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A salute to statisticians

September 16, 2011
The Mining Journal

Math has never been my strongest subject. I topped out at trigonometry in high school, the subject in which I earned my lowest career grade. My senior year, I passed on pre-calculus to make room for two bands and a journalism directed study.

At present, it turns out I got all the math I needed for this job: I can calculate earned-run average, goals-against average, even hitting percentage (kills minus errors divided by total attacks). As for the complicated stuff, I'm not anti-sabermetrics - I'm anti-having-to-calculate-them-myself.

I may have learned all the math I needed for the job, but in math, as in sports, it's all about situations. In most high school football games, a 1-yard run is viewed as a failure and normally gets some lineman yelled at. But if that 1-yard run takes place on fourth-and-inches or at the goal line - it's cause for a cheer.

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In a similar manner, it's one thing to add yards from column A to yards from column B at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon, and quite another to do it after returning to the office on a Friday night after a Week 8 game in which your socks are soaked and your hands shaking.

More than any other sport, a fair amount of time is spent after covering a football game just adding things up for a box score. The good news is that helpful assistants and 21st century technology have significantly streamlined the process, even from when I started out as a sportswriter 5 1/2 years ago.

This column is dedicated to any and all statisticians, from the kids keeping track of digs or rushing yards on a clipboard or an iPad. Even you first-timers that didn't quite get it right - your effort is appreciated. Sometimes, even if something looks way off, it can give insight into a trend - just like how a broken clock is right twice a day. Every member of the volleyball team may have 35 kills, but that means the offense is balanced.

Also, I get distracted easily. Taking pictures, scribbling down notes, sips of Diet Coke and sideline conversations all enter into the equation. Heck, at Friday's football game in Hancock, I believe I may have been doing all four at the same time. That's why I trust full-timers as much as my part-time effort.

Further, I have limitations. A football field is large and manned by large numbers of people, many of whom tend to be in the same place at the beginning and end of plays. Recovering the number of that kid who just landed on a fumbled snap is almost as difficult as recovering the snap itself. And if the sweep gets run to the wrong side and I didn't clean my glasses that morning? Yikes.

The final concern was addressed by a college professor, who saw me transcribing a meeting speech at the newspaper office, looked at me and said "Technology fails! Take good notes!" The iPad has not been rated for use in a snowstorm yet and weather can complicate even the most analog of situations. For example, I never bring just pens to a hockey game because the ink will congeal without fail during a game in Dee Stadium or the Colosseum.

So, when you look at the box scores of games we cover, remember that every stat required a bit of elbow grease or a smidgen of brainpower to tally. Proof that even if my numbers don't add up, every article is a sum of something bigger than just the byline.

Brandon?Veale is sports editor of the Houghton Daily Mining Gazette.



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