People often ask me if I miss covering local athletic events. It has been a common question ever since I went from professionally annoying wide swaths of Tribune readers on the Sports pages to doing so on the Opinion page. I always answer this query by pointing out that covering politics in the city and county is its own kind of no-holds-barred, injury-filled sport. Sports and politics both involve talking strategy with a wide array of winners and losers. The main difference between the two types of coverage is that coaches and athletes actually attempted to answer my questions, while those in politics generally try to find clever ways to dodge them.
There are some politicians and officials with whom I do enjoy conversing and interviewing, but I really got to like the athletes and coaches that I covered in this area. That social aspect of the job does sometimes make me miss being the city’s sports guy.
What I don’t miss at all are the logistics of actually doing the local sports gig on a daily basis, which turns out to be much more difficult than most readers of that section of the paper would ever imagine. People who criticize sports reporters never seem to think about the necessary time and travel required to single-handedly do that job properly. The weekly schedule usually involves being flung throughout southeast Kansas, often trying to stop by three or four sports events per day in the spring and fall. It is an exhilarating and often exhausting routine that makes planning any kind of active social life quite a challenge.
Talking to politicians and government officials for a living probably isn’t as much fun as spending days watching people play games, but most of my current gig can be done locally and the schedule of putting it all together is a little more conventional and sane. So, it turned out to be a pretty good move for me, even though there are still days where I find myself casting an envious eye at our sports editor. Athletics tend to showcase and bring out the best qualities of participants – triumph under pressure, overcoming odds, and showing grace in defeat. On the other hand, politics brings out many of the worst qualities of people and too often rewards pettiness and vanity instead of constructive ideas and merited victories. This is especially true in the midst of a divisive local campaign season like this one, where candidates tend to get judged more by how many signs they have in yards than whether or not anything they’re proposing will actually work.
Athletic events have clear winners and losers, dictated by putting talents to good and proper use. In many political races, the only real loser is the voting public who is stuck with the bad momentary decision made by others.
It’s difficult to spend a lot of time thinking about and covering politics without getting totally cynical about it, which is why I occasionally like to go back and dabble in sports reporting. That is what I will be doing this weekend when I travel to Salina to cover the 11 members of the Blue Comet wrestling team’s progress through the 4A State Wrestling championship.
This will be a nice and pleasant trip down memory lane for me. I moved to Chanute and started covering sports when many of the senior stars of this year’s highly-ranked squad were freshmen, and I’m really excited about the opportunity to go see what they can do on the big stage at Salina. I know that Coach Andy Albright has them pumped and primed for this big event and I am looking forward to watching the Chanute grapplers advance through a tough bracket at State.
Wrestling was a sport that I didn’t know all that much about before I started working for the Tribune, but I really learned to enjoy the atmosphere around high-stake wrestling tournaments. Lots of yelling, puking, bleeding, and watching people buckle under pressure – it could be similar to this year’s city commission race. So I figure spending time around this sport this weekend will make paying attention to local politics slightly more tolerable. Both politics and wrestling involve taking a superior position and holding on to it, while opponents work to chip away at it and knock a person down. Both involve skill, timing, confidence, improvisation, adaptability, and the strong desire to ultimately come out on top.
The main difference between the two is that very few of us would ever want to see any of the City Commission candidates wearing a singlet.
I don’t yet know who I’ll vote for in the primary next week, but I can safely say that Chanute wrestlers definitely have my support this weekend.
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