Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Righteous Path

If I had to pick the most satisfying aspect of my job, it's when the kids that we cover so intensely in high school go on to bigger and better things at the next level. I got chills when David Stern announced Raymond Felton's name going to the Charlotte Bobcats with the 5th pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, and when Lawrence Timmons hugged his mom after getting selected 15th in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple of weeks ago. There's no need to pick sides for me in the Clemson/South Carolina rivalry because I root equally for both schools thanks to former WPDE All-Zoners making key contributions for both programs. Whether it's Anthony Waters or Michael Hamlin running right over after a Clemson win or Syvelle Newton doing the same in Columbia, I always felt proud of our guys stepping up on the major sports stage.

Lately, I've been on the other end of the spectrum with news of former high school athletes getting in trouble with the law. Since we live in a country where you are innocent until proven guilty, it's not fair to get into the details, but there have been two crimes in recent weeks that have involved former high school athletes that were household names on our Friday night franchises. Usually, sports is an escape for potential trouble and the number of positives far outweigh the negatives when it comes to athletes benefitting society. We always try to get a message across to the members of our All-Zone teams on how they represent their community and they are in an elite group that is quickly becoming a legacy. The question that needs to be presented to each of our All-Zoners is this: What path are you going to walk down? Will you be like Lanard Stafford of Carvers Bay who not only walked on to Steve Spurriers Gamecocks and starts at fullback, but is on his way to an engineering degree. The other path is one that never works out. When the news department knocks on our door and asks us if we know the name of a former athlete at Blank High, Hags and I cringe as we cue up the video of a touchdown or a three point basket. Here's hoping that future All-Zoners take the righteous path. Coastal Carolina's David Bennett says the same thing to his team on a regular basis "Do Right". It's two simple words. If people can think about those two words when presented with a chance to walk down the right path, maybe we can keep our former All-Zoners out of the news headlines and back into the sports section.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

NASCAR's Coming

Following the excitement of the NFL Draft, we're getting ready for another busy weekend when NASCAR takes over Darlington. The meteoric rise of the sport when it comes to the mainstream has been nothing short of amazing. It also reflects in the way we cover Darlington weekend. We used to go wall to wall for just about the entire race weekend, but as the sport grew, it has become more and more difficult to deliver the same coverage we have as in the past. It used to be that we would do a 60 minute special on Friday night with live appearances from the drivers. When you look back on those shows, our list of guests included such legends as Darrell Waltrip, Dale Jarrett, Ray Evernham, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and a long list of others. It got to be that it became so hard to get guests to appear on our live race show that we simply can't do it. The fact of the matter is Dale, Junior, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and all the other big names have had so much of their time impacted throughout the year that coming on WPDE's race show on Friday night is never going to happen anymore. Five years ago, that was a different story. I like the good folks at Darlington and I applaud the effort they have put in to not only keep their race, but have one of the best weekends on the NASCAR calendar. That being said, local media coverage is a low priority to everyone involved with the sport. What's interesting is that it was local media that really helped bring the sport to where it is today. We'll be doing a 30 minute race special on Saturday night May 12th at 6:30 pm, just before the start of the race. It used to be that track officials and NASCAR would be giddy with getting that kind of exposure on a local television station. That's not the case anymore.
It actually used to be fun to go to the track. I remember when Jim Hunter was the president at Darlington and called me the Thursday before a race weekend and asked me to stop by Governor's Run golf course. He told me he had a couple of guys that wanted to talk about the race - Dale Earnhardt, Senior and David Pearson. That was pretty awesome. My all time favorite piece of video we ever shot was Mark Haggard talking with Dale, Senior while he was grilling hamburgers in front of his hauler after a Friday morning practice. Then there was video of me and Darrell Waltrip doing the Ickey Shuffle to close our race special (I can understand why NASCAR doesn't want anyone to see that). Those days are gone. The entire weekend is such a free for all that I totally understand why the drivers have little to no patience to talk to the local media when they have the national folks followed by the print media and us hounding them from beginning to end. There's no structure to the race weekend.
NASCAR also is very protective of their logo and rights. All of the coverage from the race weekend including our 30 minute race special is not allowed to be show on our website in any way shape or form. NASCAR does this so you have to log on to to see anything NASCAR on the internet. I would rather see them have the right to link any local television station's coverage of an event on and allow the station's to post it on their website as well. How interesting would it be to log on to their site and see all of the local coverage of a race. You'd get so many different angles from media outlets and you'll spend more time on which is their #1 goal anyways. The internet has become unchartered waters for professional sports and media coverage. The NFL kicked many local TV stations off the sidelines because of the footage they put on the internet. NASCAR is doing the same thing. What's funny is there will be someone from the front office logging on to and checking our site. Don't think we took the weekend off on race weekend when it comes to internet coverage -- we've been called into the NASCAR hauler and been parked on the world wide web.