I say this at the end of every semester, but it feels especially true this time: Man, this semester has flown by. I have a hard time believing it was June 30 when I wrote this blog post – Six reasons you should take sports journalism at the University at Buffalo this fall – in an effort to boost enrollment in a class that focused on a topic I was, and am, passionate about.
The class has now, sadly, reached its conclusion. It was a great experience learning from Keith McShea, a sportswriter at The Buffalo News, for three months. ENG 399: Sports Journalism will undoubtedly go down as one of my favorite classes I took at UB.
This class was a lot of work – more work than any other journalism class at my school – but it didn’t feel like work. It was pleasurable. When you’re doing, or studying, something you love, it all comes easy. As Aristotle said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” This was, indeed, an educational experience.
If I had to select the one thing I liked the most about the class, I’d say it was the reading we were assigned. We had weekly assignments from The Best American Sportswriting 2012. Some of the stories in that book blew my mind. You know how you feel at the end of a great movie when it all comes together in one triumphant closing sequence? When it all makes sense? Think (500) Days of Summer or Inception. That’s how I felt at the end of some of the stories in that book. Dave Sheinin’s “The Phenomenal Son” was one of my favorites. Another was Robert Huber’s “Allen Iverson: Fallen Star.” I mean, these are stories I likely never would have discovered if it weren’t for this class, and they completely changed the way I look at sportswriting. I think that’s the fundamental purpose of education – to stimulate students’ brains and revolutionize their methods of thinking.
Supplementary to the book reading, students were also required to write one blog post per week on “The best thing I read this week” – as you have probably seen on Gentlemen of Sport quite a bit, with my weekly The Best Sportswriting I Read This Week section. If sportswriting isn’t your thing, I appreciate you tolerating my incessant posts.
Maintaining this section was quite fun for me. Similar to how I felt I grew from reading the book, I grew a lot from reading outside sports journalism. I’ve always read quite a bit of sportswriting, but this class forced me to make sure I did it every week – and to make sure I paid attention to the details, because once I found that piece that I’d dub The Best Sportswriting I Read This Week, I was going to have to write about what made it so good. Again, some of the pieces I studied – from Lee Jenkins’ “Kobe Bryant: Reflections on a cold-blooded career” to Jonathan Mahler’s “The Coach Who Exploded” – just sent my mind spinning. This is art expressed in sportswriting we’re talking about. I loved studying it.
I also enjoyed the structure of the class’ final assignment – a longform writing piece. I’m finishing mine up this Thanksgiving break. This part of the class leaves everyone with a solid clip to show employers, and it involves the students applying what they have studied all semester. The way I see it, what’s the sense of knowing everything about a topic if you never try applying that knowledge yourself? Of course, we college students are not going to twist clever phrases like Dave Sheinin or set scenes with ease like Lee Jenkins, but we can try.
And the more you try something, the better you get. You gain confidence with time and experience. Maybe one day one of the students in this class will wind up producing a piece students around the country will study. That wouldn’t surprise me.
Passion always starts somewhere. I thought I was passionate about sportswriting before this class. I did really like it. But I didn’t have that fervor to write something great, something legendary that will last forever. Now I do.
In this class, I learned a ton about the topic, gained practical experience, and developed a true zeal for the field of study. That’s what education is all about.