On The Road

February 7, 2008 – 12:59 am by Ryan Phillips

So I’m sitting in my lovely hotel room in Southeastern Indiana tonight and suddenly I realize I just wasted two days of my life. Those two days were spent covering the opening round of the riveting 2A sectional round of the girls state basketball tournament. I drove nearly two and a half hours, checked in to the local Holiday Inn Express and covered two games in two days for the newspaper I work for. It’s late Wednesday night, I’m done with the work I have to do here and have to checkout by noon tomorrow so I can race back home to cover a boys game. Tomorrow my assignment is to make the match up of an 8-8 team and a 4-13 team sound interesting.

Yes, this is my life.

To let you strangers in on what I just went through over the last two days, in Indiana there are four classes based on the size of your school. In basketball, 4A is the largest, therefore Class A is the smallest. I was covering 2A teams. And smaller schools tend to have pretty bad teams, especially (not to be sexist) in girls basketball.

So I drove here, stayed alone in a random, nothing-above-average hotel and wrote a total of 900 words about two games. Games that featured high school girls playing something that didn’t remotely resemble the game Dr. Naismith envisioned. I’m pretty sure he rolled over in his grave. Several times. In fact, I heard a rumor that Heath Ledger was going to show up to watch these games, but he took the easy way out. Too soon?

Now look, I know lots of people say “oh being a sports writer would be awesome, all you do is watch sports then write about it,” hell I even thought that once. Then I became a sports writer. Oh sure I get to write the occasional column that plays really well with the audience and sometimes you stumble into covering a really interesting or compelling event. But between the angry calls from parents pissed that you spelled their kid’s name wrong or shorted them a rebound in your box score, and the mountain of awful assignments (Hey Ryan why don’t you go cover a wrestling regional this Saturday? Great, it starts at 9:30 a.m. and should be finished no later than 6 p.m.) this gig wears you down. Plus, newspapers are dying. You know the storyline on The Wire about how the newspaper business is going down the toilet and they have to do “more with less?” That’s not just good drama or a clever way to tie something in with the way the city is having to cutback on all of its programs, it’s a reality.

I know you have to start somewhere but over the one and a half years I’ve been doing this I’ve had to cover some pretty awful things.

Example: Over the past two football seasons, I had to cover a small, local high school football team that is currently on a 36-game losing streak. Their last win was by forfeit, they actually lost the game 58-6. The last time they won a game on the field was 52 games ago. They edged out a 26-12 win over the Indiana School for the Deaf. The last time they beat a team that could hear the snap count was in 1998, my senior year of high school. So it has been 97 games and almost 10 years since they’ve actually managed to win a game that should count. And I’ve had to cover them six times. Do you have any idea how hard it is to write a story when the football team you’re covering loses by more than 60 points on a weekly basis?

I digress. The point of this post is that I came all this way for what amounts to no good reason. Yeah I’m getting paid and I guess it’s experience but still, it feels wasted. Plus, I drove for nearly 2.5 hours and watched two excruciating games and no one had the decency to laugh when I answered the question “So are you a reporter?” with the line “No but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.” I’ll never be able to use that joke again and it was a total dud because no one was aware it was a line from a commercial.

So this week’s long road trip brought a few things in to focus for me.
1. I need to workout more or I’m going to start looking like all the guys who sit next to me in press row at these games.

2. Women’s basketball is not, in fact, basketball, therefore we should call it something else. I propose we call it Turnoverball, 25% Ball (to go with the shooting percentages), Hackball or Cure-for-insomniaball. Someone please get on this, calling it basketball is insulting to far too many people.

3. Sometimes, this job really sucks.

4. I wish blogging paid better.

5. This Holiday Inn Express smells like smoke, whiskey and feet.

6. I don’t think I could ever do another job because I love sports so much.

7. My future wife (Whitney Port) better be OK with me making less than her, at least for a while.

8. Now I know why guys totally sell out and work for ESPN.

9. Casino buffets are horrible.

10. “I write for the newspaper” doesn’t impress girls like it did in college.

11. There is nothing more boring than waiting around in a hotel room, in a middle-of-nowhere Indiana town, to cover something.

12. Having a big truck and driving all over the damn state to cover things isn’t good. Especially when you have to spend the GNP of Belize just to fill up your 25 gallon tank.

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  1. 19 Responses to “On The Road”

  2. Probably one of the funniest things Ive read in awhile

    By World of Isaac on Feb 7, 2008

  3. Um, try getting a new, better paying job.

    By Anonymous on Feb 7, 2008

  4. When I was in high school at a boarding school in Ontario, I played for my basketball team. We were A, out of 4 different levels like in Indiana. We weren’t that great, went 8-10 or something along those lines my senior year. Our girls team was real good, went 14-0 and won the provincial tournament for not just A, but AA as well. So at the end of the year, we decided to play a full game with them, JV coach was a ref. We beat them 90-6. I hate high school women’s basketball.

    By Anonymous on Feb 7, 2008

  5. If the photo in your blog is of Whitney Port your future wife you have no right ever to complain about any job assignment for the rest of your life, even if that means covering middle school girls basketball.

