Scoring high school sports
The Times has found something of an answer to a struggle it has had for years: Getting reports from as many fields, courts, tracks and pools as possible from nearly 700 high schools in The Times' five-county region, and then giving readers more of what they want when they ask for local coverage.
Nowadays the Sports desk puts more reports on games than ever online, at Varsity Times Insider; and as ever, editors count on coaches and schools to send in the scores and stats on games and matches.
Denny Lennon is both reader and coach, an overlap not uncommon in those wanting more from The Times. He wrote in response to a column by Eric Sondheimer on April 9 about the Corona del Mar volleyball team, "Given my position as director of beach volleyball for USA Volleyball, I was pleased to see coverage of boys in the Sports section today. However, as a reader of the L.A. Times for over 40 years, I prefer to read about teams that are at least in L.A. County. Let web-based or Orange County newspapers cover their activities, we have boys powers like Loyola or Mira Costa that deserve time in the Los Angeles Times."
In other words, every reader thinks of "local" as his or her area, which might mean anywhere in Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside or San Bernardino counties. That's what makes Varsity Times key to coverage. Off the main page, readers will find regional coverage, where Times reporters blog about high school sports around the Southland. There are six blogs: the City Section (schools in the L.A. Unified School District) and the Southern Section, which includes schools in the San Fernando Valley/North, the Inland Empire, San Gabriel Valley, Orange County and L.A. County (those not in the City Section). There's even a blog called Recruiting Buzz, conversations about where local athletes are going to college.
The Times in print offers highlights of what's online. This year The Times has been running two columns a week from longtime high school columnist Sondheimer, a page of prep sports each Wednesday and a daily roundup of high school highlights. This is a net increase over the coverage The Times offered a year ago.
Overseeing The Times' high school reporting is Bob Rohwer, who was born and raised in Southern California and has been involved with the paper's prep coverage for more than 20 years. Sondheimer is perhaps the most noted voice for prep sports in the Southland. Reporters Dan Arritt and Martin Henderson are longtime Times reporters; joining the staff recently was Jaime Cardenas, hired after his debut as an intern this summer. Freelance bloggers include Austin Knoblauch, Anthony Stitt, Sean Ceglinsky, Steve Galluzzo and Chuck Schilken, who each also help at various times on the high school sports desk, taking scores and highlights, and who all have ties with their local prep communities.
Coaches (or their proxies), though, have a huge role in The Times' being able to report comprehensively, and that self-reporting system is as traditional as the Web is new. The Sports high school desk fields 90 to 200 or more calls a night for the scores, stats and game stories posted online. But the game-night calls to the newsroom are a part of sports -- and possibly a career starter: Sports Editor Randy Harvey got his start in sports reporting as as a sophomore in high school in Mineola, Texas. There, he got paid $10 to $35 a week to call in to newspapers the scores for Dallas, Tyler, Shreveport, Texarkana and Longview.
Relying on such local reports is the way of the future, too, when it comes to high school sports teams. Harvey estimates that over the course of a year, 300 to 400 schools get attention in The Times, through highlights or columns or sports stories. The Sports staff wants to take advantage of the website, even envisioning a homepage for every high school, or a focus on high schools on community pages that The Times might end up creating.
"When we're on a roll -- we're unstoppable," said pitcher Gerrit Cole, shown in photo, after Orange Lutheran defeated Mater Dei, 4-1, on April 30. Photo by Rick Loomis, L.A. Times.