An Interview with Anthony Witrado
“You tell stories that resonate with communities. When you are able to add nuggets about what the community is like – when readers say ‘that’s true, I drive by that place every single day on my way to work’ – that’s what makes the preps so intimate with readers.”
“As much as preps feed the daily paper, it also offers a chance to explore national issues. You’ve got kids playing summer basketball traveling 21 days in a row, and you’ve got sportsmanship and parental involvement issues. I try to have a good handle on what goes on with high school sports nationally, and I try to localize it.”
“It’s not like college or pro coverage where you get stats handed to you and post-game quotes. Preps are all legwork and knowing people.”
Anthony Witrado: Interviewed on September 26, 2006
Position: preps reporter, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Born: 1981, Fresno, Ca.
Education: Fresno State, 2005, mass communications and journalism
Career: Fresno Bee 1999-2001, Clovis Independent 2001-2003; Fresno Bee 2003-2006, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 2006 –
Favorite restaurant (home): Mo’s: A Place for Steaks, Milwaukee – “great steak”
Favorite restaurant (road): Steps of Rome, SF (North Beach) – “nice atmosphere – you can sit outside and watch the city hustle and bustle – really small and cramped but good food and nice décor”
Favorite Hotel: Marriott (anywhere)
Anthony Witrado excerpted from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sept. 11, 2006: “I am from the new school. I thought Terrell Owens’ Sharpie celebration was creative. I laughed when Chad Johnson River-danced. I think there are occasions fit for a King Kong-style chest-thumping.
“Some say it is poor sportsmanship. Some say let the athletes have a little fun and show some emotion. No matter how much you believe these post-play actions are helping the deterioration of sportsmanship, they are a long trip from the absolutely atrocious displays of stupidity some fans and parents show in youth sports, including high school athletics.
“That is why Bill Gosse, along with two others, started a non-profit organization called TeamScore Inc., focused on teaching better sportsmanship to adults and parents….”
Q. Why are readers drawn to high school sports stories?
A. You tell stories that resonate with communities. When you are able to add nuggets about what the community is like – when readers say ‘that’s true, I drive by that place every single day on my way to work’ – that’s what makes the preps so intimate with readers.
You get your most passionate e-mails and phone messages on high school stories – from the community and rival communities, much more than a pro beat. These people feel like they’re part of the story if their alma mater is in it, and they feel they have a right to voice their opinion.
Q. You do a lot of Outside the Lines type stories. Why?
A. Prep writers should look for those – using local players to do much broader stories on the landscape of prep athletes. As much as preps feed the daily paper, it also offers a chance to explore national issues. You’ve got kids playing summer basketball, traveling 21 days in a row, and you’ve got sportsmanship and parental involvement issues. I try to have a good handle on what goes on with high school sports nationally, and I try to localize it. Sometimes papers and prep reporters say, “Okay, I’m just focusing on my high schools.” I don’t like that. I don’t think you’re doing your readers a service.
Q. What issues are you looking at?
A. Obviously steroids. With the push of Major League Baseball and the congressional hearings it took on a life of its own with high school athletes. Some states are making athletes sign waivers saying they won’t use performance enhancing drugs – and some states are trying to pass laws allowing the governing bodies to drug-test kids.
There’s the summer basketball circuit. Each paper should localize it – that’s a big deal with all the shoe company tournaments. Soccer, basketball and volleyball can be used to do the same type of story – what is happening to to high school sports during the season, for next-level athletes. Which is more important – the high school season or club season? What do they think about it? The good thing about high school kids is that they’re unfamiliar with the press, and they’ll be candid with you. They’ll tell you the club season is more important to the rest of their career. Maybe we’ll see a point where these kids will stop playing high school sports and just do the clubs. Those issues are intriguing to me. I receive e-mails and calls when I write those stories.
Q. Is good prep reporting appreciated?
A. I think so. The only time it’s maybe overlooked is at bigger papers when the main sports editor has so many things under his umbrella. Maybe it gets pushed off to a secondary editor and lost in the shuffle. As far as being appreciated by reporters and copy editors – they do. It’s not like college or pro coverage where you get stats handed to you and post-game quotes.
Preps are all legwork and knowing people.
Q. What are the challenges?
A. You have so many different schools and sports to cover – you’re not just covering high school football from August to December – you’re covering preps for 12 months, counting All-Star games and basketball camps. You’re not covering one team or one conference – here in Milwaukee I’m covering over 100 schools. Obviously you’re not going to talk to every single coach – in the fall you’ve got swimming, soccer, cross country and football. I try to bear down and focus on the more competitive schools and the schools regionally closer to our center of circulation – it’s a lot of leg work calling coaches and trying to get them to call you back, which is a challenge because they’re more than coaches – they’re teachers. You’re always tracking down stats, which might not match up with the stats you have since there are no scorekeepers of record for a lot of events. Sometimes you go with what the coach said. Getting hold of kids is tough – there are days I can’t start my job until 3 because kids are in school – you get a late jump on things. We do a prep Q & A session – I have to fit that in – you have a whole lot of things on your plate you have to knock out – it becomes repetitive. But people read it – our stats tell us they do.