    By Anonymous on Feb 7, 2008

  6. Ha, that’s great. I worked for a small Pennsylvania newspaper for two years. The good news is that I got to cover Penn State football. The bad news was the rest of the job. You think girls’ basketball is terrible, try covering the Pennsylvania state swimming championships. Four days (FOUR DAYS!!!) straight of high school swimming. They used to take place at Penn State, which wasn’t too bad, but three years ago they moved them to Bucknell, a boring university so far out in the middle of nowhere that Jesus couldn’t find it with a GPS. There are three hotels in the whole town, and you can bet Norman Bates would feel comfortbale in all of them. Lots of tail walking around, too. Or not, since it runs during spring break, all the college girls are home and the bars are deserted. Oh, and did I mention the entire event takes place during the opening weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament? Yeah, watching uncoordinated high school chicks try to put a ball into a hoop using mechanics an ape would cringe doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?

    By Pugilist Specialist on Feb 7, 2008

  7. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I’m a journalist too and i started out at a crappy, small paper feeling wasted. It is good experience.

    And newspapers will never, ever, ever die. It’s a fallacy and a defeatist attitude foisted upon us by Internet geeks who think blogs are the end-all, be-all. Blogs wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for newspapers. And eventually (God willing), some of these old-timers running papers now will move on and people with good ideas will take over.

    I guarantee you….newspapers will never die. And one day, you might end up at a paper that pays well. They exist…trust me.

    By Hartford Business Journal on Feb 7, 2008

  8. Sell your soul, work on the PR side of the news business, that’s what I do, the pay is much better.

    Girls basketball is wheelchair basketball minus the talent.

    By Russianator on Feb 7, 2008

  9. 10. “I write for the newspaper” doesn’t impress girls like it did in college.

    This would be implying “I write for the newspaper” impressed girls in college.

    By Anonymous on Feb 7, 2008

  10. When I quit my job as a stringer/low-level staff writer, my friends and family always asked me “How could you quit? You’re getting paid to watch sports!”

    Thanks for answering the question for me.

    By hardawayhatesyou on Feb 7, 2008

  11. Good stuff indeed buddy.

    By Rickey Henderson on Feb 7, 2008

  12. It was 30 degrees, and I was stringing a crappy ass soccer playoff game.

    Stringers aren’t issued press passes, so its up to us to talk our way into the game, or cough up money for a ticket and program (hey, that’s built into the 50 bucks!) so we know who the f is who. Well, 10 bucks into a soccer game, I’m freezing my ass off when some dorkass parent or assistant coach says I’m in his spot in the press box.

    I politely tell him to fuck off as I’m responsible for making sure people can remember this game throughout history.

    Then I realized I was responsible for the recorded history of some shittacular soccer game.

    I never wrote a game story again.

    I then focused on my other job, and now I host a 3-hour radio show every day that doesn’t require me to go to any games.

    The ones I do go to, I still take full advantage of my press pass for access to the media food (cold Papa Johns is better than 10 dollar Papa Johns) and semi-private bathroom,then proceed to a regular seat to drink and enjoy the game like God intended.

    Oh, and then there’s the fact that rather than keeping facts straight, I just spout off opinions about things people actually care about.

    So the lesson here is…. forget journalism. Become a talking head.

    Oh, but beware, the pay still sucks, and it’s much more results oriented.

    One more thing: I’m sure you have a laptop with some kind of mobile internet access.

    When I was stringing, I hand wrote my article in a spiral notepad, then had to find a pay phone somewhere near by to dictate the story to a copy editor by deadline.

    Nothing like being outside a gas station in crack town on a Friday night.

    By Adam on Feb 7, 2008

  13. Great stuff.

    And people thought I was crazy for not staying in sportswriting after college.

    By gilbert on Feb 7, 2008

  14. Very, very good post. Sobering words for someone who is currently a freelancer and hoping to break into the industry full-time.

    By Kevin Hayward on Feb 8, 2008

  15. Very, very good post. Sobering words for someone who is currently a freelancer and hoping to break into the industry full-time.

    Oh, one other thing. Does no one at your newspaper read your blog? Do they know you write it? I would imagine your editors wouldn’t be real pleased with the content in this post.

    By Kevin Hayward on Feb 8, 2008

  16. dog at least get some google ads on here you could make a few bucks

    By Anonymous on Feb 8, 2008

  17. How many times did you have a self-loathing jackoff while thinking about the high school girls players? Y’know, besides this blog post.

    And since Naismith’s first basketball game ended 2-0, HS girls’ basketball would probably be a lot more recognizable to him than the NBA.

    By Anonymous on Feb 8, 2008

  18. Thirty years in the bidness and here’s my take on it:
    http://tinyurl.com/368ncn

    By Roy Bragg on Feb 8, 2008

  19. Got here from Deadspin. It’s like reading my own life. I’ve even covered Illinois School for the Deaf and one year, covered an 0-25 Class A girls’ basketball team FIVE times in the same season.

    By Anonymous on Feb 8, 2008

  20. I FEEL YOUR PAIN…I LIVE IN THE LAWRENCEBURG, INDIANA AREA…BE THANKFUL YOU WERE ONLY HERE FOR A COUPLE OF DAYS. BETTER LUCK IN THE FUTURE ON ASSIGNMENTS.

    By Anonymous on Feb 25, 2008

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