In a world long ago in a little town, a naive and believing-in-goodness country boy dreamed of becoming a national star in football, basketball, and baseball before becoming a movie star succeeding Bob Steele in oaters, for even though he thought he could sing as well as Gene and Roy, he could not play the guitar well enough. Then, he finally figured out it wasn’t going to happen. No way, no how. Reality struck hard and left the little guy without a clue as to what he really wanted to do for the rest of his life, but a friend (Mike Dixon) who was a class ahead of him and played basketball with him almost every day after classes and sports practices, became the sports editor of The Cavalier, Castle Heights Military Academy’s national award winning bi-weekly high school newspaper.
The reality-stricken boy followed and became one of the newspaper’s sports reporters, and the following year followed Mike as the sports editor. That’s when this giant among teachers of journalism, then a major in the school’s ranking system, became oh so much more than just a major and a family friend with two beautiful daughters and two rambunctious sons who attended the same church as the boy and his family and lived behind the boy’s aunt and uncle on a neighborhood abounding with children who played outside almost everyday and swapped houses for their playgrounds. The journalism advisor became so much more than just a mere advisor to the boy, just as he had become so much more for many of the cadets. JB Leftwich became the boy’s sponsor, his critic, his supporter, his friend — and eventually, although they were good friends throughout, the boy’s father and JB became closest friends as all of their other buddies had gone on to another world.
The boy, since he first learned to really read in Mrs. Eskew’s first grade class at McClain School (they didn’t have to add “elementary” back then ’cause folks knew what it was, and there were only three such schools in the town and several more in the surrounding country like Flat Rock (one of my favorite names for a community) had read Fred Russell’s daily sport column “Sidelines” in the Nashville Banner every afternoon (except Sunday of course, ’cause they didn’t publish on Sundays, the purview of the morning paper, The Nashville Tennessean). The boy read Fred because of the sports, not the writer. But when reality bashed him in the head (the boy, not Fred), he decided he would write about sports.
His mentor JB who was from the time the boy began writing sports until forever was “Coach,” taught him the laws of journalism: First paragraph, 25 words or less and passing along the information of who, what, when, where, and how, no exceptions, with all the remaining paragraphs arranged in priority of importance — so if the makeup men in the back couldn’t get all of the metal lines of linotype into the metal frame, they could toss the bottom paragraphs without losing more important ones (Of course, our jingoistic journalism moguls and their employees are more interested in money and fame than good reporting have long abandoned such practices).
Then after his last hope of extending his sports career, football in fact was dashed when the college (Centre) could not offer enough of an academic scholarship to allow him to play for them rather than taking a full-boat ride of an NROTC scholarship elsewhere, the career-lacking boy decided he wanted to be a sports writer.
Now the boy reasoned (a rare, rare thing for an 18-year old goofy guy) sports writing would allow him a lot more poetic license in writing than straight news reporting did. It would also give him access to sports events, which he loved dearly. Imagine, to be able to follow your passion from the sideline if not on the field. He was all in.
There were many detours in his pursuit of sports writing, but for a short time, his second dream was realized way up in the north part of New York State when another impressive journalist, his friend from Vanderbilt offered the boy a job to write sports and succeed as sports editor of The Watertown Daily Times. He did and, even if he says so himself, was pretty good at it. But it was short lived as he had obligations to meet and another detour in the road came upon him.
Years and years and years passed and the world changed until one morning in this strange new world (this upside down world this morning) he read an article on the web that caught his eye about a young woman becoming the first Polish champion of a tennis major championship when she took the pandemic altered French Open. Iga Swiatek is her name. What a great name.
But what really knocked out the former naive and believing-in-goodness country boy (who somehow has retained his naiveté and believing in the good of folks) was the writing. Sports Writing. The way it should be.
Now he likes tennis but he is not a real big fan. Yet this story was so beautifully written, he read until the end. As he read, he thought, “Coach Leftwich would love this. Wish i could share it with him.” Ironically, it was on the weekend the alumni of his old, defunct school were having the abbreviated informal celebration of its annual “Homecoming” in a place far away.
And the county boy, now old, really no-kidding old, aka moi, is subscribing to The Guardian, the publisher of this piece of superb sports journalism. If you would like to read some really good, enjoyable stuff and even get into a tennis match, here is is: