Was there growth?

Building on a foundation. Part of what I am going through in the “Special Sections” bin in my basement are editions of football sections I worked on in my two previous stops, in Caro and Chippewa Falls.

I’m now more than 10 years removed from Caro and five from Chippewa Falls. I said, at the time, that I felt a great foundation was built for me to improve upon, and I still say that from time to time here. Then again, replacing a 40-year veteran/legend, it’s more like a little bit of remodeling the house or creating an addition as opposed to building on a great foundation.

Now, I’m taking the time to analyze the handful of special sections before I took them on, and then the ones I did. Did I truly do better? Or was it worse? Or the same?

I have many issues of the Tuscola County Advertiser’s football section, but I’m dwelling on the years 2000-2005, with 2002-05 being the years I did those sections. My predecessor in the sports department did the prior two, a veteran newspaperman himself.

The 2000 edition had a column by the Sports Editor, a feature, the previous year’s standings, league preview stories, schedules for all of the schools in the area conferences by school and league picks. Each team had its schedule broken out over two columns, info about the school, the previous 10 years’ worth of win-loss records and the previous year’s results. It was all done in 18 pages.

The 2001 edition was 20 pages, with much of the same thing. It also added “Players to Watch” for each of the team previews, but were headshots.

I took over in 2002, and I added helmets to the mix. They were photographs of each of the helmets of each of the schools in the conferences we covered. Some of the info on the schedules for the teams changed a little bit. When stories weren’t as deep, a “Did You Know?” box was there. The other teams’ schedules omitted the local schools. And I added a story on the top games to see each week. It also was 20 pages with a theme on the cover.

I had 20 pages in 2003, and wrote a feature on a traveling trophy between Vassar and Millington, the Hecht Trophy. It was the silver anniversary of that trophy. My helmets became graphics with the help of a website’s permission. I had more partial cutouts as my work with QuarkXPress became better, and we spotlighted other schools’ top players. We also tabbed “favorite” and “dark horse” teams. I tightened the schedules and added directions with a map.

The 2004 edition was pushed up to 24 pages. As I was chided for at the time, more bells and whistles. I introduced historical features called “Passing the Torch,” which dug into the archives of the newspaper with original stories. I attended four different scrimmages with a report on those. I also reviewed the big stories week by week from the previous season.

My final year in the Thumb for football was 2005, another 24-page effort. I did features on the radio broadcasts and a feature on the 50th year of Frankenmuth football. The “Passing the Torch” continued as did many other features. There was an additional feature on a Millington football player who earned a camp honor as well as Akron-Fairgrove’s first girl player. The cover itself was similar to a Sports Illustrated cover.

Looking back, the last edition was perhaps the best one I put together. But did I carry it over to Wisconsin?

I have the 2005 edition of the Chippewa Valley Newspapers edition, before I arrived there. It began as a three-section supplement with high school, college and pro football all in different parts. The 2010 edition had all three in the same tab. I helped that transition because the high school season begins so much sooner than college or pro football.

So, focusing solely on high school, I’m looking back at 2005. First off, there was a whole lot of transition in the sports department at the newspaper I went to. That means there can be some disorganization that goes with it. It almost feel like that’s inherent. The basics are there: team previews with a feature on Chippewa Falls and McDonell each. It was 28 pages.

My first section was in 2006. I brought helmets to the publication and it feels like some consistency was there after my having been there a few months. I continued the Chippewa Falls feature, but I apparently was unable to get one done for McDonell. The section definitely was tighter, even too tight in space in some spots. There were many file photos used to fill space up, but there was the addition of league schedules, just like I had done in Caro. It also was 28 pages.

The 2007 section was 28 pages, too. I ran more screens behind boxes to help break up the text. Instead of a boatload of file photos, I added “Key Questions” and a “Players to Watch” breakouts to give the section a little bit more. I did a double-truck on the new Dorais Field renovations. We also added staff predictions.

The 2008 section had all three levels and it was 44 pages. Of those, 29 went to the high schools. We worked to get some Eau Claire schools in as a test run. I changed the schedule around so fans could write in the scores of the games if they hang the page on the fridge. The double-truck feature was on the McDonell bus driver as a way to introduce a new league lineup. At the same time, I used more file photos.

The 2009 section was a true tab and at 40 pages. There was much less real estate to fill, but cuts were made to pro and college coverage to accommodate the high school stuff. I added a welcome and a breakout “Talking Heads” that was a way to have some fun. The key players continued to be featured. Directions to fields took up two of the pages. A feature on the 1909 Chippewa Falls team was done as it was a mythical state champion. I revamped the league schedules to include returning players and their respective helmets. For 31 pages, it was high school previews.

The 2010 section, my last, was also 40 pages. I added a small feature called “Football Flashback,” taking a quick look back at some history of some of the schools. My counterpart at a sister paper did a feature on Menomonie’s football history. Again, 31 or so pages went to high school football.

Looking back, some of the changes were needed because a decrease in space. Some of the changes were because the high school seasons were starting well ahead of the other levels of the game, whether college or pro.

I’m guessing if I were to ever need to put a football preview together, I’ve stepped things in the direction I wanted to take: from a standard preview to a guide to the season ahead.

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