Memories of a sports writer

I’m in the office today and across from me, Joanna Chadwick, who covers high school sports for us, is working on All-State and All-Class football teams.

It brings back memories.

Eagle high school sports beat reporter Joanna Chadwick working on picking All-State football teams.

Eagle high school sports beat reporter Joanna Chadwick working on picking All-State football teams.

I picked All-City, All-Class and All-State teams for quite a few years. The Eagle has been picking All-State teams in football and boys basketball since the early 1960s. It’s a time-honored tradition and I hope we never stop. It’s one of the great things we do as a newspaper, in my opinion.

But it’s also thankless and difficult.

When I asked Joanna about the process of picking these teams, which I did just now because she’s sitting 10 feet from me, she winced.

“It’s a very involved process,” she said. “You want to make the best decisions, but you know that no matter what decisions you make there will be plenty of critics.”

That’s how I remember it, too.

Back in the day, picking All-City teams was the best. And worst.

All of the coaches would gather in a small meeting room at The Eagle and we would hash it out over a couple of hours. Each coach had previously sent in a nomination form and it was my job to prepare a ballot that included all of those names.

There were times when coaches dug in their heels and pushed hard for a player to be chosen to the first team. Nerves were frayed, feelings were hurt. It was most often a cordial gathering, but there was some occasional testiness.

And I was the moderator. It was my job to move the meeting along, to shorten the debate and to do my best to find consensus. Most meetings, to my recollection, ended amicably. We never had a fist fight, at least not until everybody made it to the parking lot.

Picking All-State teams is different. The process involved sending out ballots to every coach in the state and crossing my fingers that a good chunk would respond. The going rate was about 60 percent, which I never understand. Why wouldn’t a coach take the 5-10 minutes necessary to fill out an All-State ballot, even if that coach didn’t feel like there was a strong candidate on his/her team?

Upon receiving those ballots, the process of tabulating started. That wasn’t fun, but the hope was that it would lead to some clear-cut decisions about which players to pick. For the most part, it did.

Although picking offensive linemen was an interesting process. In all of the All-Whatever football teams I picked over the years, I’m not sure I was ever confident about an offensive lineman.

Picking basketball teams was easier, of course, because of fewer players to pick. And because there are no offensive linemen in basketball. But there is always debate about who should be in and who should be out. I like to think that making an All-State, All-Class, All-Metro or All-Conference team is a big deal, so it was important to make sure due diligence had been achieved. I didn’t want to make a glaring blunder.

The Eagle released its All-Metro football team this week and the Top 11 and All-Class teams will be in Sunday’s paper and on Kansas.com. It’s a big deal and one of the coolest things is gathering all of the players and the coach of the year together for a group picture that has been appearing with these All-Whatever teams forever and ever.

The 2013 Top 11 gathering was held Tuesday in Emporia and included those who were chosen to The Eagle’s team and the 11 players picked by The Topeka Capital-Journal.

When I was picking these teams, we brought teams together at various places around Wichita. My personal favorite was The Looking Glass, which used to be located just a few blocks from the newspaper on East Douglas. Besides treating players and their families to a meal one year, we brought in local magician Joe Stevens, a former standout basketball player at North High and Wichita State.

Of all the All-State banquets I organized during my career, that’s the one I remember most. It was a magical moment. Literally.