Miles Vance: Why do I love high school sports? Let me count the ways
I hope this doesn't come as a shock to you, but I love sports.
I really love sports.
And most of all, I really, really love high school sports.
I love watching them, I love photographing them, I love writing about them and I love being there for the biggest of the big games.
So if that's not a shock, the obvious question is this — why?
While the question comes in just that one word, the answer does not. So let's go.
First, there's the practical. Covering sports — primarily high school sports — has been my life's work. Now, at age 57, I have covered high school sports as my full-time job for 30 years. I covered sports in St. Helens, Scappoose and Rainier for seven years, in Beaverton for 20 years, and now, for three years in Lake Oswego and West Linn.
But even in the other four years of my professional life, I managed to work sports into the equation when I could. In my first two years as a newspaper reporter, I wrote mainly news and features about the goings-on in the Hollywood and Gateway areas of Northeast Portland. While sports was not the main focus of my job — to be truthful, it wasn't really supposed to be any part of my job — I still found ways to write the occasional sports feature (about Grant High School's boys basketball championship in 1986 [led by future NBA all-star Terrell Brandon], about ascending soccer coach Jim Rilatt and others).
Then, after 27 years focused mostly on high school sports (in St. Helens and Scappoose, I also covered the Scappoose City Council and Port of St. Helens for seven years), I took over as managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood.
For me, that job was a killer. Long hours, a couple hundred emails a day, a couple hundred questions a week that I didn't know the answer to (but needed to answer almost immediately) and management responsibilities for 10 reporters, sports editors and photographers.
So what did I do? At the end of my first long — OK, very, very long — week as managing editor, I went out and covered Southridge at Century girls basketball for our company's Beaverton and Hillsboro papers.
That was a trend I continued every Friday for my two years as managing editor — covering a football, basketball or baseball/softball game for one or more of the papers in our company. It benefitted our company's many papers to be sure, but for me, it allowed me to do something every week that I knew I was good at, that I enjoyed doing and that I knew how to do from start to finish.
The second reason for my love of high school sports is the philosophical — I cover high school sports because of all that's good about them.
No. 1, high school athletics are good because they're the final frontier of true amateur sports. While there are plenty of stories about college players who get cars or other illicit benefits from boosters, that kind of enticement is almost unheard of at the high school level.
Even without the car, the legitimate benefits that college athletes get are incredible. Oregon and Oregon State cost $10,000-$11,000 a year for in-state residents and $28,000-$33,000 for others, not to mention all the other stuff (housing, books, meals etc.) that sometimes comes with scholarships.
The same is true for many (if not all) Olympic sports; once known as the last bastion of amateurism in sports, it is known as that no longer.
High school sports, however, are different. With very few exceptions, high school athletes live with their parents/guardians, go to school in the neighborhoods/cities where they live, go to the same classes as everyone else and must pass those classes if they want to keep playing the sport(s) of their choice.
Despite the challenges that come with high school sports — athletes who play when they're tired because of finals, who play hard when their team is lousy, who stick with their home school when they don't get along with their coach — they often make magic.
When you see a great team at the height of its powers, when you watch an individual athlete in total command of their game, and when you know that those teams and athletes have the same challenges you did as a kid, when you know that almost all of them are working their hardest to represent their school and the town they grew up in, it's magic.
No. 2, I love high school sports because they are quintessentially American — they are diverse and they are meritocratic.
While diversity might seem like a foreign concept in Oregon — the population is 85% white — it is a concept that is alive and well and beautiful in high school sports.
High school sports teams are, at least by my observation, far more diverse than the population as a whole. And it is the best kind of diversity — players/athletes form bonds that often last lifetimes, and teammates routinely refer to each other as brothers and sisters regardless of race or ethnicity.
That's good stuff.
The meritocracy part is big, too. With very few exceptions, the best players play the most, the hardest-working players improve the most and everybody gets to benefit from their own efforts.
The final reason I love high school sports is the personal. I played sports growing up — mainly baseball and basketball, but also football through my sophomore season of high school — and have continued to play softball and golf throughout my life.
After my dad passed away when I was 11 — he had kidney disease and died in a home dialysis accident — my sports teammates became even more important to me and my coaches sometimes filled in as father-figures in my life.
Because of the importance sports played for me in a transformative period in my life, I had to find a way to stay close to them once my competitive playing days ended.
As I've mentioned to people over the years, working for small newspapers is not as lucrative as you might think and the hours are crazy, but it's a profession that's kept me close to sports, kept me connected to my roots and provided me with meaning.
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