Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Like sports? This is your time.

It's tough to find a busier time of the sports year than late February and early March. Well, I suppose it depends on what sports and levels you follow, but there are plenty of options.

Let's see, there's spring training for Major League Baseball. Pitchers and catchers reported on Valentine's Day this year before the game schedule got going. The start of baseball season can be something that sneaks up on you, especially for those that live in wintry wonderlands like Minnesota. It's always fun to have the anticipation of the season ahead - even if the lineups feature a lot of high-numbered jerseys.

Hockey and basketball are still in full swing with their regular seasons. Plus, teams have trade deadlines and playoff pushes to think about, which keeps fans interested if their team is any good. The Wild just won their season-high fifth game in a row and have moved into third place in the Central Division in the NHL - before losing to the league's worst team in Arizona. The Timberwolves are trying to end a lengthy playoff drought.

The NFL is in that brief in-between period following the Super Bowl and before the draft. Oh wait, the Scouting Combine is this week. Never mind. Football really doesn't seem to have an offseason.

Racing, hoops and tourneys
In the racing world, the Daytona 500 to kick-off the NASCAR year is already behind us. This year, Danica Patrick, with her beau Aaron Rogers in tow, crashed out to end her NASCAR career. Don't worry; she'll be at the Indianapolis 500. Speaking of IndyCar, the open-wheel drivers start their season in St. Petersburg, Fla. on March 11. (One of these years, I've got to change some priorities and make a Florida trip with a St. Pete-spring training combo.)

Of course, the true March Madness goes back to the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The bracket-busting is just around the corner, also a time when work productivity goes down as basketball fans stream games and check the scores online. It's also the one time of year when people pretend to be hoopster fanatics, even though they haven't watched a single minute of a college basketball season. But hey, sports can be a social event, so it's all good.

This time of year is also filled with high school state tournaments. It starts with girls' hockey, the one tournament in February that really can catch you off guard in a "already?" kind of way. On the bright side, it starts weeks of playoff games with section and state tournaments for all the other winter sports. Actually, I'm forgetting the skiing which comes before girls' hockey, but that's not something I've covered so it's out of sight, out of mind. Not to diminish the sport by any means.

From the sports I've covered, it's developed into a bit of a routine of what to watch. There's girls' hockey, then boys' swimming and diving (wrestling is the same weekend), the most prestigious boys' hockey tournament in the country, followed by the girls' and boys' state basketball tournaments.

This year had one other sporting event to the mix: The Olympics.

The world comes together for sports
Every four years, the Olympics come around for some winter entertainment, too. I remember when the Olympics would come on TV as a kid. It was a little different then without a billion cable channels and social media to keep the world over-updated on all the events happening. Anyway, I remember my parents encouraging me to watch the Olympics because they only came around every few years - and I could watch Rugrats any time.

It was always fun to watch them. There are so many events that are unique to the Olympics. For instance, how often do you watch ski jumping or speed skating on TV?

I didn't get to watch as much as I would have liked, a result of covering so many sports myself. I kept up the most with women's hockey, probably because I covered Team USA in December when they played Canada in St. Paul. Oh, and if you haven't heard, goaltender Maddie Rooney played for Andover, Minn. (!), plus I wrote a story about her during her senior season. #humblebrag

Anyway, I watched most of the first couple games which started at 1:40 a.m. Central time. The night owl in me didn't mind. I caught the third period, overtime and shootout in the gold medal game against Canada before writing something up for

That was probably the best moment of the Olympics for Team USA. Well, that and then the men's curling gold medal later in the week. I know that was a huge feat as well; I just still am not well versed in the curling rules and strategy, so it was hard to get into it. (I was also falling asleep after covering the girls' state hockey tournament for four days.) But all the congratulations to the Minnesotans who led the way.

I also watched some figure skating and some other random ski/snowboarding events. I saw Shaun White win his gold. I watched the USA figure skaters take bronze as a team. I started thinking about what a difficult journey it must be to get to the Olympics and then win a medal. This competition isn't like the Stanley Cup or World Series that happens annually.

These medals are given out for performances every four years. That's a long time to train, practice and sacrifice for just one shot at victory. And what if you mess up? What if you're not at your best that day? To me, it's almost unimaginable how much goes into these performances, physically and emotionally. Let alone the fact that I don't know how these athletes do it. The heights, the strength needed, the ways your body has to move and bend.

I applaud them, because I couldn't even manage a cartwheel after years in dance classes.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

So many strides for women in the sports world

I wouldn't say I'm a movie buff. I enjoy keeping up with favorite television shows more than movies.Still, one of my favorite films, especially in the sports genre, is "A League of Their Own." There are plenty of things to like about it, but it's also based on the true story of women playing professional baseball. The movie did a good job of explaining the premise of women going to work - and playing ball - while the men went away to war in the 1940s. 

That's just one example on the path girls and women have carved over the years. Feb. 7, 2018 was National Girls and Women in Sports Day. 

Technically, the day recognizes athletes and their achievements in sports. I'm jumping on board, too, as a female sports journalist, blogger, social media coordinator and author. Plenty has been accomplished in this arena as well. I'm proud to be a part of that. 

I didn't cover a game on this day, watch any sports or write much. That's weird in itself, I know. It's also Wednesday, which is typically a day for elementary school volunteering and church choir practice. I *did* finish up a story I was working on for an upcoming edition of Minnesota Hockey Magazine. I also conducted a phone interview with a high school softball coach. 

Sometimes, I think it's hard to fathom how things were in the sports world (or any world, really) years ago or before you were around to remember. Perfect example? I've watched plenty of documentaries and footage surrounding the John F. Kennedy assassination and days following. I still can't get over the fact that news anchors could smoke cigarettes on live television. 

It applies with sports, too. It's never been a question for me as to whether I could write about sports. That doesn't mean the job doesn't have it's own challenges - and there are still obstacles to clear in regard to equality. Still, I could do it. It's normal. Job descriptions for sports reporters aren't marked with weird things like "men only" or some such nonsense.

I had to chance to learn more about the women who've come before me in the business in writing my children's book, Women in Sports Media. Women who covered sports decades ago, when it really was a man's world. I read about a woman who sat down on the steps of a hockey arena, setting her typewriter in her lap, because they wouldn't allow her in the press box. Another sat outside in a snowstorm to cover a Minnesota Vikings game because she wasn't allowed into the press box - she sat on top of it. Allowing women in locker rooms? That just wasn't done, until women started pushing back. 

I'm grateful that I've had such positive experiences in this business. I really haven't had to worry about much. 

When it comes to athletics, there have been strides there, too. Just a few random ones listed here:

  • This year marks 20 years since women's hockey entered the Olympics
  • Title IX
  • I wrote a story last year about a high school wrestling team with female wrestlers
  • The WNBA
  • Athletic scholarships for girls
  • The growth of girls hockey over the past couple decades
  • Female race car drivers competing with male drivers
  • Volleyball, soccer, dance, basketball, swimming, tennis
  • And so much more

So many good stories are out there, told by and about women. There are still stories of many "firsts" for women in sports. Some see this in a negative light, asking why we should be celebrating something that should just be the norm. The truth is, it's important to recognize these milestones. In the future, it might not be a big deal when a girl wins a state high school wrestling title. But the first one, like anything done for the first time, is still special. 

Thanks to all the girls and women who have contributed in some way to the sports world. And remember, there's no crying in baseball.