Covering football can be as rewarding as playing

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

It’s billed as “Friday Night Lights” and in my book there’s nothing better than high school football.

I’ve covered high school football games in various towns as a newspaper editor, reporter and photographer for 20 years. I don’t know if my stories have gotten much better in all those years but I have learned how to get a story filed on time that tells the basics of what happened.

An editor once told me, “Whatever you do, be sure and get the final score right.” I don’t think I’ve ever mis-reported a final score, but you’d be surprised how close I’ve come over the years.

Unlike Howard Cosell I don’t have to say “I Never Played the Game.” While my football career was a short one and I was never on the varsity roster, I did play in junior high and one year on the freshman team at Portales High School.

I was really slow and didn’t have great skill talents. I was a good snapper, so I played center in junior high some. I wasn’t really big enough to play there though and got moved to defensive tackle, I wasn’t big enough or fast enough to play there either but I could slow somebody down enough for Donnie Melton to stunt through from linebacker and get a sack. I got used to Donnie’s cleats running up my backside.

With size and speed a definite problem, I probably hit the wall with football the day we got creamed in Tucumcari. We had racked up penalty after penalty that day, mostly undeserved. A good number of the defense got tossed from the game and the coaches were mad.

Being a bunch of knotheads, none of us knew to leave well enough alone and a good bit of horseplay went on in the restaurant after the game.

The bus was noisy and out of control as we hit the road. As we approached the caprock the bus pulled over to the side of the road and the coaches ordered everyone out. They said the bus would be waiting about a mile up the hill. If we weren’t there in a given length of time we would be running another mile.

We worked our tails off the rest of the season and at the end I decided being on the sidelines with a camera would be a lot more fun.

I’ve seen it all over the years. When I lived in Tucumcari we had a great team for the first few years then we hit a downhill slide with many a winless season until the school dropped a class.

In Texas, football was serious business and the Bay City Black Cats were a serious team. The stands were always packed and while we played on grass at home, we actually had opponents who we played on astroturf. Some of those stadiums were better than small college facilities.

In Colorado I once covered a district championship game where we saw eight inches of snow fall during the game. The field was clear and dry when we started, by the end of the first quarter they were taking official timeouts so the yard markers could be shoveled off. By the end of the game I had ruined a $200 camera flash.

On the road you never know what to expect. Usually it means a rushed dinner or no dinner at all. I’ve found you can make it through the night on popcorn and hot chocolate if need be.

There’s always technical difficulties of some sort to overcome on the road, but ingenuity and determination usually pay off in those cases. But not always.

One time as a weekly publisher I was starting the second half of a 250-mile road trip with my sports editor when he came to the realization that he had shot the whole game without any film in the camera. I nearly threw him out on the highway.

I hadn’t covered a game in about four years until I started covering the Rams this season. It’s one of the fun parts of my job. Hopefully I can continue do it until I’m too old to get up and down the sidelines.