Jake Old: Football coverage from a non-sports writer is getting better

Jake Old • Updated Oct 27, 2016 at 12:00 PM

When I first thought I might be interested in becoming a journalist, I was in college. At the time, I was interested in covering sports.

I did a little bit of reporting on the Middle Tennessee State University football team during their off season for Sidelines, the student-run newspaper at MTSU, and had a lot of fun doing so.

I signed up for a sports writing class, and soon realized that I might need to refocus my journalism aim.

On the first day of class, my professor, Sonny Rawls — one of my favorite professors at MTSU — assigned everyone in the class a beat to cover. We were to cover it as if we were working for a local publication, writing stories regularly and covering practices and games.

One person got the football team of a local high school, another person got the girls basketball team at a different high school. When it came to be my turn, he gave me the Siegel High School golf team.

I thought this was dumb, because I didn’t care about golf at any level, and I absolutely did not care about Siegel High School’s golf team.

I met with the professor after class to talk about my displeasure with the beat I was assigned. I asked for something at MTSU, like football or basketball. Anything would be better than golf, and anything would be better than covering sports at a high school I didn’t care about.

He wouldn’t let me change my beat. We had to start with high schools, and normally with sports that do not get much coverage from local papers, so that we could truly own the beat.

I realized that I had an appreciation for his method, because if I eventually went into sports writing, it’s not likely that I would start out covering something I already enjoyed. However, I dropped the class, because I decided sports writing just wasn’t for me.

For all intents and purposes, I was finished with writing about sports.

Until, of course, I wasn’t. When I interviewed for the job here in Lebanon, our editor, Jared Felkins, told me that football was covered with an all-hands-on-deck attitude. I would have to contribute to that coverage.

In college, I stopped covering sports before I got the chance to cover a football game, so the first game I ever covered was Mt. Juliet High School’s home opener this year.

Writers are tasked with getting all of the offensive stats for both teams, as well as putting together a good overall recap of the game.

For that first game, and the next one I would cover, I sat in the press box. I had papers all over the place and making sure I accurately identified all of the players and recorded the correct yardage was a struggle at first.

Eventually, I settled into a system that was quick and efficient, and I moved down to the sidelines. Once I made that change, covering the games became more enjoyable, and I got a better feel for the mood of the players and coaches.

I think I’ve made strides in covering football. I’ve now covered games for all of the high schools in Wilson County.

I still don’t consider myself a sportswriter, but it’s good to know that if I would have stuck with it, it might have brought me as much joy as my other writing has. 

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