Sylas Wright: Bidding farewell after an 11-year run as sports editor (opinion)
TRUCKEE, Calif. — What is a small-town sports editor to say as his final words after 11 years?
“Thank you” is the first thing that comes to mind.
Thanks to all the great people, and equally amazing athletes, who made the gig so interesting and fun. Thanks to Jamie Bate for hiring a raw, inexperienced journalism major straight out of college — and then not firing him as he flailed at designing his sports section. Thanks to my talented coworkers who helped lighten the slog of the daily grind. They remain good friends to this day. And thanks to the legion of parents and coaches who cared enough to highlight their young athletes’ accomplishments.
It’s been a pleasure to document the Truckee-Tahoe area’s wide-ranging sports scene, from high school athletics to skiing, snowboarding, fishing, endurance running and more. Few places on Earth, regardless of population, boast as many world-class athletes as Tahoe. And there may not exist a more grand playground on which to exploit their abilities.
Being a part of that — even if only on the periphery — was a rare treat.
This job created many memories that will endure for a lifetime. Like the time I interviewed at the Sierra Sun.
It was January 2005 and I was fresh out of college. The weather was crisp and clear, a lull between a big early winter and spring. I arrived early and burned time over a burger at Madigan’s, stalling before meeting with Jamie, who, for some reason, scheduled my visit to coincide with the dreaded Thursday deadline.
On hand were reporters David Bunker and Paul Raymore and our photographer, Josh Miller. Renee Shadforth, our assistant editor, was on vacation. Bunker had a mountain-man beard and looked way older than he was. Paul looked the same as he does today. And Josh, I could tell immediately, carried the artistic torch of the newsroom.
The three of them, off deadline and relaxed, left the building for a run to “Chevy’s,” as Josh called it — aka Chevron. Meanwhile, I sat awkwardly as Jamie — who was drowning in pagination duties in Renee’s absence — cursed his computer with an assortment of colorful, non-printable words.
Between tantrums, or perhaps in the midst of one, a high-velocity snowball exploded on the window with a violent splat, maybe 18 inches from Jamie’s right ear. A flurry of vulgar adjectives and nouns followed, at which time I decided, “I have found my new place of employment, if only they welcome me aboard.” They did.
The next fall I discovered what any sports editor would covet: a local high school football team that routinely won state championships. That season the Wolverines, led by legendary head coach Bob Shaffer, won their second consecutive state title. They went on to win four more during my tenure, all in succession between 2009 and 2012, when the team owned one of the nation’s longest winning streaks at 41 games.
Of all the memories from those years, I can still envision Ben Tonon high-stepping through defenders; Ryan and Cole Roberts being general beasts; Ryan Macken rushing to ball-carriers like a heat-sinking missile; Colin Christian hurdling over would-be tacklers; Ben Bolton firing passes 30 yards down field like a dart; Zak Petit manhandling overmatched opponents; Erik Holmer showing the utmost class and determination (and pulling down the game-winning catch of the century against Fallon); and Tyler Curtis pancaking a flat-footed Moapa Valley safety at the goal line in the 2012 state championship.
Apologies to the other outstanding players I covered over the years. There simply isn’t enough space to name you all.
I’ll never forget the events before and during the “Tram Face” stop of the Freeride World Tour in 2010.
The event was slated to take place on the rocky, permanently closed terrain of Squaw Valley’s Tram Face. People were genuinely fired up for the occasion. Our editor at the time, Ryan Slabaugh, and I found a spot at the base of the mountain to post up with cameras. Maybe a dozen others were settling in around us, digging snow couches and cracking beers, when a female voice pierced the jolly mood.
I looked up and saw a mass of fast-moving snow churning in our direction. Everyone scattered. I ran toward the only group of trees in the area. But, as if straight out of a suspenseful movie, I couldn’t run. A relatively fresh layer of snow had crusted over on the top inch, and with every hurried step, the upward motion of my foot caught the crust and sent me stumbling to my face.
In a panic, I resorted to Commando-crawling the rest of the way to the largest tree I could find. I braced for impact. Instead, I was engulfed in a sea of snow mist. The avalanche, which ran out of fuel over the bald cliff band, had petered out.
Had I foreseen this ending, I would have stood my ground and snapped the most amazing photos I’d ever shot.
A few days later, when the event was moved to Silverado, local skier Jackie Paaso left an indelible memory when she sent a large cliff at the bottom of the venue. Upon impact some 50 feet below, she back-slapped and sprung back into the air before stomping the second landing to the amazement of the crowd, which buzzed for the next 15 minutes about the feat.
I could go on about the many memories this job has left, but space and time will not allow it.
It’s been a good run. I’d be lying if I said I won’t miss it.