I often give shout-outs to Westporters who land in the New York Times. It’s nice to celebrate those random, local-national connections.
But that’s it: A link on “06880,” a brief description of the story, then it’s on to the next post.
Last Sunday, I was the Westporter in the Times. And despite all the hand-wringing about the current state of journalism — print and online — one thing is certain: the New York Times still has juice.
A few days earlier, I’d been interviewed by a sports reporter. The subject seemed arcane: Several years ago the governing body of American soccer organized a new, highest-tier form of youth teams (the “Development Academy”). Recently they lengthened those teams’ seasons to 10 months, and decreed that Academy players can no longer play for their high school teams.
The Times turned to me — the Staples High School boys soccer coach, with a few Academy players on our roster — for insights.
We talked for 45 minutes. I knew that much of what I said would land on the editing floor; I hoped what survived would be pithy, helpful — or at least not inane.
I had no idea when the piece would run.
On Saturday afternoon, I started getting emails. “Saw your quote in the Times!” they said. “Nice job!”
The story had been posted online — 15 minutes earlier. I have no idea how so many people found it so quickly, but I was not complaining.
I was mentioned briefly — only 4 paragraphs’ worth.
Dan Woog, the boys soccer coach at Staples High School in Westport, Conn., recalled the night his team won a league championship several years ago and a group of players showed up at a diner afterward with their championship medals around their necks.
Suddenly, the other customers in the diner — a majority of them Westport residents — stood up and spontaneously gave the players a standing ovation. The players beamed.
“They’re going to remember that the rest of their lives,” Woog said. “They felt like kings. That’s not going to happen in the academy.”
Woog added: “We should be in the business of letting kids be kids. Not forcing them into thinking they’re going to be playing for Arsenal or Manchester United two years from now.”
Fortunately, that was the money quote.
Dozens of people emailed me. Many appreciated what I said; a few took issue. The debate — mirroring one that’s gone on all over the country — was taking shape.
Then came Sunday morning.
The story ran on the front page of the sports section — above the fold. The headline — “High School Players Forced to Choose in Soccer’s New Way” — attracted attention from millions of readers. Soccer fans, anyone with a connection to high school, even people with no skin in the game — all seemed intrigued by the story. After all, it has ramifications for athletes in many other sports, and discussed side issues like competition, education, and adolescent development.
Then the blitz really began.
By late morning, over 150 comments had been posted on the Times website.
I’d received at least as many emails and phone calls. They came from former athletes, dimly remembered ex-Stapleites who recognized my name, current players, parents of current and ex-players, and Westporters who were simply excited to read my name in the paper.
Most of those who contacted me directly agreed with what I said. That’s natural.
The Times page was filled with diverse opinions. Early comments favored the Academy approach; later, they became 50-50. A few people wrote so obtusely, I wondered if they read any part of the story at all.
Then the media descended. I gave a number of interviews to other papers, blogs and outlets. All of a sudden, the Times story became national news.
Just as quickly, of course, it subsided. By yesterday, the American soccer world (and the media that covers it) had moved on to other topics. I was old news.
Someone else was enjoying his or her 15 minutes of fame.
And I’m left to wonder, still, about Academy teams, high school soccer, and kids walking into the Sherwood Diner with championship medals around their necks.
(Click here to read the entire Times story.)