Here’s a shameless plug. Every Saturday for nearly a year, I’ve been writing 2,000-words-plus on the century-old history of this most wonderful newspaper, The Mighty Signal. When I finish, wordy so-and-so am I, I will have typed more than 100,000 words, enough to make a good-sized novel. Tomorrow’s episode is on 100 years of covering sports.
Truly, I could have written 100,000 words on our local athletic scene alone. It’s funny as you get along in weeks, you can forget great swaths that were once a major part of your life.
For about a decade, in the wildness of my 20s, I was the central clearing house for things Santa Clarita athletic. It was fun. Tedious. Unpredictable. Heroic. Banal. Hilarious.
Sports writers aren’t always the sharpest Crayon in the box. And coaches aren’t always Oscar Wilde or P.G. Wodehouse when it comes to witty observations. Coaches seem to pop from the womb filled with clichés and well-duh observations. As a class, they don’t cross bridges before they come to them and tirelessly point out there is no “I” in “team.”
No “X,” “Q” or “Z” for that matter.
Geez. Week after week, they’d come up the most eye-wateringly dull observations.
“It was a good win for the team,” they’d frequently say.
I’d purse my lips, nod and not bother to write that one down.
Not all of them were dull. Canyon’s Harry Welch, perhaps our greatest coach, had a wicked sense of humor and refreshing take on life.
COC’s baseball genius, Mike Gillespie, kept things in balance. After a particularly huge victory, he noted: “We just beat Santa Barbara 3-2 for the state title and a billion Chinese could care less.”
I’m betting Gillespie was betting that I wouldn’t call China to see if the numbers jibed.
His friend and Cougar basketball coach, Lee Smelser, once commented after a victory that his Compton opponent led the nation in stolen television sets.
“Sure you want to run with that quote, Lee-Lee?” I asked.
Smelser shrugged. “Sure.”
It’s not like they were going to find someone else to coach junior college ball in a community that back then had more steers than, well.
People from a different culture.
Back in those carefree days, I rode a big bike. Had an AYSO father who tried to run me off the road while I was on my motorcycle. I think it may have been because I had written my Sports Editor’s Corner on how soccer wasn’t a sport and how all games ended nine hours later 1-0 with the lone giddy goal scorer running around a stadium then collapsing while his teammates dogpiled on top of him as he wept.
I was threatened by a family of hoods at a high school football game.
They asked me an opened-ended question: “So you think you’re smart or somethin’, huh?”
“Tough, too,” I pointed out. “Spell your names. You’re going in the paper,” I threatened. They vanished. Parole officer thing, I’m guessing.
Sports banquets were always just eye-wateringly painful. People belong to tribes. Tribes show up at banquets. Not the Jews. Nor the Somalians. Nor the sommeliers, which is dangerously close to “smellier.” You can go 196-0 and still somehow end up as a victim with the world against you.
I had to show up and give a Signal award for some dubious accomplishment like, “1973 Most Improved Drooler,” who, for some reason, was a guy always named Mike.
I’d give a short speech on the importance of hydration in sports ending with an Old Testament admonishment: “Break this wooden placard into many tiny pieces and share it amongst ye” followed with, “How much for the smiling-out-of-context cheerleader there at Table 11?”
Heavens. Was that me or a stranger from a previous lifetime who used to write about sports?
What were the journalism gods thinking?
I can’t speak for all the ladies who belonged to the now-defunct Valencia Women’s Golf Club. But the president of ValWoGolf was an absolute spit-encrusted pill of a human being. Granted. She’d sent in thrice-weekly news releases on the hijinks of her duffing gals. Note we were a weekly sports section then teetering on the brink of a page-and-a-half, counting ads.
One day, she dropped off a photograph the size of a billboard. It was a team photo of scowling dowagers, nary a decent ankle in the bunch. With the caption, it would take up about 3/4 of a full page. I just didn’t have the space to run it and told her, week after week after week, not mentioning the misshapen ankles.
Several times, she went over my head to the Newhalls, proprietor Scott, editor Ruth and their publisher/son, Tony. Ruth said she didn’t want to appear in her own paper for murdering this woman and could I please get her off Ruth’s back by running the photo.
“You want me to run the photo?” I clarified.
Ruth gave me the Ruth Death Stare and said nothing.
Next issue, I ran the picture.
As a one-column photo. Seventy-five women. It was the size of a postage stamp with a yard-long narrow caption on hinges beginning with: “TOP ROW, FROM LEFT —”
When the paper hit the streets, I thought I’d be fired. Instead, it was the only time in our long relationship where Ruth said to me: “I love you…”
Years later, I am grateful, but bewildered, that The Signal put up with me…
John Boston is a former many things.