Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, August 28, 2016, 10:52 a.m.
Clinton defeated Laurens, 34-29, on Friday night in my second game on the Greenwood Index-Journal sports beat. Six days earlier, it had taken two drives to Saluda for me to report in detail how the Strom Thurmond Rebels defeated the Saluda Tigers, 38-7.
The best part of writing about high school football is it’s back to the basics. It’s a gig where I am limited only by what I don’t see and deadlines. The worst part of writing about high-school football is also that it’s back to the basics.
The basics of love. Down in a Luchenbach, Texas, of the figurative mind. Or a hot press box and a steamy field, with a heap of steps in between. At this late stage of life, I never take them two at a time anymore.
Here’s a confession. I like writing on deadline. It’s more the art of the possible than politics, though it’s a little harder to make that point this year because barely possible events occur all the time.
High-school football is cleaner, though, personal fouls notwithstanding. Dirty tricks draw yellow hankies in football.
Not that anyone is as interested in how I write a story as the game about which I write, but I’ve already written about the game, which was a fine one. Not every game is a classic. If so, there’d be no such thing. How fondly this one will be remembered in Clinton, or reviled in Laurens, will depend on what happens to the two teams from here on out.
Writers typically wear lots of hats now, though the only one I had at Wilder Stadium was originated by the Asheville Tourists. I sometimes go partisan at the games but not partisan about the game. Oh, 30 years or so ago, I realized that the words of the coach wearing blue and red were more compelling if the fellow with the tape recorder wasn’t wearing black and gold.
After staring at it in various kinds of light, I’m still not sure which color the shirt I wore Friday night was. It has tiny stripes that are either white or gray. The base color is either navy or black. I think. Sometimes it looks ever so slightly greenish. Mainly, it’s dark.
It’s good to get this compelling discussion of attire out of the way.
This is how I covered the 84th football game between Clinton and Laurens that we know about.
I hung out in the parking lot and press box talking about the game and studying them a little. Only a little was required because I’d been watching them practice in various incarnations all summer.
Down to the sideline carefully made I my way. I paid close attention to such matters as the inflation of the gigantic plastic simulation of a Clinton helmet that was at the end of a gigantic plastic tunnel that the Red Devils ran through, and milled about for what seemed like a long time within, before the game started.
The two bands collaborated on such uniting melodies as the national anthem. I appreciated their effort, in part because they played it in a key that enabled me to sing it myself with a modest degree of competency and range. I was mystified to see if the Raider band was still going to be lined up with the Red Devils when the Clinton team ran out through the a banner conveying an inordinate number of messages.
The LDHS band scurried safely away, with seconds to spare, leaving me room almost to get run over by the Clinton team because I was looking through a camera lens that made objects closer than they appeared.
Rookie mistake. Opening night. (I didn’t have to take photos in Saluda.)
For most of the first quarter. I held up my camera and snapped a photo, then left the camera to hang around my neck while I scrawled something intelligent like:
1-10-27 10-11, +5, gd T by 17. Pursuit.
Then, when I felt confident that, out of 35 shots, or so, at least one would be suitable for publication. I started working my way back to the press box, slipping into an end seat (there weren’t many Friday night, but people tend to spread out a little in the non-reserved sections) after each play to scrawl something intelligent like:
2-5-32 9 le +3.
Then, 10 rows farther up:
3-2-35 10-22, shy, +1.
Staggering into the seat I had saved in the press box, I wiped my brow and scribbled:
4-1-36 punt 32.
For the remainder of the first half, I was continuing to record the plays while, at the same time, logging in the earlier plays on the coverage sheet I had downloaded from the World Wide Web! I mainly used that sheet alone the rest of the night, scrawling a little description in the margins.
I did the best I could. It was too hectic to be precise. When I looked at the statistics compiled by the teams the next day, it did not surprise me at all that Clinton quarterback Charlie Craven attempted one less pass – he was 14-of-20, not 14-of-21, as I had reported, and threw for 161 yards instead of the 149 I had quickly tallied – because, undoubtedly, at some point, I had forgotten to carry a “1.”
I packed everything in my handy backpack as the final seconds expired on the game. When I got to the field, I realized I had packed my camera, so I wedged the backpack against the chain-link fence and got the camera out. That way I could tape a video of Clinton coach Andrew Webb talking about the game to WPCC Radio’s Gene Simmons, and while I hated to eavesdrop on him, people routinely eavesdrop on me when I’m trying to interview someone, and I just couldn’t bring myself to interview Webb, or, for that matter, Laurens coach Chris Liner, while trying to look through a camera at the same time.
That’s where I draw the line.
It was 11 p.m. The deadline was midnight. My house was two miles away. I hoped a friendly policeman would help me facilitate my wild dash home, but noooooo. When I told him I was on deadline and in a hurry, I’m surprised he didn’t assign a fellow media-loving cop to give me a mandatory motorcade to Cross Anchor and back.
I’m exaggerating a bit. I shouldn’t ask for special treatment. Hundreds of the people driving home could have been on deadline. People are on Facebook, and they want to post their observations faster than anyone else, too. Then there’s Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat … I should be thankful I had so little to do.
I got to the house, fired up the laptop that I had left ready to run, and downloaded the photos and video. While the progress of the downloads (or perhaps they were uploads; I forget) was recorded in bands (of color, not music) streaking across the screen, I put on some coffee and groped for a lead.
Big play by someone named Sincere. Sincere Hunt. Like A Streetcar Named Desire. Sincere effort. Bingo.
I went back to the laptop and wrote just that lead graph. Then I picked out six photos that were promising and messed around with the light, tint, color, etc., saved them and emailed them to Greenwood.
Thirty minutes. At least 400 words. Those 30 minutes were spent writing, hurriedly referring to notes, and listening to the do-it-all instrument known as a cell phone. In this case, it was the voice-recorder subsidiary.
With five minutes to go, I hurriedly proofread to fix things like “the Clinton” because I had changed it from “Red Devils” and forgotten to remove “the.” Then I emailed the story to Greenwood and fetched the coffee. By coffee’s end, sleep wasn’t an option, so I watched California clobber Hawaii out west while looking at all the tweets and posts that students, fans and players had entered while I was occupied with 400 words.
I had foolishly planned on getting up early on Saturday to attend “Red Devil Rerun” at Whiteford’s, but it was at 8, and that’s when I awakened, and so I listened to it on radio and took down some notes that may be useful for advancing Clinton’s game next week in Greer.
Besides, I had to produce the video and post it on the Index-Journal’s YouTube page.
Once upon a time, I was just a writer.
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Forgive Us Our Trespasses is the latest. It’s a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.
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The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.
The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.
Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.
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