Walk off: It’s been a great run with the Maroons: Between the Lines

By Sean Ahmed

In my past two years as sports editor, I’ve come to identify with the athletes I cover. Like fourth-years anticipating their final game, I’ve been dreading my last issue and simultaneously counting down the production nights to reclaiming entire days (try 40-plus hours) of my week. But while I know that today I lose my title and official role that legitimates my obsession of Maroons athletics, I also know that this program will long be a part of me.

To all of the players, coaches, editors, writers, and readers that have made this entire experience so enriching: Thank you. Everyone has been incredibly kind and appreciative of the work we do, and I want to stress that the pleasure was all mine.

Though I know most of you don’t have the interest in a self-absorbed, 1,935-word farewell, I ask that you indulge me this one last time. It’s my tribute to everyone involved in the resurgence of Maroons athletics, which is very much happening.

I love the Division III experience. I appreciate that the schools aren’t exploiting their athletes for multi-million dollar contracts and publicity and that the athletes aren’t semi-professionals using collegiate sports as a minor-league system. Our conference in particular is incredible in that it simultaneously boasts a great academic and athletic track record, both of which have been praised by independent studies of the NCAA. Even better, we are good.

I like that I have lived and gone to classes with athletes and that most of them will treat their dedicated fans as parts of their teams. Instead of rooting for athletes I felt I knew through statistics and highlights, I cheered on those that I actually did know. And cared about.

Since joining the editorial board in winter quarter 2004, I have been privileged to be one of the voices of the Chicago Maroons. The more cutting-edge features we’ve introduced have shaped the sports section’s direction, but they are secondary to what was the more fundamental change. I’ve gotten credit for some features, info graphics, and the new online content, which are all refinements and syntheses of ideas I’ve gotten from elsewhere. Much more than the bells and whistles that make the section look great, my most important influence was the basic decision I made my first issue as full-time editor: to rededicate our coverage to the Maroons first and foremost.

That’s meant going from the two-pro-columns, one-Maroons-recap sports page to a section that packs as many previews, recaps, features, analysis, and statistics as we can get into an issue. It’s meant my co-editor Joe Katz and I regularly writing sports and covering any that our small but dedicated sports staff couldn’t. Believe me when I say that Joe and I would use half of each issue’s space if allowed to; just two days ago, we were complaining about four lines of wasted space in the news section. We assign our writers 500- to 1,000-word articles, but we usually write around 1,500 and then shred it back to a reasonable size. For anyone who looks, there’s a ton to say.

The important thing, though, has been actually attending events and capturing the excitement and the emotion both during the game and afterward. As editor, I’ve probably gone to about 90 percent of our home events. I want to remind our future section editors that, while it may be unrealistic to make every game, it is as much your job as writing and editing the articles. If you’re there—whether or not you’re writing the actual recaps—your section will reflect the games. I also ask that future athletes welcome our editors to games as well as you did me.

Soccer, football, basketball, baseball, and softball were my early favorites here, and I quickly learned that the athletes enjoyed any fan support and “good luck” wishes they were given. Those have all been quality programs during my time here, and their fan bases have been steadily increasing, even though I think they have a long way to go before reaching their maximum potential.

But some of those other sports find ways to surprise you. This year I was surprised to find myself becoming a huge track fan when I finally stayed to the end to see the 4×400 relay. Seeing the men’s and women’s teams lining the final straightaway, banging drums, yelling encouragement, and clapping rhythms to cheer on runners exhausting their final fumes was one of those moments when I again appreciated sports in their purest form.

The excitement. The speed and power. The team bonding. The triumph and deflation. Most of all, though, the opportunity to be part of something.

That last part is what sports are really about. Some will misguidedly take cheap shots at Division III, women’s, or less mainstream sports, but those people miss what athletics are about. They’re fundamentally about opportunity, and as fans we get a great chance to see our peers be great.

I hope Joe and I have reflected that by giving all sports thorough coverage. We had to prioritize space and attention based on how those teams were doing, but we’ve been lucky to almost have too much success the past couple years.

It’s been an energy I’ve been able to draw upon as well. There’s a rush that I get from the early afternoon hours, when I’m bouncing from coach’s office to coach’s office on Ratner’s second floor, to the 1–4 a.m. tedious double, triple, and quadruple checks Joe and I do on an excessive number of printouts. There’s a high that I don’t come down from until several hours after I’m done with an issue, when I finally get to see it in print and really appreciate the work we’ve done.

