The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 7, 2013

A Chris Larick column: The times, they are a changin’

For the Star Beacon

— With a satisfied sigh, I close the last of three scrapbooks kept diligently by Tom Naylor’s mother.

Without the efforts of the mothers of Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame inductees’ mothers, my job in chronicling their athletic careers would be much more difficult. I can’t imagine sifting through years of newspapers to get the relevant facts of players who played decades ago.

Well, on second thought, yes I can. I’ve done it. And it’s an arduous project.

So kudos to the mothers of Naylor, Dick Hill, Hiram Safford, Tiffany Leonard and others.

One wonders, though, if my job, or that of those who succeed me in these efforts, will become infinitely more difficult in the future, when scrapbooks become a thing of the past.

What if the Conneaut News Herald, Star Beacon and other newspapers hadn’t covered high school sporting events as well as they did? What if we didn’t have writers keeping track of virtually every football and basketball game played in the county?

This seems to have been true in our county even back into the 1940s, as evidenced by the articles written about players like Carl Stokes and Dick Hill. But I believe it became particularly true starting in the 1960s or 1970s, when first coaches, then players began to be interviewed after every contest and lengthy articles were written about almost every game.

That period, to me (though I admit I’m prejudiced) will always be the Golden Age of Sports Coverage in Ashtabula County.

I remember when Darrell Lowe first took the job as sports editor of the Star Beacon, I believe in 1978. Darrell assembled a staff that eventually included, at various times, such writing stalwarts as himself, Karl Pearson, Tom Riggs, Marty Gitlin, Ed Puskas, Don McCormack, John Kampf, Mike Scully, Tom Harris, Aaron Dorksen, James Johnson, Adam Raeder and, yes, myself. It was probably Darrell  who insisted we expand our box scores to include details other newspapers didn’t.

After our Friday football or basketball night deadlines (sometimes as late as 3 a.m. or so at one time), our staff would head to Perkins or some other local restaurants and discuss our games and our game stories (“Who had the best lead tonight?”) and figure out who was leading our Fearless Forecast.

Those were great days, among the best of my life.

Of course, we had competition to our west. The News Herald was already covering a few Ashtabula area games when they decided to staff an office right here in Ashtabula. So did the Plain Dealer, to a lesser degree.

Don McCormack, our then — and current — sports editor, got that glint in his eye that I’ve often seen. “We’ll drive their (butts) out of the county!” McCormack, competitive in everything he does, vowed.

We all renewed our efforts to cover area sports even more comprehensively than we had before.

We had homecourt advantage. We all knew our territory, much better than the competition. After all, most of us were local. Only one other writer I can think of, John Kampf (after he left the Star Beacon), enjoyed that advantage. And eventually, we did drive them out, first the Plain Dealer, then the News Herald.

The downturn in the fortunes of the Ashtabula Mall and consequent loss of advertising dollars may have had something to do with that, but this is my story, and I’m sticking to this: We were too much for them to compete with.

Sadly, newspapers will probably never be as big a force in the community as they were then. The Plain Dealer and the News Herald, I have read, both have significant financial difficulties.

There are fewer sports writers, too, unless one counts “stringers” (freelance writers) like me. When I retired, the Star Beacon employed four full-time writers: McCormack, who was editor and thus didn’t have as much time to write as the rest of us; the late Karl Pearson; James Johnson; and me; plus Tom Harris, who was usually putting in 30 hours a week. Now, they have two (Don and Vince Peluso).

The rest of us, including Bob Ettinger, Steve Goldman, Rich Kelly, Jon Hall and David Negin, get paid by the story.

That means the Star Beacon cannot cover sports like it once did, though I know Don tries to do all he can. The newspaper covers less schools and cannot cover as many games. It’s not the paper’s fault, just the nature of today’s beast.

Which brings us back to scrapbooks. There’s no way that future mothers of athletes will find as much written about their sons and daughters as was once true, assuming they even have the time to keep such a record with so many more women in the work force.

There is enough reason to be concerned about the very continued existence of newspapers given the current attitude toward them.

That’s sad. People may prefer the lack of expense and convenience of television and the internet, but how many local stories are covered by those media? Try to make a scrapbook out of those rare scraps of information.

Ten, 15, 20 years down the road, the reader will know much less about high school contests and athletes.

Times change. I know that. But I cannot be persuaded that that particular change will be for the better.

Larick, a retired Star Beacon sports writer, is a freelance writer from Geneva.