Usually summertime for a community sportswriter signifies a rare period of downtime.
Yes, with more sports getting in that year-round work and the ever-increasing rise in popularity of 7-on-7 football tournaments and basketball showcases, there’s more for us to cover than ever before. But even with that, summer typically affords us the chance to enjoy the absence of late nights and the grind of churning out gamers.
Not so much this summer for this Covington sportswriter.
As I look up at the calendar to see it’s almost half past July, it strikes me that we’re just three weeks away from the beginning of another school year. That means we’re also about three weeks away from the first pitch of what should be an exciting softball season.
We’re perhaps four or five weeks away from the start of volleyball and cross country. And with football’s eternal grind, it sometimes feels like the season never ended. But things will kick off in about a month with scrimmages and first games of the regular season to follow the week after.
That said, it’s been anything but a restful summer for The Covington News sports department. In addition to making plans for our third annual Gridiron Guide football preview magazine, we’re also perfecting our podcast production, making them more regular, and we’re preparing for our second annual East Atlanta Metro Football Media Day.
In those ways, summer has been pretty routine. But the part of summer sportswriting where you get to lay back and tell fluffy, lighthearted stories? Well, that’s where this year has been much different.
In my 10 years of covering sports in Georgia, I think I can say that this has been one of the most emotionally draining summers of sportswriting I’ve encountered, if not the most. And really, it’s two stories that have made it so.
First, of course, was the Jeremiah Holloman story that threw the local sports scene for a loop and caught everyone — including me — off guard. The vitriol we experienced, and even the praise we received for handling a tough story in a responsible way, was unlike anything I’ve received in my career. Yet it wasn’t completely unexpected. It was a major story, after all, involving one of our own at one of the top college football programs in the country which happens to be within our state’s borders.
Yet, just as we were getting past that, and while I was trying to enjoy a bit of vacation, the news broke of the Kevin Marshall murder. Kevin was a young man that I’d seen many times around the Newton sidelines during my almost three years covering the area. So when I heard of his death, and the tragic and disgusting way it happened, it was like a punch in the gut to me.
I learned very quickly that Newton County and Covington loved Kevin deeply. And I also learned that the community was watching us and how we’d respond to covering this situation.
Yes, I felt the heat. Yes, even some racial undertones regarding the handling of both stories. And that’s unfortunate, because when I cover my sports communities, I don’t think about race and politics or any of those things as much as I think about simply trying to cover the best athletes our area has to offer as thoroughly and as deeply as possible.
But I have realized afresh that many of my readers do see the things that happen in our area — even from a sports perspective — in such terms and through such lenses. Now I’m not going to promise that I’m going to start inculcating more racial and political elements into my writing and coverage. But it definitely does help to understand the thoughts of the people that I work and write for.
Let me say that regardless of how some may feel about our coverage or our work now after such a tumultuous summer, my sports staff and I are still in love with the Newton County and Covington sports scene.
We still believe that Covington is one of Georgia’s best kept secrets when it comes to hotbeds of athletic talent.
I still believe that there aren’t many more close, tight-knit communities around than what I’ve experienced in Covington.
I still believe that the vast majority of our readers know and understand that we do love, not only our work but the people and community that we work for.
That said, I hope and pray people understand that as journalists, we still have a job to do. And that job sometimes requires us to tell the kinds of stories we would rather not tell. We’re just as human as you are. Many of us have children just like you do. We realize that with certain strokes of circumstance, it’s possible that our kids could one day be on the negative end of a news report as well, and no, it won’t feel good to us either, even though we understand acutely how this all works.
But hopefully more people will accept the fact that it’s still our job to report the news — the good, the bad, the ugly and the stuff we wish we could push aside — and to do so with as little personal conjecture and opinion as possible, outside of the occasional editorial column.
I, for one, am excited for the soon-coming school year. It’ll give me and our staff an opportunity to hopefully get back to telling the kinds of stories about our athletes and teams that we take pride in telling and that you enjoy reading and sharing.
My prayers continue for all who have been affected by the hard stuff that we’ve had to report this year, particularly this summer. My hope is that the new school year and sports season will bring an abundance of positive things to share.
I can’t speak for every sports journalist out there, but even though it’ll always be my job to report all kinds of news, it’ll be the positive things that I’ll continue actively looking for.
And three years in this community has shown me that when it comes to positives, I don’t have to look hard.
Gabriel Stovall is the sports editor at The Covington News. He can be reached for tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @GabrielStovall1.