Scoreboard! Scoreboard! The fans chant, almost in unison, many gesturing toward the scoreboard, demoralizing their opponents, tearing them down with just one word.
Scoreboard! Scoreboard! Their team has the lead: controlling the court with a 20-point lead, or at the line to shoot a crucial free throw with seconds on the clock; two runs ahead in the bottom of the 9th facing the potential tying run at the plate on a 3-2 count, or batting a blowout by 10 runs in the 7th.
Scoreboard! Scoreboard! However precarious the margin, spectators defer to the scoreboard, allowing the numbers to speak for themselves.
Scoreboard! Scoreboard! To me, scoreboards hold a particular significance, as a scoreboard heralded my foray into sportswriting.
As far back as I can remember, I have always been involved with sports in one way or another. In elementary school, I ran track with the Valley Raiders Track Club at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys. In middle school, I played volleyball and basketball for the Patriots of Viewpoint (note: this is in no way related to my deep-seated detestation of the Patriots of New England). In high school, I stuck to volleyball, playing defensive specialist on the Calabasas High freshman girls' team that beat Nordhoff for the first time in school history. And sometime between then and now, I realized I had absolutely no future playing organized sports, especially volleyball, at 5-foot-2.
Even then, I didn't turn to sports reporting. It took a sunny Saturday 'stuck' at the diamond to figure out my calling.
There I was in room M-5, minding my grammar--I was the copy editor, after all--when the sports editor chose me as his victim.
"Ashley, can you cover the dedication of the scoreboard at the baseball field?"
My reaction must have been sour, because he shot back sarcastically, "I knew I could count on you."
Before I could even ask what was required of me, I was outside, steno pad and pen in hand, camera around my neck, with orders to get the story done by the end of layout that evening.
Up at the field, both teams were gathered in their respective dugouts preparing for the pre-game dedication.
Meanwhile fans and families mingled, though there was a palpable melancholy.
I overheard two women, who I recognized as the mothers of Calabasas players, talking about the two young men being honored: Sam Rutherford, a 1995 graduate who died from heart problems during his freshman year of college, and Michael Bevilacqua, who had been a year ahead of me in school and died in a jetski accident in 2000. While none of the current players knew Rutherford, and only a few of his high school teammates were able to attend along with his family, most of the baseball team had grown up playing with Bevilacqua, and they had been hit hard.
I walked over to a classmate of mine on the verge of tears. Michael Rudow, a decent lineman on the football team but the star goalie of the soccer team; I couldn't recall him ever having played baseball. I asked if he had known Bevilacqua. He slowly recounted how he had been Bevilacqua's Little League teammate, and had played baseball with Bevilacqua the spring before his death. We talked about life and death and baseball until the ceremony began.
The home team lined up along the third base line and the visiting Oak Park Eagles along the first base line as the national anthem played to a flag held up by members of the Coyote baseball team. A poster to be hung beneath the scoreboard bearing the athletes' names was then unveiled, and Bevilacqua's No. 11 was officially retired and his jersey presented to his parents; Rutherford's No. 22 had been retired and given to his family in a commemorative ceremony in 1995.
Then the teams took the field.
I don't recall the score of the game, or who won, but I remember the athletes' expressions and words, their solemn tribute to their former teammate.
What I anticipated would be a mundane hard news story ended up a heartwrenching glimpse into the too-short lives of two athletes, who left behind families and friends and teammates wondering why.
I realized that day that the sports section wasn't only about the score and stats, it was about the individuals coming together, with their various personalities and backgrounds, for a common purpose: sports.
So began my career as a sports journalist.
The next year, I was the sports editor, and more than just reporting on the events of the games, I focused on the athletes themselves, finding the unique angles setting each of them apart from the next. I wrote about Jovan Gittens, a Canadian sprinter who competed at the Parkroyal Games in Australia. I wrote about Shea Broussard, a water polo player who aspired to be a firefighter. I wrote about the 6-foot-something basketball-playing Saunders brothers and a special education student on the cross-country team.
Among these articles, the facts and figures of each game I covered got lost in my mind, but I have not forgotten the individuals. I will never forget the look on Rudow's face, and the faces of the baseball players paying homage to their fallen teammates.
How unfortunately coincidental it was that just a year later, Rudow and his brother Kyle were involved in a car accident on Topanga Canyon. Kyle Rudow, a standout three-sport athlete at Calabasas and fraternity officer at Washington, had died at the scene. Having lived through these experiences made it easier for me to handle the deaths of two of my fellow collegians, Ryan Francis and Mario Danelo, two promising stars who I had met in passing and definitely had taken for granted. I interviewed Danelo for the special teams preview in August 2005. I now hold that minicassette invaluable.
Yes, there is more to sports than the scores and stats.
There is life, and sometimes, sadly, death.
What the scoreboard says, to me, is secondary.