I love the comments, even the few we get that are negative. It’s hard to keep improving without that combination of ego and insecurity. Even when people were perfectly happy with the product, I knew we could do better. We often have done better.

In order to exhaust any of the patience you may have left, I want to explicitly thank those that have made my tenure so great. I’ve lost some friends because of the time commitments and mental demands, but I’ve gained many more.

On the Maroon, the entire editorial board has made 12-hour Monday and Thursday nights light-hearted and fun. In many ways, I’ve been at my best bouncing off the walls and making a fool out of myself in the basement of Ida Noyes, as these people have really brought out the best in me.

In particular, our outgoing editor in chief, George Anesi, has been an excellent leader, always helping us find compromise and often putting himself secondary to the people who serve under him. George, who went 2–0 for the resurgent tennis team last year, has always been the first to recognize the sports section’s work and allowed us to regularly take extra time late at night to make this section its best.

Thanks to our managing editor, Stephanie Mielcarek, who was my first production assistant two years ago and will always be my best. There hasn’t been a single issue where I haven’t asked her design opinion, as her eye and feel for a page are unmatched.

The previous top two, Garth Johnston and Laura Oppenheimer, had to put up with my early ambitions but always gave me full support. More than anything, they were always the source of office fun and a large part of the reason I would stay after my section had been turned in. They’ve continued to be my friends even after leaving the office.

My co-editor Joe Katz hasn’t been at the helm as long as I have, but he is just as essential to the product you see today. Whatever sports editor ends up hiring him down the road will look like a genius. I believe he is our paper’s best writer and one of the most creative editors. Even as my associate, he was a tireless worker, working more hours and doing more writing than most editors. This section was good before he joined me. Because of him, it is now great.

The other section editors not only do a great job but also make the office what it is. Andrew Hammond, whose desk continues to be covered by my papers, is my partner in crime and one of the funniest people I know. Kat Glass is our purest journalist and most good-natured personality. Emerald Gao is the most surprising soccer diehard I’ve ever encountered and has been essential to introducing me to the world game. She knows her stuff too. Matt Zakosek is so creative and willing to put himself out there that he never fails to get a laugh.

Of my writers, Mark Liskevych and especially Omar Al-Ubaydli have gone above and beyond anybody else. They are the ones you should thank for our webcasts and the best game call in the history of Maroons athletics. They were also a big part of the step we took this year to have in-depth analysis on our top athletics teams. Critical or obsequious, they have been some of this school’s biggest fans. Hour-long post-game discussions have become a regular part of Omar’s and my schedules.

What can I say about Nick Dahmann, our sports photographer who captured the action and the moments brilliantly. Another victim of our space constraints, Dahmann’s photos balance reporting with an artistic eye that many professionals lack. My favorite photos of his are always the ones with a different point of view or a cross-country individual clearly posing for the camera.

I have interviewed every one of our athletic department’s coaches and administrators, and the vast majority of them have been friendly and very helpful. Our soccer coaches John O’Connor and Amy Reifert have made it clear to me that even when I drop in unannounced, they’ll always have time to help out. I’m sad to see the former go but excited to see him succeed again. Leo Kocher is a master at his craft and passionate, whether you agree with his politics or not, about his sport. Chris Hall gives some of the best post-event speeches I’ve ever heard, and it’s easy to see why his teams respect him so much. Brian Baldea three years ago allowed me to “steal” my way into managing baseball and has given me an opportunity that few others would have. Aaron Roussell does the best media relations of anybody, including through his Coach’s Corner column, and he is an asset to both the women’s basketball program and Maroons athletics.

Though many of you deserve specific mentions, I want to extend thanks to all of the athletes that have helped me in one form or another. Many of you are my closest friends at this school, and I honestly admire your talents and hard work. As I said, you are what Division-III athletics are all about.

I will continue to inhabit this office, helping out with designs and some advising next quarter. I will write for both the print issue and the blog, and I’ll hop onto the softball broadcasts as well. I know I am still a part of this section, though it will now be Joe’s section along with a couple of our first-years.

Two years ago I made a choice to accept responsibility for the sports section and fully invest myself in order to take our athletics seriously. Last year, I decided that I still had more work to do.

Today, it looks like I succeeded. I have all of you to thank for that.