In my two semesters of column writing, I've probably mentioned the fact that I came to Duke because of basketball four or five times.
Sure, it's trite, but it's also true. Although I haven't been a productive athlete since sixth grade, I've always loved watching, discussing and thinking about sports. At Duke, I'd figured I'd find the largest group of people who'd want to talk about it with me.
And that's why I joined The Chronicle sports section four years ago. Writing for the school newspaper seemed like the best way to get close to the action. I had seen pictures of students sitting front-row, center court in Cameron Indoor Stadium, and dreamed of one day getting to do that.
Freshman year, a reporter got sick the day of the Blue Devil game at Virginia Tech, and I got a call from my editor asking me to go. I skipped class and jumped in a car for the miserable drive to Blacksburg.
Duke lost, the crowd rushed the court and I wrote an article condemning the team's lack of effort. How cool, I thought, as I stood in the locker room with a microphone in the face of a disrobed, teary Lee Melchionni.
Four years and a dozen games later, fond memory as that may be, I realize covering men's basketball isn't all it's cracked up to be. After two or three press conferences with the legendary Mike Krzyzewski, it all starts to sound the same-Duke played a pretty good team that night and he's proud of his squad's effort. Forty sports writers peck something into their laptops about a game that a million people watched live and several million more saw highlights of on SportsCenter.
Anything you write, someone else has already said, and it disappears after a day. In the long run, the players, the coaches and the fans don't care what you wrote or if you were even there. It's fun for a while, but at some point the thrill fades.
So why, you ask, have I stuck around The Chronicle for this long? It's because, if you're lucky, you'll write a story that in some way touches someone's life-and it usually doesn't happen in men's basketball.
My freshman year, I was somewhat randomly assigned to the men's golf beat, a standard non-revenue job for a cub reporter. It is supposed to be a training ground, where a novice learns how to talk to sources and write game stories and features.
Because golf is almost entirely played on the road, I did most of my reporting through phone calls to the players and the team's head coach, the late Rod Myers. Known as one of the nicest men in the world of college athletics, Myers always made sure he had time to speak to me, no matter when it was.
On one phone call, as I was preparing to write a preview of an upcoming tournament, I called Coach in the early evening when he was not expecting it. Greeting me with his typical, hearty, "Hey Andrew, how are you doing?" he asked if he could put me on hold for a few moments. Of course, I said. When Myers returned, he apologized for his absence, telling me he and his wife were having dinner at the house of former Director of Athletics Tom Butters, and he had stepped out to take my call.
I apologized profusely for interrupting and asked if I could call him later. "Don't be silly," he said. "Fire away."
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That's the type of personal touch that makes you, as a journalist and a person, feel good. It's why you're happy to cover these teams.
The next fall, before I handed the beat over to a new green reporter, I penned one final feature about a member of the team, then-junior Jake Grodzinsky. The article focused on Grodzinsky's improved play and jovial demeanor, a light piece that attempted to reflect his personality. (In my only face-to-face interaction with him, Grodzinsky spoke only in the third person, giving some of the funnier quotes ever to grace these pages.)
The day that feature ran, I saw Grodzinsky from afar on campus. He was carrying a stack of newspapers a foot high.
Through all my hard work at The Chronicle, all of the travel, the stories about national news and those that have become national headlines, that may have been my proudest moment. It wasn't about the most popular college basketball team in the country, but it actually touched the life of a fellow college student. As cheesy as it sounds, it made a difference.