There is one thing I have learned over the years about writing sports and it is, “Old sports writers never retire. They just move into only writing columns.” I am an old sports writer, but I have not – repeat NOT – gotten to that point quite yet.
This week marks the beginning of my 47th year as a sports writer – almost all of them right here at the Citizen of East Alabama or one of its previous identities. This is where I really began my professional career as a sports writer (For those of you who do not understand what that means, it means this is where I received my first check for writing sports.). And this is where I suspect I will end my career writing sports.
As I turned 61 this past summer, I had some people ask me if it was time for me to call it a career. I had thoughts of ending this career. It was a silly thought. Now, as I look back, I began feeling the pressure of getting stories written for the annual high school football guide. The editor of this newspaper wanted me to handle the entire high school section by myself. The problem was that the deadlines for these type special sections get earlier and earlier each year. Coaches look at me as if I am crazy asking for interview time in late July and early August. They really have not gotten to see which players will return to the team at that point. They also have not really decided which players will be slotted into which positions as starters. It is difficult for them to talk about specifics – at least not for a few more weeks.
But, that is the situation I have faced for my entire 47 years in sports writing – at least at some points. It is really not the writing part that causes a problem. It is the motivation to write that is the problem. As you grow older, you just cannot kick start that motivation as in the past. Call it laziness if you want. However, when the motivation kick starts, the writing flows.
Another reason I considered giving up this career is because of having to cover so many different events. Summertime is the worst time of the year for sports in my opinion. There is just not a lot going on until all-star time at the local level. It is difficult coming up with things to write about.
Maybe you can understand what I am saying. Maybe you can understand the reasons I seriously considered giving up sports writing and just becoming a sports columnist. But, I have to say the editor of this newspaper was deadest against me doing that. So, we have an agreement now. I have one beat – that means I cover one thing in particular and that is sports for Central High. And I do not even do that well anymore. There are just more sports than there is me to go around. So, I try to stay with the in-season most popular sports. At this time of the year, it is football. If it were up to me, I would cover Central High football year-around.
Please, other schools take no offense at my statements. I have enjoyed covering the athletes and athletic events at all the local schools. And I have even enjoyed many events which were not school-related.
I saw the worst basketball game ever one night at Glenwood when its girls’ basketball team defeated an opponent 72-2. I was hoping for a shutout as the time dwindled off the clock, but my hopes died in the final seconds when an opponent finally put the ball in the basket.
I saw without a doubt the best high school athlete around here play baseball, basketball and football for Glenwood back in the 1970s – Darryl Wilks. No one since has come close to his athletic ability in all three sports. He signed to play football and baseball at Auburn University where he started as a freshman on the football team as a defensive back, punter and punt return specialist.
I saw Russell County win a state title in baseball and then be declared the top team in the nation.
I saw Smiths Station reach the championship game in football twice and battle its way to win a baseball state title – not only a title, but the first one ever in Class 7A by any team. You cannot take that away from those kids ever.
I saw a Little League team win the United States title at the Little League World Series and play for the World Series title against Japan.
I could keep on naming events, athletes and coaches that I have enjoyed covering over the years, but none have I covered as many years, events and through as many coaches as Central High. It is where I went to school and graduated back in 1975. When I write my last story or column or take my last photograph, I want it to be of something concerning Central High sports. If that offends you, well, I am sorry. It is what keeps me writing in my later years. This week I will cover my 331st Central High football game. I hope that number is 336 when this season ends.
So anyone who has designs on becoming the new guy to cover Central High sports can get in line. There is only one way to get me off of this beat. Well, three ways really – I retire, get fired or die. I do not control the last two, but the first one is not being considered right now.
Mark Clark is a local sports writer for The Citizen of East Alabama.