Wharton: With return to preps, dream has again become a reality
When I began walking the sidelines in the late 1960s, watching fellow Granite High students and future pros Gordon Jolley and Golden Richards play football under the lights, writing for a daily newspaper seemed like an impossible dream.
Yet, as I begin what will be my 49th year of covering high school sports, that dream not only came true but remains very much a part of my life. With each passing season, as I attend the first game of the year, I still have butterflies. I know it will be time to quit when going to games seems like just a job.
Listening to the sound of a high school crowd, savoring the smell of freshly grilled burgers at the concession stand, watching boys and girls flirt while seemingly oblivious to the action on the field and, most important, hearing the hits, instructions from coaches to players, and the sideline sounds continue to fascinate.
Those formative years at Granite High, when National High School Hall of Fame writer Dick Rosetta allowed me to be a stringer for The Tribune and garner some of my first daily bylines, don’t seem that far removed from what I will see Thursday when Layton Christian and Duchesne open the 2014 football season.
Returning this year as a full-time high school writer after stints as an outdoor, travel, features and business writer has brought back many memories.
My knowledge and love of all things rural began in 1970 when there were just two classifications. If memory serves, I covered Beaver and Monticello in both the prep football and basketball title games that year.
When I took over as the full-time prep writer in 1971, The Tribune still had a "state" and a "city" edition. We would write one feature for the state edition and pull it out for another for the more urban areas.
That meant taking a five-day trip to Utah’s small towns, an adventure for a kid who didn’t see a lot of the state as a youth.
There was Al Marshall in Beaver, who gave me stories such as the year he had 23 sets of brothers on his team. Glen Richeson at Moab would invite me into his basement to watch a pro football game. I once rolled into Richfield on a basketball trip when it was 50 below zero. Dixie baseball and basketball coach Don Lay once introduced me to a lanky sophomore named Bruce Hurst, who would later become a Major League pitcher. I watched legendary three-sport athlete Bruce Hardy play football on the old Copperton field.
The job became an obsession.
On Oct. 5, 1974, the day my daughter Emma was born, I covered three high school football games. My late wife was none too happy when I wrote those game stories between labor pains and called them into the office, where Rosetta was on the line with the local Green River paper trying to track down a score.
On March 14, 1976, I had just finished covering then-Granger basketball coach Chris Hill’s basketball team win a first-round game at the Huntsman Center (Hill is now the long-time Utah athletic director) when my wife called from the hospital. She was concerned that one of our newborn two-day old premature twin sons was having a medical problem. He was, and I spent a long night at the old Primary Children’s Hospital in the Avenues while he underwent what would ultimately be successful surgery.
And I’m pretty sure I was covering another prep basketball tournament when my youngest son was born on March 8, 1981.
As I prepare to end my career where it started so many years ago, the changes are great. The internet and social media are a big part of our sports coverage these days. Some athletes train year-round for a single sport. Nearly every major player in the state can be found on a recruiting website. Instead of two classifications, there are six. And, in the best development of all, Title IX allows girls equal footing on sports fields and arenas.
But the essentials are still the same. Loud crowds, passionate parents and high school athletes who play each moment as if their lives depended upon it.
Thus, when another season starts, the familiar feeling of excitement will kick into gear.