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Vol. 49, No. 1 • November 2011 • .pdf version
You might be someone's mentor without even knowing it
By KIRK WESSLER / Peoria Journal-Star
There is no eluding the magic of Oct. 15. I know, the NCAA messed around and inserted language like "Friday closest to Oct. 15" into its by-laws. But to college basketball fans, "Oct. 15" stirs passion the way "Pitchers and catchers report" does for baseball fans.
Coaches finally get to work out their entire team on a daily basis. We finally get to see how the newcomers might gel with the veterans in a structured setting. Our offseason speculations encounter confirmation or rebuke. Will the teams we cover meet expectations? Will they show cracks that might lead to bigger trouble? Are they sowing seeds of a March Madness surprise?
But the best part is we get to tell the stories. That's our job.
I grew up on the campus of a Division I university. My father was a professor at Bradley, and we lived across the street from the old airplane-hangar fieldhouse (a place, it must be noted, where the great Oscar Robertson went 0-for-3). Players lived on our block. I was smitten by the game, by the intimacy, by the omnipresent excitement.
And by this. I read the daily reports filed by the late Dick Lien in the Peoria Journal Star. Some of you might remember Dick, a longtime USBWA member who would die too young while covering Bradley on a road trip in December 1994. He was tall, round, prematurely gray, fidgety and possessed with a biting wit.
Dick had a gift for description and a unique ability not to waste words. Two examples leap to mind.
Bradley's Robertson Field House had an intoxicating scent I've never encountered in hundreds of other arenas. I could not properly describe it. But here was Dick: "Nowhere else has man and nature ever blended so perfectly the smells of analgesic and warmed popcorn with frost shaken from dark woolen coats." Yes, that was it, exactly.
Then there was his lead in March 1980, when Bradley made its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 25 years and lost a heartbreaker to North Carolina, because of a turnover in the final seconds. One word topped Dick's game story: "Damn!" It was a perfect summation, reporting the frustration of players and coaches while simultaneously giving voice to the emotions of a city in love with its team. Dick did it without being a homer, too. Credit and criticism punctuated his story, in all the right places.
It is no stretch to say I would not be a sportswriter if not for Dick Lien. I did not major in journalism, but Dick gave me my first job in the business and became my mentor. By the time he died, I was his boss.
I bring this up for two reasons. One, it's helpful to remember why we got into this business, whatever our individual reasons, and why most of us still love it almost as much as we love to gripe about it. And two, we never know what aspiring young talent is looking up to us, wanting to be us, needing direction.
It's too easy these days to shrug off the kids and tell them to do something else. I still believe there always will be a place for good reporters and writers, and part of our job as USBWA veterans is to reach out to them – wherever they are – and nurture the future.
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