"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Seeing our world as a media person

I noticed the Willmar newspaper doing something in its October 26 edition that caused problems for me when I did it once. This was during my print media career.
The Willmar newspaper reported how an athlete's reported illness might have affected an event's outcome. This report was on the Section 6A cross country meet.
I too was reporting on cross country when I hit this uncomfortable rough spot in my career. The Willmar writer was making note of a Willmar Community Christian runner of note. The runner's name: Ben Burgett.
Burgett has been making waves this cross country season. His name was well familiar to me. He apparently wasn't full-go for the section race.
How did the writer know this? Probably through a system akin to gossip. Coaches have to know everything. Chris Matthews of MSNBC alluded to this when the Jerry Sandusky mess was starting to unfold. Matthews was pondering the extent to which people around Penn State athletics might have been aware of this serious wrongdoing in their midst. With a wry smile he dismissed the idea that "Joe Pa" (Paterno) and others of the jockstrap fraternity were unknowing and outside the loop.
Matthews talked about the culture of coaches and how they share everything. "They have to know what's going on."
So the status of Ben Burgett of Willmar Community Christian got bandied about I'm sure. The kid was sick I guess. The exact illness wasn't specified by writer Rand Middleton. Everyone sort of mills about on the golf course with considerable time to exhaust when nothing is happening. This meet was held at Little Crow Country Club, New London.
Maybe a little bird told Middleton not to expect much from Mr. Burgett.
Middleton wrote: "Burgett wasn't in top form due to illness and placed eleventh overall in a field where he typically would (have made) top five."
Back when I broached this type of subject, I was interviewing coach Marv Meyer of the Morris Area cross country team. We were previewing the section meet as I recall. A lot would be at stake in the section meet. I was told Paynesville's top runner was sick and might be out of action or hobbled. I remember the guy's last name was Haglund.
Whether or not Haglund would run or whether he'd be 100 per cent, could impact greatly the Tigers' drive to garner No. 1.
I didn't ask for this information. It was volunteered to me by coach Meyer. I'd consider it background, helping create some suspense and uncertainty going into an important athletic contest.
The background appeared in my interview notes naturally, so I routinely processed this info in my article.
A parent took umbrage which is a mild way of putting it. Such was his anger I almost suspected some mental imbalance was in play. It was scary.
I faced the assertion that I might be taking some of the luster from the Tigers' accomplishment if they were to win the section. I'd be implying that maybe we wouldn't have won had Haglund been healthy.
However, making note of sports injuries and illness isn't at all uncommon in sportswriting at all levels. It's background. It makes us ponder the odds and reminds us that sports can defy predicting. It's also a reminder of our mortal nature and weaknesses.
The Tigers did end up winning section. The outraged parent experienced no simmering. He spoke to the newspaper chief, taking it upon himself to close the door as he entered his office.
But it got worse after that. Coach Meyer took a photo at the state meet which became the target for an even more heated outburst from the parent in question. I'm sure coach Meyer thought it benign. I did too. Actually it seemed charming. It showed a couple young kids posing with a spirit banner that some fans had made for state.
Problem is, there was some wording on the banner that came right from the career of singer Meatloaf: "Bat out of hell," only the kids who made the banner used hyphens for most of the word "hell."
I'm not sure the word "hell" is even particularly profane. As a synonym for "inferno" it's probably quite appropriate for tossing around in theological discussions.
Oh, I'm certain the kids meant no harm making the banner. And coach Meyer meant no harm photographing it.
But if you thought all hell - so to speak - broke loose before this episode, now there was a whole new firestorm, and this time the fire-breathing parent typed a letter to the editor. In it he reported that he "personally" had taken the banner down later. Just like he "personally" had closed my boss' door when going in to talk to him.
Later, I had several acquaintances visit me at my office and extend some sympathy and understanding over what I had been through. One, Mick Rose, suggested that the fire-breathing critic was a dentist and as such (i.e. as "the boss") was used to "pushing people around."
Another, Merlin Beyer, said the letter to the editor wasn't really from the dentist, rather it was from the athletic director who had a mandate to improve athletics when he came here. The AD could show a volcanic kind of determination.
I appreciated Pastor Gordon Bock extending his understanding and kindness toward me. Mike Wilson came to my office and just stuck out his hand, minus any words at first, offering a "shake" to express understanding.
The letter to the editor excoriated me. It suggested I was lazy.
Another letter to the editor years later, immediately following the UMM goalpost incident, would also accuse me of being lazy.
What did these people know about my work routine? Why was it so important to discuss my work after the goalpost incident? All I did was spend the whole weekend at the office trying to hold down the fort, as a whole seeming army of media people from the outside world were pressing me for answers.
Was the late Brian Curtis (or Brummond) seated at his desk too, ready to help out in his role as UMM sports information director? Somehow I suspect no. But I'm the "lazy" one.
The critic in the wake of my cross country coverage, which by the way I thought was pretty good, was my family dentist. Our family always paid our bills punctually. So maybe that's not enough to get along with people in a small town.
We of course sought a new dentist in the smoldering aftermath of all that unpleasantness. We greatly appreciate Dr. Jeffrey Hauger's office taking us. Health care is essential to have.
Our former dentist doesn't practice in Morris any more and may be retired. I don't think he even lives here. I won't dignify him by typing his name.
As for me, I continue to feel the pull of journalism and will keep on, undaunted. Sort of like a bat out of hell.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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