The first thing my eyes came to rest on when I first entered the Chronicle Sports office freshman year was a framed copy of the headline that appeared on the front page of The Chronicle the day after Duke won its first men's basketball national title. It read "Duke Kicks Kans-ass." It sent jitters up my spine.
I had never written for any newspaper or publication in my life, but so what? I was going to have the chance to write an article just like that and be immortalized in a glass frame on some epic wall one day.
It took me over two years to realize it, but over my career with the Chronicle I have had my best reporting experiences not at Coach K press conferences or sitting in press row at Cameron, but covering the field hockey team.
I've seen tears flow after the men's basketball team lost to Michigan State in the Sweet 16 last year. I attended the 2004 NBA Draft and interviewed former Blue Devil Luol Deng after he was drafted by the Bulls in the lottery. I've even written columns that left me waking up in the morning with more than 50 hate e-mails to read-and laugh at-over breakfast.
But in all honesty, the time I spent covering the field hockey team my freshman and sophomore years was a far more worthwhile experience.
The raging sports lunatic inside me is satisfied when I'm courtside at Cameron- an arm's length away from the Duke bench. But the reporter in me is infatuated with everything there is to love about covering non-revenue sports at Duke. It has never bothered me knowing that some of the articles I spent hours writing would be read only by the field hockey team when it made its way to print. Rather, I always felt a sense of responsibility to the team because The Chronicle was the only news source covering it.
There were never any slick Sports Illustrated reporters, and I never had to worry about stealing story ideas from Seth Davis or Dick Vitale-all my points were original. I used to hop off the East-West bus and show up at field hockey practice after giving only an hours' notice. I'd stroll to Williams Field where the team would usually be finishing practice, and head coach Beth Bozman would walk over. We'd briefly talkabout whatever was going on-like her dog that just wouldn't stop running around or how the team dinner at Bullock's went- and then I'd ask my questions.
If I wanted to ask a player a question, I'd just wait until they finished doing a drill, and ask for a second of her time. The players generally wouldn't hold much back. At press conferences during the postseason, I'd often be the only reporter talking to the Duke team and it seemed as if I could get any piece of information I'd possibly want.
On the other hand, you're better off waiting for the football team to win ameaningful game then trying to get a hold of a basketball player for 15 seconds. The level of access that you have with covering non-revenue teams is really the highlight for a reporter. There is also a more relaxed atmosphere when you aren't covering men's basketball.
After the Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State March 26 I had intended to ask Shelden Williams if he had to play more conservatively late in the second half to avoid his fifth and final foul. But instead, in the middle of a jam packed press conference, which was being webcast for the world to see, I slipped up. The question came out: "Were you trying to foul out?" I heard the team made fun of me for that at the end of the year dinner, and rightly so.
The sport of field hockey probably has nothing to do with it. It could have been soccer, tennis, swimming or any of the other teams that don't play at Cameron or Wallace Wade. But the fact is, the non-revenue sports open up doors for reporters that basketball could never. And generally the best coverage comes on those back pages, right before the crossword that most readers never even notice.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.