Tom Ross: Back in the sports business
30 years later, I return to sidelines
Steamboat Springs — My assignment to cover Steamboat Springs High School boys and girls hoops Friday night lit a big fat nostalgia bomb for me.
I spent nine years split into two stints covering sports for the weekly Steamboat Pilot (yep, the paper came out only once a week, on Wednesdays). What is really freaking me out is the realization that the 17-year-olds I covered in 1980 are now pushing 50, and I’m still 27 years old!
I’d be willing to bet a case of beer that I could line up under the basketball backboard with the boys and girls starting five from the Class of 1981 and beat half of them up and down the court. And that would put me up against some pretty quick guys and gals. At least they were quick-footed once upon a time.
I was ski bumming in February 1979 when I answered a “sports reporter wanted” ad in the Pilot and showed up in front of the desk of the late Dee Richards wearing a tan three-piece suit and tie. I was slinging some mighty fine clippings of murder trials and dairy festivals, and I was supremely confident.
Richards confided weeks later that she’d had to struggle to refrain from breaking out in laughter at the sight of my striped necktie. To really appreciate Richards’ mirth, you have to be able to visualize her iron gray, modified pageboy haircut and the twinkle in her eyes.
Anyway, I got the job, and now, three decades later, I’m experiencing déjà vu all over again.
When I signed on with the good ship Steamboat Pilot, basketball season was winding down. I didn’t begin covering high school sports until spring track season began.
Steamboat’s dirt track was a horror show in spring 1979. It still was covered in snow at the end of April, and the athletes were running hurdles in the high school hallway.
I quickly realized that Kelly Meek was a genius track coach and that there was some serious sprinting talent on the boys squad to go along with some gifted quarter- and half-milers on the girls squad. Lo and behold, when the end of May rolled around, the Sailor boys won the state championship, and the girls placed well, too.
It was to be the first of three consecutive state championships for the Sailors boys, and the same speed that won out on the oval brought a state football championship in the fall of ’79.
One football season, in the late 1980s, I made the mistake of asking to ride along with the team on the yellow school bus to an away game. I thought that by enduring the ride, I might write a good feature story. The scholar athletes on that return trip insisted on demonstrating the fine points of heating the bus by igniting farts.
It turned out to be a long, dark ride punctuated by brief bursts of lightning. I imagine some of those fellows are chemical engineers today and knocking down large bucks as they research alternative fuels.
In many ways, my favorite high school events to cover and photograph were the amazing state wrestling championships in the old McNichols Arena in Denver. It was a three-ring circus featuring kids of all sizes from all corners of Colorado.
I watched athletes from Steamboat, Hayden and Soroco claim individual championships back in those glory days.
I’ll never forget the first time I went to Denver for the state wrestling tournament and The Denver Post reporters were sitting along press row tapping away on electronic devices with video screens. They were almost certainly the Tandy TRS-80 model 100 that displayed nine lines of type and boasted 8 kilobytes of RAM running on a 2.4 MHz Intel CPU.
The world of journalism was about to change in ways we could not have imagined at the time.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that Steamboat Springs High School continues to field well-coached basketball teams made up of good, solid kids. That’s what I like to see out on the hardwood floor.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or e-mail tross@SteamboatToday.com
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