I forgot about the sun.
Saturday afternoon I found myself at Stierberger Stadium for the massive girls soccer matchup between the Union Wildcats and the Glendale Lady Falcons. Years after I traded being a sports writer for a career in news writing, I found myself on a sideline right in the thick of things.
The great Bill Battle, the sports editor of The Missourian, had his hands full Saturday. Knowing my background in sports, Bill asked if there was any way I could cover the big soccer game for the paper.
I said yes because, one, I’m a good teammate and, two, I know Bill would do the same for me. It was a no brainer, except for the fact I was terrified.
My dream as a kid was to be a sports writer. I imagined a career as a beat writer for a professional team traveling the country and chronicling the ups and downs of my team.
I went to college and focused primarily on sports. It wasn’t until my last semester that I decided it might be smart to branch out into hard news in case the job market demanded a switch.
My first job post college was as a sports reporter at a newspaper in northeast Missouri. Eventually I was named the sports editor of the paper.
Five days a week (plus some weekends) I was out in the field covering everything from football to swimming, from tennis to track. I spent so much time at schools, some parents thought I was a student.
Eventually, a job opportunity closer to home forced me to make the big career switch. Instead of baseball games, I was now covering board of aldermen meetings and police stories.
I don’t regret the switch at all. News has, for the most part, been fun. The hours of the sports writer were long and hard and, after a while, there’s only so many games you can watch before your stories start to feel stale.
I was excited to resume my sports writing career Saturday, but was super nervous when Bill briefed me on the stakes of the game. It’s one thing to shoot pictures and report from a random regular season game, but it’s not often you get to cover a game with a trip to state on the line.
Those games, the big ones, mean something more. The players care more, the parents care more. I didn’t just need to be there Saturday, I had to do a good job.
This was made tougher because I hate shooting soccer pictures. I like soccer and enjoy watching the beautiful game. Yet, in my career as a sports photographer, I never figured out how to snap a good picture.
It seemed like every soccer game I ever covered I was always in the wrong spot. If I was on the left wing, the action was on the right side. If I switched, so did the players. It was brutal.
I showed up to Stierberger Stadium an hour before game time to hopefully work the nerves out. My plan was to shoot the warmups to make sure my camera was working properly and to train my eyes again.
Once the game started, the nerves and anxiety just went away. Instead I found myself totally enthralled with the action on the field.
One of the biggest issues I had covering high school sports was sometimes the games were hard to watch. The gap between the haves and have nots is massive at that level and sometimes games were just tough to watch.
That was not the case Saturday. You had two teams playing at a high level and leaving it all out on the field. The action was back and forth early and consistent throughout.
The longer the game stayed tied at 0-0 the more the intensity ramped up. I could hear the players on the field and you could tell everyone on both teams knew it was anyone’s game.
Eventually, in overtime, Union scored the winning goal and erupted into a euphoric celebration. The girls mobbed each other and the screams of celebration eventually turned into tears of joy. It was beautiful to watch.
The only downside to the game was the sun. In all my preparations to get ready, I neglected to lather up in sunscreen. As the game wore on, my forearms and nose turned Union Wildcats’ red.
All in all, it was a great game. Now that I’m, again, a retired sports writer, I don’t have to worry about bias. Which means, I can say I hope the Wildcats keep winning.
The team played so hard Saturday and clearly wanted the big prize, that I hope they get it. They deserve it.
If they win, I hope there’s a parade or celebration of some sort. If there is, I know I’ll be there and this time I’ll be prepared with sunscreen.