Q. Your history covering preps?
A. I covered it for three years at the Fresno Bee. I’ve been in Milwaukee for 2 1/2 months. The liked what I was doing there – they called me – it was a good opportunity. I was looking to jump to a college beat but when they told me some of the things they wanted to do it fed my appetite to branch out and do different media – online and TV things. I don’t know how long I will. It seems to be something you start on and then leave and then later on come back to it. In Milwaukee it’s still new and fresh for me – I’d have to get a really good offer to leave it.
Q. You do TV?
A. We have a Saturday afternoon “Preps Plus” which is shot on Wednesdays. Sometimes it’s a short, or just a tease to our website and columns, or I might help out with a feature. It’s another chunk of time – another hour out of my day.
Q. How many reporters cover preps?
A. The prep editor does some coverage, and a few part-time reporters. I’m the only full-time reporter and columnist. We have stringers.
Q. How many hours are you working?
A. Once football starts in the fall I’m working easily six days a week. Hour-wise: sometimes 50 – maybe 60 during the playoffs. Basically the only day I get off consistently is Sunday. Last week we had something break on Sunday – one of the kids committed to college. I jumped on it and got it in the Monday paper.
Q. Why didn’t the college reporters cover that?
A. Good question. At my old paper when we had a local kid commit to Fresno State it was whoever got it first. Typically it was me – college coaches can’t comment on an unsigned player – and with the high school kids and coaches I have a relationship – so I get called before the college reporter. Maybe I could pass it off but there’s a sense of ownership and pride you have once you’ve been on it for a while and you want that story. I know a couple of Internet sites had that he had been committed – but none reached him – I was the only one with quotes from him.
Q. Writers you admire?
A. Jason Whitlock (KC Star). Ralph Wiley before he passed. Admiring is different than reading – I admire them for the stances they take and the principles they stand on. Columnists should be strong on opinion. Bill Plaschke (LA Times). Gary Smith (SI). Bill Simmons is hit-and-miss. TJ Simers (LA Times) and Norman Chad bring elements I strive for – humor – after all we cover sports – it is entertainment. Fillip Bondy (NY Daily News) – I like the way he constructs his opinions.
I admire sports editors. Gary Howard is a major reason I came to Milwaukee. Leon Carter (NY Daily News). He runs a huge staff in the most competitive market in the world and he’s doing a fabulous job. I look to see who is motivating their staffs to do great things. Bill Bradley (Sacramento Bee) does a good job.
Q. Which of your stories had the most impact?
A. One in California and one here. In California I talked about the demise of the basketball season and how unimportant it’s become due to the college recruiting process – which is in the summer. People didn’t like it even though it was correct – a whole lot said it undermined high school coaches and the work they do. It was funny, because I had coaches saying “Yeah, not much I can do because it’s done in the summer time.” A coach in Milwaukee told me he had a recruited basketball player and he never once received a call from the coach the kid signed with – it was all done through the kid’s summer camp.
In Milwaukee we had a big transfer scandal in which kids were ruled ineligible. I did a column that focused on the biggest figure – a kid going into his senior year – and I said a lot of the blame should fall on his shoulders but more blame should fall on the adults. I must have gotten 100 e-mails the day it ran – some said I was right – a lot said 17 years old was old enough for the kid to know better. As a columnist that’s what you’re looking for – you want to light a fire on both sides.
Q. Does high school reporting require a softer approach?
A. When you cover pros it’s in your mind that these are grown men trained to do a job – it’s a business. Covering the preps you remember that these are teenagers and they’re not being paid. When the season ends you’re guaranteed to see tears – some kids aren’t going to play in college. What I really enjoy is that these people seem to know when you do a good job on the beat. If you do something unflattering, as long as you’re fair and accurate, these teens and their parents know that. I’ve done that and three weeks later received an invitation to a graduation party. You don’t get that slice of life when you cover college and pro. I know I’ll miss those relationships when I leave the beat.
Q. Your career aspirations?
A. Right now I’d like to become a general sports columnist. I don’t want to leave sports. With so many different outlets now for sports reporters maybe I’ll do a TV thing or radio show down the road. My next step is a major college beat or a pro beat and then eventually a sports column. Then as I get older I want to teach at the college level – I’d like to mold journalists and teach about the craft. I like to see kids get something – when you explain something and see the lights go on.
(SMG thanks Anthony Witrado for his cooperation)
Eligibility issues a problem in City
Parents flagrantly foul
Recruiters stop here for star search
Playing for the love of the gridiron
WIAA corrects its mistake
Datka’s place is at the summit
Plenty of blame to go around
Prep basketball star draws national attention
Shining example for gender equality
Home run sparked love of sports
Parents flagrantly foul
Posted: Sept. 11, 2006
I am from the new school.
I thought Terrell Owens’ Sharpie celebration was creative. I laughed when Chad Johnson Riverdanced. I think there are occasions fit for a King Kong-style chest-thumping.
Some say it is poor sportsmanship. Some say let the athletes have a little fun and show some emotion.
