Column: Line Drives — Question from a fan was a surprise

[This is my column in the Nov. 19 issue of The Commercial Review.]

It was a question that caught me off guard.

Saturday in Monroeville, the Jay County High School girls basketball team had just finished beating the host Heritage Patriots.

It was the second win in as many games — also the second game I covered this winter sports season — and the eighth consecutive regular season Allen County Athletic Conference victory for Jay County.

Usually I’m the one asking the questions following a game. Sometimes, I even catch the athletes off guard with one of my inquiries.

The table was turned Saturday.

As I gathered my camera, its bag and my jacket, I walked toward the locker room to wait for coach Kirk Comer for my standard post-game interview.

While walking the court a Jay County fan approached me and hit me with a question. It was a face I didn’t recognize, which happens more often than I’d like to admit, even though I’ve been on the job for more than two years now.

“Is it hard switching from football to basketball?” he asked.

It took me a minute to digest what I had been asked.

What does he even mean? Who is this person, and how does he know my daily schedule? Quick, think of an answer. Just say something.

I hope I came up with what seemed like a well-thought-out answer, but the exact words I said to him have since escaped my memory.

Looking back, I feel as if I blanked. I choked. I buckled under pressure.
It’s supposed to be me asking the questions. Not the other way around.

I’m the reporter.

I later found out I was speaking with Trent Muhlenkamp, the older brother of current JCHS senior Lyla Muhlenkamp, and cousin of FRHS senior Kendra Siefring.

Trent, whatever I said Saturday night, now that I’ve had some time to think of a legitimate answer — something each and every athlete I interview wishes they had the opportunity to do — I’d like to elaborate.

Is it hard switching from football to basketball?

He wanted to know if for me, as a reporter, transitioning from covering a football game one night to a basketball game the next was difficult.

Short answer: no, it’s not.

Long answer: no, it’s not.

But I’ll disclose more detail.

There are 13 sports during the school year — football, soccer, volleyball, golf, cross country, tennis, basketball, swimming, wrestling, gymnastics, baseball, softball and track. Often, I cover one sport one day and a different one the next.

Occasionally, I cover more than one in the same day. That is generally the case during tournament time. October was a good example. I covered the cross country semi-state meet in Fort Wayne in the afternoon Oct. 24, and then drove to Paulding, Ohio, for the FRHS volleyball sectional semifinal later that evening.

There have even been a few instances in which I have been to three events in one day, two of them simultaneously. Jay County hosted the girls swim sectional and wrestling regional tournament Feb. 7, 2014, and later that night the Patriots hosted Yorktown in boys basketball.

It makes for long days, no doubt. But switching from one sport to the next is rather seamless, as long as I am prepared.

That includes having the necessary papers to track stats and play-by-play — it varies by sport, and I’ve devised a system for most. I use different score sheets for volleyball than I do football (though they rarely, if ever, play on the same day). I designed my own basketball scorecard, and I have my own scorebooks for baseball and softball.

Perhaps the most important piece of preparation, which some may never notice and is often overlooked, is making sure my camera has fully charged batteries.

It’s not uncommon for me to shoot more than 1,500 photos on those Saturdays in February with multiple events to cover. Nothing makes me more nervous than showing up to an event without three things: something to write with, something to write on and charged camera batteries. It makes for a frustrating experience — trust me, it’s happened — when I don’t have a pen and paper, or camera batteries run out of juice in the middle of a game.

Possibly the most difficult part of any season isn’t covering different sports in consecutive days, or even multiple ones in the same day; it’s the first few of each sport in each season.

It always takes a game or two to get back in the swing of things. I was rusty for the JCHS girls basketball team’s season opener Nov. 12 at Monroe Central. It took me the first quarter to get used to the pace of the game, which with Comer at the helm is much quicker than my previous two seasons. During the final three quarters I was able to get back in the groove.

The next day I was in Lima, Ohio, for the Fort Recovery football regional semifinal. A day later I was in Monroeville — the night Trent hit me with a left hook of a question — back to reporting on basketball. The football game the night before had no impact on Saturday.

I was in midseason form.

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