Prep coverage starts early, ends late

Executive editorOctober 21, 2012 

Todd Milles’ Friday started at 8:30 a.m. It will end at … well, it won’t be Friday anymore when Milles walks out the door.

As The News Tribune’s prep sports coordinator, Milles is captain of his own small team. His first job tonight will be to provide live coverage of 29 local high school football games. His rabid online audience will hit our website about 9,000 times expecting updates. After the games end, Milles’ team has about two hours until its own final whistle – the press deadline for completing pages full of scores and stats, stories and standings for the Saturday editions of The Olympian and The News Tribune.

It’s Week 8 of the 2012 preps football season, and Milles has a rhythm down.

During his first shift this morning, he drove to Clover Park High School for a live chat with quarterback Keila Pritchard, the third football standout among the Pritchard brothers and a Samoan fire-dancer on the side. The lively conversation is transcribed and posted on the TNT Preps Blog before Milles drives back to the office. There he writes a golf story and a set-up for Saturday’s Pacific Lutheran University football game. He goes home for a break. He is back by 6 p.m.

From here, he’ll manage six reporters covering games he assigned last Sunday. He has two call-takers in-house, monitoring Twitter, local radio stations and websites. They’ll also take post-game calls from coaches – sources Milles depends on to cover the remaining games. Call-takers will type quarter-by-quarter data into computer templates that eventually become box scores for the Scoreboard page.

At 7 p.m. – game time – Milles settles into his command post. His computer screen shows a list of tonight’s matchups. He’ll update scores every few seconds, over and over, for the next several hours.

Until a year ago, this was the quiet period on Friday nights while Milles waited for games to end. Tonight, his right hand rests on his cellphone, monitoring a communal stream of Twitter messages posted by reporters, scorekeepers and fans across the state.

At 7:29 p.m., JMod tweets “Wilson 8, Lincoln 7.” That’s the scorekeeper for Wilson High and a reliable source. Those who don’t tweet send Milles messages directly. Everyone in town has his cellphone number.

“It’s like Christmas,” Milles says, smiling as he re-tweets another score and updates his blog.

At 7:54 p.m., copy editor Kenny Via calls out: “It’s Rogers 19-0 over Curtis right now.” The banter on the sports desk is lively but relaxed as editors finish other stories to make way for the final preps push. The baseball playoff game ends mercifully early; the ice skating competition runs frustratingly late.

By 8:30 p.m., Milles spots some halftime surprises in the high school games, but no real upsets.

At 8:47 p.m., a call-taker yells that Bethel and Puyallup are tied at 24. Milles makes a mental note to put that one in tonight’s roundup.

At 8:56 p.m., the first final score comes in via Twitter – Peninsula 51, Enumclaw 0.

Twenty minutes later, the Peninsula coach rings call-taker Kevin Manning, telling him which player made each score, how many yards each player gained. It’ll be enough detail to get his team a three-paragraph story in the paper.

Manning hangs up the phone and picks it up again: “Sports, Kevin. What school?”

At 9:42 p.m., tonight’s chief copy editor, Scott Oberstaller, shouts: “Bellarmine game story in.” The Bellarmine-Olympia game is of interest in Olympia and Tacoma. It will go in both papers.

Reporter Meg Wochnick is next to file, with the North Thurston-Timberline gamer.

At 10:43 p.m., reporter Tyler Hemstreet calls to say his story’s in.

“Bless your heart,” Oberstaller croons. “We got ’er.” He hangs up and calls out: “Tyler’s in.”

With 17 minutes until The Olympian deadline, copy editors fix typos and write headlines, produce a highlights box and update league standings. Page designer Adam Thaler places photographs transmitted from the field.

Even with a page designer, five copy editors, two Scoreboard editors and Sports Editor Darrin Beene coming back to help, the desk misses deadline by 12 minutes.

“One down, one to go,” Beene says and sighs.

With 48 minutes until the TNT deadline, we’re still missing scores from Beamer-Graham-Kapowsin and South Kitsap-Stadium. Someone call the coaches. Someone call the Kitsap Sun.

At 11:29 p.m., Milles walks to the copy desk.

“How are we doing on the Top 10?” For this, we use Associated Press scores from across the state. Via compiles the list while others proofread pages the old-fashioned way, with pens on paper.

Just spelling the names right is painstaking; these athletes aren’t household names.

“Yes, it’s S-t-o-e-h-r,” they finally agree.

Ninety-five percent of readers won’t know the details, but you don’t want to take the call from a running back’s mom if you credit her son with four touchdowns when he really got five. At 11:44 p.m., we call the reporter to confirm.

At 11:53 p.m., Oberstaller releases Page 2. At 11:54 p.m., the Scoreboard page goes. The final page pushes at 12:02 a.m. Two minutes late. Not perfect, but not bad. The editors stand and start packing up.

But Milles is back on the TNT website, posting highlights for the diehards who can’t wait for the morning paper.

Tomorrow he’ll cover the PLU game at 1 p.m., then the Cascade Christian-Eatonville matchup.

Tireless? Yes. Still happy being Mr. Preps on and off since 1994? Seemingly so.

He’s covered colleges and pros, but he’ll take the high school athletes.

“I feel like I can have real conversations with real people,” he said. “I feel like I can tell a better story.”

NEW WEATHER PERSONALITY

A few readers have called to ask why we changed personalities on our weather page. We’re featuring forecasts by KIRO-TV meteorologist Sam Argier now that he has replaced chief meteorologist Rebecca Stevenson. Stevenson is no longer with KIRO.

Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434
karen.peterson@thenewstribune.com
@TNTkpeterson

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