When I began life as a sportswriter, I was told a lot of tips for taking stats, doing interviews, covering a game and on and on and on.
Most of it stuck with me from a purely practical nature. But two pieces of advice struck a chord deep within my sportswriter’s soul and have always held a special place in my heart:
• My first sports editor told me to watch the crowd.
• My second sports editor told me to cover the game from the sidelines.
Well, why do either? The answer to both questions, to me, is really the heart of great sports writing.
Both are about breathing in the “feel” of the game.
How hard are both teams hitting? How angry are the coaches? How excited is the crowd?
That’s the difference between a glorified stat sheet/play-by-play rundown of a game and giving the reader the full spirit of a Friday night at the stadium
I say that, to say this: I hate predicting things in the preseason. I’m bad at it. Stats and potential and coach-speak have never really told me anything.
But midseason? I’m nails.
Why? Because I get a feel about who teams really are.
Yes, Team A may have a great quarterback, but Team B has a defensive line that terrorizes people. You may not see that on a stat sheet, but you feel it when you cover the game.
I could bring up a million examples, and so could you.
So the obvious question now is, why the heck am I writing a preseason prediction column?
Because, my gut – and never underestimate a sports writer’s gut, they can be pretty epic (insert fat joke) – is telling me a few things about this season. I have some feelings based the coaches, their personnel and what I saw last year. And really, I just want to double-dog dare the fates to prove me wrong.
So here’s a list of predictions based on nothing more than what I “feel” the 2014 season has in store for us.
• SPARTANS: Lima Senior will finish 7-3 and make the playoffs. I base this solely on the fact the Spartans’ biggest question mark is finding a new quarterback. And if there’s any high school coach on Mother Earth able to do that, and do it in huge fashion, it’s Mike Fell.
•WBL: The wild, wild Western Buckeye League is going to be unpredictable and a competitive treat for fans. Wapakoneta wins it, even though they are going to have mammoth challenges at Celina and at Kenton. I don’t think a team gets through the schedule unscathed. Wapak, Kenton, O-G and Celina are going to be very good and give each other fits. Plus, the middle and bottom of the league are going to be much improved.
What does that mean? Van Wert and Bath are both more dangerous than anyone realizes. Elida, Defiance and Shawnee won’t be push-overs and St. Marys has a new guy calling the shots.
• SNAPPED 1: Did I say new guy? Oops. Doug Frye is back in St. Marys and that means a ton of excitement, a return to disciplined, tough-guy football and a surge in numbers. That also means the 21-game losing streak is snapped and the program starts a turnaround.
• SNAPPED 2: Marion Local will not win a fourth-straight state title. I love the Flyers, love the MAC, love how great those football programs are. So I base this purely on being a grizzled, jerk, cynical sportswriter. Winning four-straight championships is just too much for my mind to handle, sorry. The streak is snapped.
• IN THE KNOW: Crestview wins the NWC and a couple, maybe three, playoff games. Not only are they talented and experienced, but a crazy thing happens when a school wins so much. See: the basketball and baseball teams. They begin to “know” how to win. And there’s a lot that goes into that.
• WATCH OUT! Watch out for the good athletes at Ada and Bluffton. Just a hunch.
So what did we learn by this little exercise? Hmm, um, no idea.
If there is one thing my gut seems to be indicating it is this: 2014 could be the season that really begins an incredible run of success by area teams.
From the WBL to Lima Senior to a few other teams in the area, this region is now packed with good coaches and programs that see themselves as contenders.
That type of attitude leads to a ton of fun conference battles and postseason games for sports writers to cover.
That means plenty of excitement from both the sidelines and the stands, and that’s really what Friday nights are all about.