columns, High schools, news

Phone call and ‘Thank-yous’

By Jacob Bartelson
Sports Reporter, Kane County Chronicle, Shaw Media

NINA editor’s note: Below is Jacob Bartelson’s “View from the Sidelines” newsletter story sent via email blast to Kane County Chronicle readers. It isn’t available as a link. What follows is his explanation of why he wrote it.

I felt bad for making the phone call, but I had to.

I was finishing an assignment Wednesday afternoon, and was missing a particular school as part of it. I texted the coach earlier in the day, hadn’t heard, so I moved up the food chain to the athletic director – somewhat frustrated.

I got the call I needed a half hour later.

The coach answered. He had just finished one practice. I didn’t realize he was literally going over to the next sport’s practice he coached as we talked.

Then it hit me: So many coaches are pulling double or triple duty right now. No wonder why emails and texts are being left unanswered for a few days.
It’s not lost on me often, but I think many can forget that several coaches are parents, too.

And teachers. And spouses.

I think a behind-the-scenes TV show detailing how a head football coach’s household operates right now would be a humbling watch. I can picture Hudl film on the iPad while Paw Patrol lives large on the big screen. That’s probably just another Tuesday for all I know.

The pandemic has shifted largely everything we’ve known. Who bats an eyelash anymore when a yelling or laughing kid comes through your Zoom or phone calI?

I’ve called coaches when they’re helping with their elementary-aged kid’s homework. I’ve interrupted family dinners and probably their Netflix end-of-day rewind opportunity.

I’ve sent emails – awaited responses – while not fully realizing that coach was out at the football field at 6 a.m. to hold a practice in preparation for a season, taught all day, held another team event that afternoon and then was back for their kid’s event in the evening.

I’ve even texted coaches on their vacations for a quick interview or to get a phone number I needed.

I am so thankful I’ve built enough of a relationship with most to have those phone calls answered. I know most coaches understand that’s “part of the deal” of being a high school varsity coach, but it’s a balance that’s not easily maintained. Those of us in media genuinely appreciate it.

And, I can promise them: To their athletes, those sacrifices means the world right now. If it doesn’t completely register in the present, it may in 10-15 years when they have their own kids one day.

Yes, we’re all busy in our own right. I’m not alone in that. Believe me. But, it sinks in a little deeper each time I attend a sporting event.

This next three week stretch will be unlike any other I’ve been professionally apart of: softball, baseball, track, girls and boys soccer, football, wrestling and God knows what else are all firing off at different stages.
I don’t know how many ‘thank-yous’ coaches are getting nowadays, but I try to make it a point to say ‘thank-you’ for access to their program.

Whether your kid’s sport ends in two weeks or is just starting up, I hope the first words out of many’s mouths to their coaches are:

“Thank-you.”

Why I wrote it

Our Shaw Local digital editor, John Sahly, approached me a few months ago about writing a weekly column/newsletter that would be emailed to readers. The focus would be about my experiences in the field and bringing my collective body of work from that given week to readers that way.

As for why I specifically wrote this piece, in some ways, I was writing to myself. It’s almost like I wrote it in a personal journal and presumambly hundreds of people happened to read it over my shoulder. I think the piece paints an accurate picture of what life is like for all of us as journalists, no matter what beat we have. We all have various sources and I’m sure every one of us has interuppted their family dinners and whatever else so we can do our jobs. I tried to open a window for readers as to what doing this job is like.

Yet, in the big picture, I really wanted to reach parents. I stand on the sidelines and I overhear criticism towards coaches for a given play call, how one juggles playing time or whatever. That’s part of the territory and the nature of the job, but I wondered how many that are saying those things truly took the time to consider the whole context of the season(s). I think some of those things become a little less significant once you peel back those layers a bit. As for specific reactions I had, truthfully, not much outside of a few people. I give a sneak peek of what I wrote on Twitter to entice people to sign-up. “Likes” on Twitter from a few coaches’ parents and spouses told me plenty.