What An Opportunity

The Buffalo News’ Canisius football preview: Why it worked

In Sports on September 8, 2013 at 1:02 am


I swear this won’t be a regular thing: I’m not going to praise the work of my professor, Keith McShea, on this blog. But in this case, his work deserves praise. And, as part of a new series of “The Best Sportswriting I Read This Week,” this piece earns the honor.

Here is a link to the online story: State No. 1 Canisius is gifted and talented.

As I tried to explain to some of the sports writers at The Spectrum, the story wasn’t safe. It wasn’t your average high school season preview story. It was different. I was impressed.

Keith employed the fly-on-the-wall technique. You rarely see that in season preview stories, and that’s because it takes work and fine tuning and multiple drafts and creativity. There are a few reasons this story worked:

1. Keith had access. He was allowed into Canisius’ meeting room the first day of fall practice. The No. 1 team in the state wouldn’t give that privilege to just anyone. Keith has established a reputation as the high school guru in Western New York. You having that type of access means you have the team’s respect; thus, you have my respect, and I’ll keep reading.

2. He thought about this story, and he planned it out in advance. He didn’t just spit out the “here’s why Canisius is really good” narrative and visit a practice one day for quotes. That would have been easy. No, he got creative, and he made sure he was there Day One to observe everything happening and set the scene for readers. I can imagine his thought as Coach Robbins was talking: Here’s my lede. I love that feeling — that immediate recognition of what’s going to be your lede — and I know he had it.

3. Rich Robbins is a quote machine. His speech is gold. And Keith recognized that — that’s why he used so many quotes from Robbins’ speech in his story and even let Robbins be as much a part of telling the story as he was. A writer with more hubris would have rejected that idea. But Keith made the right decision — the humble decision. Robbins’ words alone got me fired up. I felt like I could kill a bear after he was done.

4. The description put the reader into the scene. I felt present in the “cozy, cement-walled team room in the basement of the Delaware Avenue building the school has occupied for nearly 70 years.” Why? Details that made you feel the serious, driven vibe of the room, such as: “Robbins was ready. He looked that attention in the eye, and then looked his players in the eye.” Great juxtaposition.

5. This team is really good. People who follow local sports know that. But Keith didn’t just say that, and he didn’t assume people knew it; he explained it. He discussed the transfers of key players, like the Wheatley brothers, and the returning stars, like running back Qadree Ollison, and how that stacked roster has Canisius ranked No. 1 in the state.

6. He also got quotes from rival coaches Jerry Smith (St. Francis) and Kraig Kurzanski (Williamsville South). When your peers admit you’re scary good, you know you’re scary good. Keith knew that, so he got the necessary quotes to add a dimension to his story and justify some of the hype.

7. Lastly, he finished with something I love in writing — readdressing the lede in the closing paragraph. It gives the story a sense of wholeness. I aim to do it frequently, but sometimes it feels forced. Not in this case. Starting and ending with Robbins’ voice works wonders, and it gives a wholeness to this article.

  1. […] Sept. 8, 2013; The Buffalo News’ Canisius football preview: Why it worked […]

  2. […] Sept. 8, 2013: The Buffalo News’ Canisius football preview: Why it worked […]

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