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Learning to talk to the media is part of athlete's education
By Bob Frisk | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 3/7/2008 12:19 AM

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Sports writers don't want to be viewed as vultures or leeches.

Sports writers also don't like dealing with athletes who are uncooperative, rude and paranoid.

That pretty well explains why many of us are very content covering high school sports.

For the most part, the Daily Herald's writers are dealing with young athletes and coaches who truly appreciate what we're trying to do.

There are times when they may not want to talk, or they hold long postgame sessions that push our deadlines, but most high school coaches are very understanding about our needs.

Today's high school athlete also is understanding and becoming quite adept at dealing with the media.

When I was a high school athlete, I didn't have any problems with newspaper reporters.

I was never interviewed.

In fact, the question I was asked most in my four years of high school track was, "Where's Winterbauer?"

Reporters were always looking for Dick Winterbauer, the most famous member of our high school team because of his legendary exploits in the shot put and discus. He was years ahead of his time.

For example, he threw the shot put over 57 feet and had discus throws in the 170s.

And this was in 1954.

If any sports writer wanted to talk to me, a rather nondescript sprinter, I knew they were really scratching for news.

When Bob Paddock Sr. of Paddock Publications, who handled the Herald's local sports coverage in those days, would visit our team's practice, it was big news. Everybody wondered what athlete he wanted to interview.

I just knew it wasn't me.

However, I'm very thankful Bob found time to interview me when I was looking for a summer job at the Herald in 1952.

We didn't have any rules on our high school track teams in the 1950s about speaking to the press.

I like to think our coaches were confident we wouldn't say anything dumb that might wind up on some bulletin board and inflame the opponent.

Besides, the media attention on high school sports wasn't very intense in those days.

Chicago reporters like Tommy Kouzmanoff, Bud Nangle and John Leusch (yes, the father of the Daily Herald's John Leusch), were big supporters of the preps, but they didn't have much company.

It's interesting to compare the rather laid-back approach to high school publicity in the 1950s to today's much more intense coverage with both the print and electronic media. We're seeing live coverage now of high school events on television.

For the most part, kids today are very sharp in the interview process because they seem to absorb things a lot quicker than we did way back when.

When you learn those interview skills as early as high school, that has to help you articulate in the classroom, in college and later in the job market and real world.

Some colleges, in fact, even have special classes set up to teach their athletes how to deal with the press. They run mock interviews on tape and then critique the responses.

Today's teenagers hear athletes interviewed constantly on radio or television and that helps their own communication skills.

I also hope they recognize the jerks out there in professional sports and learn lessons on how not to deal with the press.

The Illinois High School Association has a special interview room at the state basketball tournaments, and they bring in some players with the coaches of both teams not long after the final buzzer.

The teams are brought in separately, and the contrast between winner and loser is just what you would expect.

It's painful to watch as the emotional players on the losing team handle questions. I have seen many tears in those situations, many young people struggling to hold their composure and losing that struggle.

I really feel bad for those kids and their coach, who have just suffered a disheartening loss on the biggest stage of their sports careers.

Reporters need to understand that and back off.

If anybody surrenders all pride and asks an inconsolable young athlete that all-time stupid question, "How do you feel?" they should be asked to turn in their press pass.