It’s one of the simple pleasures of being a high school athlete — on the morning after a game, opening the sports section and running your finger down the tiny type on the Scoreboard page. Yep, there’s the box score from your game. If you made a really good play, you’ll even see your name.
That’s what Craig Hill’s daughter hoped for after she won her first race in September as a swimmer for Rogers High School in Puyallup.
Hill and his daughter opened the paper together the next morning to clip the box score for her scrapbook, he said, but it wasn’t there. He noticed various events from other sports weren’t listed either.
Hill is a News Tribune reporter, covering outdoor recreation and fitness. As a former high school sports reporter, he knew how the oversight could happen. Other parents didn’t.
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“It sometimes looks weird that we report some scores and not others,” he wrote. “I’m certain most parents don’t understand that we rely on the coaches to report the scores.”
Hill’s right. I didn’t know that before I came to work for a daily paper. And I didn’t care as deeply until I had a son playing high school sports.
The system is time-honored and community-spirited. It plays out in similar fashion at papers across the country and has for decades.
It’s a matter of simple math. Our paper, in partnership with The Olympian, attempts to cover sports at 60 to 70 high schools. During any season, each school is playing half a dozen sports.
We have two preps reporters who write stories about individual athletes, standout teams and big games. But on any given day, even with the help of freelance writers, they can cover about five live events.
To cover the rest, we need help from the coaches.
Before each season, TNT preps coordinator Todd Milles meets with some football coaches, encouraging them to call or email in game information live on deadline. He also talks with athletic directors on occasion. Sometimes, the coach or AD calls. Sometimes it’s an assistant coach, student manager or other designee.
Traditionally the duty falls to the home team. The away-team coach, after all, is busy getting students back on buses. But we’ll take a score from either side.
We hire two part-time call takers specifically to take the information. Oftentimes they’re college students, sometimes aspiring journalists getting their first taste of what it’s like to work at a paper. The information they collect varies by sport, but in general includes a final score and game highlights.
We also have an editor whose entire shift is spent compiling the Scoreboard. The type is really flying on football Friday nights. Games end about 9:30 or 10 p.m. Milles asks coaches to call in by 11 p.m. The page goes to press at midnight.
As deadline approaches and scores are still missing, we call coaches to try to complete the Scoreboard. Our first calls go to coaches involved in key games. Bigger schools in nearby conferences take priority. Sports such as football that draw more spectators get more attention. Scores that aren’t in by deadline don’t make the paper.
Some coaches are faithful about getting us scores. Some almost never report them. Human nature dictates that losing coaches are less likely to call.
We don’t pay coaches to help us. We appreciate those who do. We strive to get as many scores as possible.
It’s not a perfect system, but over the years it’s been a fairly successful community effort to recognize high school athletes.
When TNT managing editor Dale Phelps began his career in Kansas City, his job on Saturdays was to collect scores for every high school football game in Kansas and Missouri.
That was long before cell phones. When a coach didn’t answer a call to his home, Phelps would call a local firehouse or pizza parlor in search of someone who went to the game and could give him the details.
Thankfully, modern technology makes it a bit easier.
Milles plans to put a note on the Scoreboard page beginning this week explaining how we get the scores and posting contact information for those who need it.
Together, we can create the Scoreboard page as a labor of love for our student athletes. For most, this is the highest level of competition they’ll attain. And it’s a rare chance to see their names in print.
Coaches with questions about the process can contact Milles at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434