High school sports worth writing about

There’s something special about prep sports.

When reporters head to journalism school, they usually have ideas in mind on where they want to end up and what sports they want to cover.

Most want to cover the professional teams and that’s understandable. NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB reporters tend to be the most famous reporters, they travel the most and they tend to have the most creative stories to tell.

Others want to focus on major college sports such as Division I football or basketball for teams like Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State, which also have their perks. College towns are fun, major programs tend to have the most passionate fanbases and you almost always have a story to tell.

Both of those levels of reporting are what I wanted to do once I graduated, and part of me still hopes I’ll reach those someday because I want to reach my full potential and see how far up I can go.

Prep sports are different though. Some reporters hate covering high school sports because they feel that they are beneath them and don’t deserve their full effort. Others see preps only as a stepping stone, which it is at many places, and they don’t want to linger too long at the position.

For me though, prep sports are special in their own way. I’ve done some cool stuff with Northern Michigan University athletics and I still love covering all of its sports. Yet, I get a different feeling with high school sports. It feels much more personal and the teens who compete do so like it’s their last game or event.

I’ve seen runners cut down their times and achieve their personal bests as they cross the finish line. I’ve seen star basketball players hit buzzer-beaters and bench players step up in clutch moments, but I’ve also watched some turn the ball over late or make a crucial mistake.

I’ve watched some No. 1 tennis players go undefeated throughout the entire season and No. 4 players lift their team to a close victory thanks to their match. I’ve seen hockey players score game-winning goals in overtime and others make mental errors that led to the tying goal.

Ishpeming won its third title of the decade in 2015, and seeing them make that exciting second half comeback was one of my all-time favorite moments as a writer. To watch the student section erupt and the Hematites rush to grab the state championship trophy was a thrill. Seeing head coach Jeff Olson hug his son Isaac at the 50-yard line, while everybody else on the field was going nuts was heartwarming. I never found out what they said to each other, but after all that family had been through, it helped make me appreciate that moment on another level. It may be just a small moment, but it’s one I won’t forget.

I got to experience the other side two weeks ago in Munising. Both the Mustangs and Gwinn were fighting to keep their MHSAA playoff hopes alive and one team was going to end up very disappointed by the end of the night. Munising held a slim lead late in the fourth quarter, but the Modeltowners scored with a little more than four minutes left. In the end, Gwinn hung on and locked down their second postseason bid in three years after a long playoff drought. While I stood off to the side performing my postgame interviews, I looked on as the Gwinn students rushed the field and celebrated along with the players. It brought a smile to my face because ever since I’ve been up here, people have told me how the Modeltowners have struggled as a program, and when a team starts finding some real success, it’s fun to see.

Then I had to walk to the other end of the field and it was a much different story. The Mustangs kneeled silently in front of head coach Jeff Seaberg as he tried to console them the best he could. Once his speech was over, the players got to their feet and the underclassmen slowly walked off the field. The seniors lingered though, not wanting to leave as their high school careers came to an end. They embraced each other and the coaches, some of them holding back tears and others letting them flow freely. One felt awful that Gwinn’s winning touchdown happened on his watch and was blaming himself. Another felt like he could’ve done more to help the team and it was clear it was tearing him up inside. It was a rough situation to watch and all I could do was just stand there and try to sympathize, but it probably wouldn’t have helped.

Ishpeming’s championship and the Gwinn-Munising game reminded me about the beauty of high school sports. The athletes that compete genuinely want to do well and they give their best every time they step out on the field, court, ice or track. They want to achieve greatness, but also want to have fun with their friends. When they succeed, the joy that is expressed is fun to behold, and if they come up short, their disappointment is hard to watch. Yet, both provide a memorable experience.

That’s what I think reporters need to remember. We all have dreams and goals and we hope that we’ll eventually reach them in our careers. However, we shouldn’t disregard prep sports because they’re not as glamourous as the pros or as fiery as major college beats. It’s just a different experience, but it almost always provides a good story.

There’s something special about prep sports and that’s what makes it worth writing about.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.