No matter how much you believe these post-play actions are helping the deterioration of sportsmanship, they are a long trip from the absolutely atrocious displays of stupidity some fans and parents show in youth sports, including high school athletics.
That is why Bill Gosse, along with two others, started a non-profit organization called TeamScore Inc., focused on teaching better sportsmanship to adults and parents. This summer, the group conducted a survey of high school athletic directors and administrators with the support of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association. The purpose was to determine the quality of sportsmanship, what the reasons for poor sportsmanship are and what ways to improve it are.
Eligibility issues a problem in City
Posted: Sept. 18, 2006
The kids wandering around the city streets and milling about high school campuses in the late afternoons could be the next blue-chip football recruits to come out of Milwaukee.
But chances are they won’t.
While coaches in other towns at more well-to-do schools lose sleep over how to scheme against a certain offense before the big game Friday, the city coaches lie awake worrying about those kids. Maybe they do want to play and show how much raw talent and athleticism their bodies have been blessed with, but they don’t have the chance.
Eligibility is the problem. And the reasons are plentiful.
“I don’t know if you have enough time,” Milwaukee South football coach Calvin Matthew says, “and I might run out of time trying to explain it.”
For additional video coverage relating to Anthony Witrado’s column, go to the Preps Video Vault.
Parents flagrantly foul
Journal Sentinel area rankings
Associated Press state rankings
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Coaches like Matthew, who had several ineligible players for the team’s first three games, struggle each season to field a team with enough eligible players so they won’t have to forfeit. It’s difficult enough for them to get a close-to-decent turnout before the season starts, but when a handful of those players have to sit out because their grades from last school year were poor, it can put a program on life support.
Last season, Milwaukee Washington coach Rickey Lockhart had to forfeit the first two games of the season and ended the season winless with a patchwork squad.
One of the problems is football eligibility is based on the final six weeks of the previous school year. Kids get lazy. They stop going to class. They’d rather spend the sunny spring days chilling with friends than learning about algebraic systems of inequalities. They aren’t thinking how it will hurt their chance to play football four months down the road.
It is even a hindrance at a college preparatory school like Milwaukee King.
“It’s sad to say, but I get half a dozen to a dozen (ineligible kids) a year,” King coach Scott Hawkins says. “You’d think it wouldn’t be like that at King. And on top of that, we have about 1,500 kids, but out of those, only about 450 to 500 are boys. So my selection is just shot.”
Another issue is that some inner-city schools have to deal with large populations of students who are categorized as emotionally disturbed or have learning disabilities.
Attendance is another problem. Players who are more than capable of making grades will still be ineligible because they fail to attend class, and don’t have the push at home to keep them focused.
“It’s very frustrating,” Matthew says. “We lost to St. Francis, 49-0 (in Week 1), and we basically just had to piece a team together so we wouldn’t forfeit. We had some of our best athletes watching.”
These problems, along with issues like no feeder programs, are what keep the city football programs from competing with mediocre schools, never mind the elite.
That is why some of the city coaches are in favor of combining their programs with one or two others, possibly by city regions, to create one team. The idea first came up at the end-of-the-year coaches meeting but has not made headway with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association.
The idea might be heavily criticized, even said to be a cop-out for some programs. You are taking away school tradition and longstanding rivalries, basically turning these high school teams into a minor-league club team. Teams like Bay View and Milwaukee Vincent, both programs that have had recent success, would be understandably opposed.
Unfortunately, this might be the breath of life the City Conference needs to survive.
“I thought it was a great idea,” says Matthew, who can’t even field a freshman team right now. “We’re at a point where some of us might actually lose football altogether. It’s something we have to look at just so we can save football.”
Hawkins said he’d even take a back seat to another head coach if it meant eventually being more competitive in the playoff picture for the city schools.
“Once we get to the end of the season,” he says, “I can tell you I’m going to bring it up again. And I’ll continue until I’m forced to give it up or until it happens.”
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Journal Sentinel area rankings
Posted: Sept. 18, 2006
1. Hartford (4-0)
Def. Wisconsin Lutheran, 26-12
Friday: vs. West Bend East
2. Homestead (4-0)
Def. Whitefish Bay, 20-15
Thursday: at Grafton
3. Arrowhead (4-0)
Def. Waukesha South, 43-0
Friday: vs. Milw. Pius
4. Waukesha West (4-0)
Def. Catholic Memorial, 21-7
Friday: at Waukesha North
5. Franklin (4-0)
Def. Racine Park, 14-6
Friday: vs. Racine Case
6. Cedarburg (4-0)
Def. Nicolet, 45-15
Friday: at No. 10 Germantown
7. Kenosha Bradford (4-0)
Def. Burlington, 43-24
Friday: at Kenosha Tremper
8. New Berlin Eisenhower (4-0)
Def. Pewaukee, 24-13
Friday: vs. Brown Deer
9. Brookfield Central (4-0)
Def. Milw. Marquette, 30-29
Friday: at Brookfield East
10. Germantown (3-1)
Def. Port Washington, 30-12
Friday: vs. No. 6 Cedarburg
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