Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Flamingos won't give me pelicans

I knew it was coming.

It always does this time of year.

But I didn't expect it to hit me so hard.

A simple little email in my work inbox somehow managed to punch me in the stomach, suck the wind out of me and reopen a slew of wounds that have only just begun to heal. And ruined my day.

Today came the official rules for the 2011 Louisiana Sports Writers Association's annual writing contest. 

Every year sports writers from across the state are invited to send in their best works from the previous year, to be judged by some other sports writer or sports editor in some other state.

Since sports writers mostly just cover competition but don't get to actually compete themselves, we take the bait. And then we spend a fair amount of time dutifully going through our stuff -- our good, our bad and our ugly.

The game stories written on impossibly tight deadlines, in barely lit press boxes teaming with mosquitoes and impatient janitors waiting to turn the lights out and go home.

The feature stories squeezed out of teenage boys and teenage girls who are still working on their mental filters, and coaches who mostly say the exact opposite of what they really mean because they're afraid their opponent might actually read it.

The columns that we really pour our hearts into because it's the only time we really get to use our voice.

We pick and choose the best of it all, and send it in with a wish and a prayer and a check for $20. Then, every June we get together over a nice brunch while some very funny friends hand out plaques and certificates adorned with a very clever pelican.

And, unlike the Academy Awards or the Emmys, we are genuinely happy for our friends and colleagues as they collect their hardware and take it back to their table and their proud spouses and children.

I've had my share of those moments.

Right out of the box, in my first year on the job, I won a third place for a high school track meet I had covered.

The following year, 1991-1992, I was the Prep Writer of the Year.

And again in 2004.

In between I won eight other awards. Since then I've won seven more.

And I'm not bragging (OK, maybe a little), I'm just saying -- I wasn't bad at what I did. In fact, I was pretty damn good.

Last year I won a first, a second and a third.

Now this is my last year.

Because now I write receipts.

And rewrite police reports.

And scan in obituary photos.

And answer the phone.

And wait for someone to be murdered so I have story to write.

Sad, huh?

Yeah, that's the newspaper business today.

So after I opened that email, the one I knew was coming, I forced myself to go to the paper's electronic library and sift through the last memories of a 24-year sports writing career that I truly loved.

The basketball games won at the buzzer,

The baseball games that went into extra innings,

After it rained for two hours.

The softball tournament that wore me out because I had to cover six teams on three different fields...

All at the same time.

The swimming tournament I covered without ever looking up from my computer because I was typing agate results the whole time.

The wrestling tournament I didn't mind covering except that the Saints were on TV and in the midst of their Super Bowl run at the time.

The bowling tournament I enjoyed in spite of myself.


And the football features I wrote before they told me that this temporary position would be permanent (even though they knew it all along).

And then suddenly my byline is on stories about murders, and attempted suicides, and meth labs, and armed robberies.

And stolen pink flamingos.  OK. That one was actually fun.

But it won't earn me a pelican.  Not ever again.











4 comments:

  1. I feel you, and I feel sorry for you. I think the worst part for me is that I may not have anything to submit that is actually good enough to win, either because our newspaper is more concerned about just getting something in the paper than about its quality or because I lost the will to write anything decent over the last seven months.

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  2. I hear that too... Can't win with 6 to 8 inch gamers anyway.

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  3. Save room in the nest. I see more feathers in your future!

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  4. This makes me sad. I hate that this happened to you.

    Hugs!

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