Sometimes an evening with your former self is the best way to spend a Friday night.
Walk through the back door between the gym and cafeteria, past teenagers selling pizza and candy and programs. Go through the gym doors and circle the court, down the baselines past the handicapped seating and under the basket near the emergency exits. Past the championship banners with names that fill yearbooks and dusty memories.
Shake hands with idle coaches and athletic directors and nod at anyone who still recognizes a now-trimmed beard. Get behind the benches and hang a left into the stands, within earshot of a coach’s screams and eyesight of an officials’ signals. Find an empty space away from girls in thick-rimmed glasses and oversized letter jackets. Even further away from parents.
This is different, but not unfamiliar.
One of the best things about being a reporter is the emotion that covering an event can bring. Not the feelings that create bias and draw favor, but the energy of a room and the panic of an impending deadline that drive you to churn out copy with some added gusto.
There’s also a measurable sense of importance that comes with being the person of record, the guy writing things down and presenting them to a public as fact later on. Writers take pride in getting it right and doing it well, and sports are no exception. Knowing you’re the only person responsible for explaining what happened makes the experience significant in a very different way.
If there was one thing I knew I would truly miss about being a high school sports reporter, it was basketball. When poorly played, any sport can be trying to watch. At the high school level it’s not always beautiful, but good hoops teams and a good crowd can make for an electric evening in the gym.
Niagara Falls and Bishop Kearney delivered just that at the Cataract City Classic on Friday night. The Classic is a two-day marathon of basketball that packs nine games and 17 teams into the gym of my Alma mater. The Wolverines—a perennial hoops powerhouse since the “new” Niagara Falls High School opened in 2000—cap each day with a game against a strong non-league opponent. I had covered it the last two years working for the Niagara Gazette, and those were some of my favorite moments while working for the paper.
I wasn’t sure what I was looking for when I walked into the gym. Free of deadlines and obligations, I didn’t mind when the early game pushed a pair of overtimes and clock malfunctions wrenched the middle contest to a dead stop. I didn’t transcribe quotes and type excitedly, or wager game clock against atomic clock. I actually paid to get in and found a seat among parents and teens and high school hoops fans.
And I guess that’s what I am now. An occasional freelance story aside, if I’m attending a game it’s on my dime and for my own personal reasons. It was just nice that those reasons were justified on Friday. The Falls game was a thriller, a 52-47 overtime win over a towering Bishop Kearney team that features four D-I prospects in the starting lineup.
I came for the dunk show from Kearney’s 6-foot-9 Syracuse commit Chinonso Obokoh and 6-8 sophomore Thomas Bryant. Instead I got a thundering dunk from Canisius-bound Falls senior Jermaine Crumpton and a furious defensive effort from the undersized Wolverines.
The game had great pace, and a full house in the “Wolvearena” was frantic throughout. The pep band was back and the Falls even had a real student section, complete with matching shirts and the same chants each generation manages to make. That’s something they never could seem to manage even at the height of the Jonny Flynn/Paul Harris days.
It was fun, and I didn’t feel out of place one bit. After two years of press passes and growing pains, there’s no imposter complex left with high school sports. I couldn’t explain what I was looking for on Friday, but once the late game tipped off I knew I had found it.
It’s nice to know that it’s going to be there no matter how I pay the bills.