Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The good old days

A Wrangell boys basketball player puts up a shot just before halftime of the 2004 Region V Class 3A fifth-sixth place game against Haines at B.J. McGillis Gymnasium on the Mount Edgecumbe High School campus in Sitka, Alaska. The shot was good. (Andrew Krueger / Juneau Empire)

It's been only five years since I covered this tournament, but it seems like an eternity - for me, for technology, for the newspaper industry.

The Region V tournament was - and is - one of the biggest regional events of the year in Southeast Alaska. In addition to basketball, there is competition in cheerleading and dance, bands perform, etc. Hundreds of kids from cities, towns and villages, all in one place.

I got to cover the tournament three times - once each in Ketchikan (2003), Sitka (2004) and Juneau (2005). The first time, I was still shooting film; the third time, we were at home, so the Empire's photographers handled most of the photos. But in Sitka, I was armed with my digital SLR camera. I covered all the games in print and with photos.

Times were still pretty good for newspapers, but budgets were in place and I took cost-saving steps to make sure I could make the trip. I took an hours-long (possibly overnight - I can't remember) ferry trip from Juneau to Sitka. I slept on the floor of a friend's house for four or five nights. I walked more than a mile one-way back and forth across a big bridge from the main part of Sitka to the island where the gym was. And for my return trip to Juneau, I latched on to the Juneau students' chartered ferry and slept amid instrument cases and gym bags.

I covered all the teams - not just Juneau - and filed reports and photos for print and Web via my Mac laptop and balky dial-up modem. I'm afraid that the coverage area has diminished since I left. It's really too bad, because there were always great stories from the little outlying villages. It was fun being the "big-city paper," if only for a brief time.

I alternated between the press box and the sidelines, writing and taking photos. The gym was a converted World War II-era aircraft hangar, and it was LOUD for the big games. I'd have to concentrate amid the noise; once I got smacked by a T-shirt blasted from a cannon on the court during halftime (I still have the shirt). My last story, after the Saturday night games, was filed as the lights were turned off and the basketball court turned into a dance floor for a big end-of-tournament party.

Out of all the photos I took, I like the one above; it seems kind of Norman Rockwell-ish to me. I have better action shots, closer to the action, but that one just seems to offer more of the scene.

I've gone on to other papers, done cool stories, taken thousands more photos and still enjoy what I do. But I always have a bit of nostalgia for that particular tournament. It just seems like things were a lot simpler and more fun back then. It was exciting being the lone correspondent, sending back photos and game stories, rushing to meet deadlines. The good old days.

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