan could watch his son’s fight live on CNBC just after midnight. When the cable hookup failed, Time Warner technicians spent hours setting up a wireless connection so the family could watch the fight on a laptop.
But as midnight approaches, CNBC is streaming everything online except boxing. How could this happen? After cheering him on for years, Shawn’s family is going to miss the biggest fight of his life.
This is our last column for Quill as we move on to other adventures. We’ve enjoyed working with the good people at SPJ and sharing examples of great journalism with all of you.