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Successful athletes make good on ability and not words
By Bob Frisk | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 11/21/2008 12:02 AM

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There are some serious collectors at the Daily Herald. They save everything.

If you walked around this newsroom today, you would see desks piled so high with material that you would wonder how these reporters and editors could find anything.

I don't think I'm quite that bad, but I do have a difficult time throwing things away.

I try to keep the top of my desk pretty clear, but I must admit the drawers have been filled to overflowing through the years.

When we moved into a new office building in 1996 and were asked to keep our work stations neat, I forced myself to do some spring cleaning in January. It wasn't easy parting with some of my newspaper history, but I only kept the significant papers.

Now I am going through spring cleaning again in November and December because of my retirement after 50 years at this newspaper.

There was one file I didn't touch in that 1996 office move, and now I am going to have to make that decision again. Do I have room at home for this large collection, or is it finally time to at least deliver some of the material to the circular file under my desk?

Save or destroy?

The largest collection I now have is labeled "Onions and Orchids," and several folders contain every letter, e-mail, memo or card I have received on this job since starting in June 1958.

I have collected the good, the bad and the ugly, and they do pile up over 50 years.

Fortunately, the orchids do seem to outnumber the onions, but that doesn't mean I ever got complacent through all those years.

One nasty onion can take away the positive effect of 10 orchids.

The collection had an interesting addition in only my second year at the Herald when a letter arrived that stated my writing "resembles the aroma of an open latrine."

There was a lot more than that in the letter, but you obviously get the point - and the image.

Because I had just spent some time on latrine duty with the Air Force Reserve in Biloxi, Miss., I had an even sharper mental picture than most people of what the angry letter writer was saying.

I had my first onion.

I received a letter in 1975 that was attached to a petition with more than 100 signatures. They were angry with our coverage of their town's athletic association with the threat of many canceled subscriptions.

They also claimed they had 500 other families ready to sign "if things don't get any better."

Ah, the canceled subscription threat. How many times does a newspaper hear that every week?

Why do I save all these letters?

Once or twice a year I would take them out and jog the memory a bit on something that happened in my newspaper career.

As I looked through the files again this past week in preparing to take them home, I saw a recurring theme in many of the letters.

"Dear Bob, Thanks for everything the newspaper did for my son (or daughter)."

They usually start arriving around the announcement of the all-area selections or following the Daily Herald banquets.

I immediately feel like writing back, "Gee, thanks," but I know there's much more that should be said.

I appreciate the person's obvious sincerity, and when I was younger I would have taken what was said to heart.

I really believed the Herald did help the high school athlete.

Not anymore. I'm older, much older, and wiser. I know better.

I will write back and tell the proud parents that whatever the athlete did, he or she did on their own, with the help of the people at home, and with the help of the coaches and teammates.

In my 50 years at this newspaper, I never threw a block, set a screen, put a sharp break on a curve, executed a gymnastics routine, or spiked a volleyball.

The young athlete owes the sports writer absolutely nothing, and I have tried to say that over and over in this column through the years.

Our reporters may have some influence on an individual athlete or a team, and the stories may even serve as motivational tools, but we can't make the athlete perform on the field.

The athletes we honor get the publicity because they earn it. They are so good we can't help writing a great deal about them.

How did the Daily Herald reporters help these all-conference and all-area athletes?

We watched.

These girls and boys were very talented athletes who achieved success because of their ability, not what came flowing out of some computer.

Don't get me wrong.

Any reporter enjoys the feedback of most letters or e-mails.

We particularly like the kind that arrive without an unpleasant aroma.