For a sportswriter, especially this one, there's no better inspiration than indignation.
A recent e-mail took both The Augusta Chronicle and The Columbia County News-Times to task for recent reports on the Lakeside High School swim team.
The reader had no complaint with the written coverage of the Panther/Pack Invitational swim meet, which was won by the Lakeside boys and girls. But he was up in arms about the photos that accompanied the articles.
In The Chronicle, a Greenbrier swimmer was the feature photo, and in The News-Times, there was a shot of an Evans' swimmer doing his thing.
Was there anything wrong with those photos? Greenbrier was the meet co-host, which is enough reason to be featured, and the Evans' swimmer (Christian Kata) was one of the top performers at the Panther/Pack.
Additionally, the photos we use generally are the best shots turned in by the photographer, and their selection does not necessarily take into account which team actually won the event.
At least one person didn't like the swim-meet art. About the photo in The News-Times, the e-mail stated, "...the picture is inappropriate and shows your paper's unfair bias against Lakeside."
Furthermore, the irate Lakeside fan wrote, "Am I in the movie Groundhog Day?," a reference to his belief that every time a Lakeside athletic team does well, they get short shrift in newspaper coverage.
The e-mail was tame; what topped things off was a letter I received Wednesday afternoon from another Lakeside parent, and guess what? More complaints about perceived bias.
The letter begins,
"Dear Sports Editor and Reporter,
Although I know your names I chose not to use them."
This letter writer, identified only as "A Proud Lakeside Football Mother," went on to lambaste the coverage of the Panthers.
"Your coverage of Lakeside football has always been lacking. In the four years that my son played football I have been amazed at the obvious prejudice that has ruled your coverage of Lakeside."
She was miffed that we had "a big article on Lakeside's former coach. Frankly we could care less what he's doing."
For the record, the story wasn't just about former Lakeside coach Ed Koester. It featured four men who had stepped down from their athletic director positions at their respective Columbia County high schools, a turn of events that seemed pretty newsworthy to me.
She also was angry that Steven Rogers, the former Lakeside player who transferred to Evans, was the subject of stories in The News-Times:
"My question to you is exactly what is the going price for sports news coverage in this county? Is it comparable to the legal fees required to transfer your child to a new school zone just to play football?"
Excuse me, but a sportswriter can't just look the other way when a top prep player transfers to a rival school.
Here's the kicker - the lady decided to vent after seeing photos of Evans High School football award winners in The News-Times.
She writes, "Lakeside's banquet was a month ago, and you never even mentioned anything about it or the awards that were given. Typical, very typical! So much for your countywide coverage."
Well, I would have attended the Lakeside football banquet, but I wasn't invited.
And I disagree that there was anything wrong with the way I covered the Lakeside football team last season.
The News-Timeskicked off the preseason with a profile of first-year head coach Randy Hill; later, the squad was the centerpiece, front-page art for a story on football practice beginning in the county; I covered Lakeside's midnight madness practice; one story examined the Lakeside-Evans football rivalry; and, although the Panthers went 0-10, I did a positive write-up about how the team was battling through adversity and trying to turn things around.
Additionally, I did a feature on Lakeside player Kyle Key, the kicker who overcame heart surgery to suit up during his senior season.
Despite the facts, some people don't see the light.
There are a lot of readers out there who subscribe to a conspiracy theory, certain that their favorite high school teams are on some sort of black list.
That's a bunch of bull.
I'm the only full-time sportswriter at The News-Times, so it's my job to cover six high schools, plus the various other athletic events going on in Columbia County.
There have been many late nights spent away from my family while covering our local teams, and that's a sacrifice I don't take lightly.
There's something else I'm pretty serious about.
When it comes to reporting on local teams, there is not a biased bone in my body. The goal is to spread the coverage around as much as possible, but that's not good enough for some folks.
Well, if the e-mail man or the mad mom had bothered to look, they might have noticed that Lakeside has had plenty of publicity in The News-Times lately.
During the past month, Lakeside has had a wrestler and a basketball player featured in the Athlete Spotlight, the prominent back-page layout we offer on Wednesdays.
There was a lengthy article on Lakeside basketball star Matt Scott, who also appeared in a large photo on the sports front last Wednesday.
Lest the critics forget, there was a lead-in to the Panther/Pack Invitational, and the feature photo was of every Lakeside senior swimmer.
Does that sound like bias against Lakeside? Or, does it seem like there are some spoiled fans out there who want their team constantly in the spotlight?
I would say the latter.
Sadly, they're not alone. I've been covering Columbia County sports for almost seven years now, and at one point or another, every high school has had fans complain about lack of coverage for their teams.
However, there was one exception.
I covered a local soccer match last fall, and the story appeared in the Augusta Chronicle. The day the piece ran, I received some thank-you e-mails, and several very nice phone calls.
The feedback from those Westminster fans made my day, and it also opened my eyes.
That one article on a Richmond County squad generated more positive comments than all the stories I wrote last year about Columbia County teams combined.
Simply put, some Columbia County residents need to get a grip - I've written more than 2,000 stories about area athletics, and never once did I play favorites.
No, I'm not biased. But I'm willing to learn.
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