In the early 1990s, at my second job out of college, at a newspaper in central Alabama, I made the mistake of writing a column about church league basketball.
I had the best of intentions. I was the sports editor of a semiweekly paper in a small city that was becoming a bedroom community for the state capital and the thriving military base between the two cities. My brand, to the extent a 23-year-old, naive, fish-out-of-water reporter/editor/columnist could have a brand, was to not take sports too seriously, but to view it as a metaphor for life.
One week, I had a handful of people tell me that the best team in the local YMCA Church Basketball League, representing the second biggest church in about the 10th biggest city in the state, was acting reprehensibly in their games. They were not only winning, but showboating, running up scores and rubbing it in, then disingenuously telling their upset opponents not to get angry because, “it’s church league, baby.”
I went to watch a game to confirm the behavior and then I wrote a column that called out the behavior.
I could not have been more unprepared for the result. Although I did not mention the church or any of the players by name, I think I heard from every player on that team, as well as the church’s assistant pastor, who hosted me at his office. I also had way too many pow wows with my publisher.
Although I had gotten some threats at Auburn for being a sports editor who was not rah rah enough about the football team, I had never experienced anything like the church league basketball controversy. People read my words back to me with fury in their voices. They accused me of questioning their religion or their faith in their religion. There was a second round of controversy about how I had only watched one game. When I gave them feedback from two other games, a few of the players started outing and questioning my sources. When the YMCA’s league coordinator later introduced me to his wife, she greeted me by saying, “so, you are the one who is trying to get my husband fired.” I am pretty sure those were the only words she ever spoke to me.
I can honestly say this is a column I never thought I would write, my first as editor of The Freeman’s Journal and Hometown Oneonta.
I say that for two reasons: one, I spent the past decade in competition with the Iron String Press media team, while working as an editor and reporter for another news organization; two, that stint, with an Alabama-based organization I shall forever more refer to as the pension fund, did not go well.
My first play, “The Sun,” first staged in 2004, is about a small-town newspaper that is being destroyed as larger news organizations try to buy it. I spent the past decade at the pension fund thinking either irony is a cruel trick of life, or I was being blessed with an abundance of stories for the television adaptation.
The twin low points were mass layoffs on Good Friday/Passover eve and the closing of the Town Crier office and relegating the Cooperstown paper to a reprint.
As the Crier editor at the time, I took the laying off of my reporter (while I was on vacation, no less) hard and the office closing harder. I transferred to a couple of different roles at the pension fund’s daily, but it wasn’t a secret I hated commuting to Oneonta. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise in some ways as I got to know the city, its politicians and businesses, and the southern half of the county.
Still, I missed Cooperstown and the coronavirus pandemic and family issues made it harder and harder for me to commute.
I had been planning to quit the newspaper business for good this year, perhaps to go back to my dreams of making movies. Or, at least, to help other people make their movies. Last year, after years of discussions, I teamed up with a group of local film makers, businesspeople and political leaders to start a nonprofit 501c6 film commission office, Film COOP (rhymes with hoop, we are not a co-op), or more officially, The Cooperstown, Oneonta, Otsego County Film Partnership, Inc.
COOPERSTOWN – COOP announced today it is open for business.
The Cooperstown, Oneonta, Otsego County Film Partnership, Inc., known as Film COOP, will represent Cooperstown, Oneonta and all Otsego County communities to the entertainment industry.
Otsego County, and its greater region, is one of the few areas of the state not benefiting from the boom in television and film production that has taken place in Upstate New York, according to COOP Board President Greg Klein of Cooperstown.
PUBLIC MEETING – 3:30-4:30 p.m. Discuss and comment on the Otsego county Draft Local Solid Waste Management Plan. Available for comment through Mar. 18. Huntington Memorial Library, 3rd Floor, 62 Chestnut St., Oneonta. Call 607-547-4225 or visit otsegocounty.com/depts/sw/