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Constructive criticism would be greatly appreciated

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by J.C. Wolf, Mar 7, 2007.

  1. J.C. Wolf

    J.C. Wolf Member

    At the time, this was as good as I could get it. But now, I'm not so sure. Maybe I could have dived into Wallace's personal life a little more, though I'm not sure it would have been appropriate, or necessary. Maybe I could have included some quotes from some of the kids ... I don't know.

    Just for some background, the story was written over a 48-hour period that included paginating/editing two four-page sports sections and playing in a charity basketball game. The latter served to remind me that I'm better at watching than playing.

    What do you think? What is it missing? Where can it be improved? Any constructive criticism would be greatly appreciated.

    Well, here goes nothing ...

    * * *

    She was six months pregnant, and lacrosse was the furthest thing from Audrey Wallace's thoughts.

    But finding a ball in the street 3,000 miles from home would plant a seed in her mind that, over time, would grow to touch more lives than she could have ever imagined.

    The story of Audrey Wallace is one of a Royersford native and her struggles with alcoholism. Of a young woman who, before turning 22, would lose her driver's license four times. And of a spirited mother who discovered the right life on the Left Coast, and on her long, uplifting journey back to where it all began, brought a band of girls from a scarred community and a largely forgotten sport along for the ride.

    When the Santana High girls' lacrosse team takes the field later today - a world away from home, at its coach's alma mater - a week of colliding timelines and breathtaking experiences, both new and old, will reach an arresting crescendo. A close look reveals the dark histories of many simultaneously converging, and from that point emerging as a brighter, shared future.


    It's been little more than five years since Santee, Calif., a small town on the outskirts of urban San Diego, found itself undesirably thrust into the national spotlight.

    Chaos reigned on March 5, 2001, as an angst-ridden 15-year-old with a .22-caliber handgun opened fire on his classmates at Santana High School - reloading at least four times - while murdering two students and wounding 13 others.

    President George W. Bush condemned the rampage as "a disgraceful act of cowardice."

    It was, at the time, the deadliest school shooting since the April 1999 bloodbath at Columbine High in Littleton, Colo., where two teenagers killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before committing suicide.

    Out of the grief and the madness at Santana, and as a means of providing the youth with additional extracurricular support through sport, arose a pair of varsity lacrosse teams, which began interscholastic play the very next year.

    "A lot of the girls don't really want to talk about it ... but the shooting was kind of the impetus behind the whole thing," Wallace said. "They already had track and field and baseball and softball, but adding lacrosse adds potentially 40 to 50 more girls and 40 to 50 more boys to give them something to do after school."

    The shooter, a child himself, was tried as an adult and is serving a sentence of 50 years to life in prison.


    One night shortly after the birth of her daughter, Wallace received an offbeat call from a stranger with an intriguing question.

    "Would you be interested in coaching lacrosse at Santana High School?"

    Many months earlier, after spotting a little orange ball in the street, Wallace had signed up online with the San Diego County Lacrosse Association. The move proved to be the catalyst for all that would follow.

    "I basically just put my name on a list," she said, surprised to learn that San Diego even had lacrosse, "and then I sort of forgot about it."

    Wallace, 38, had discovered her passion for the game, a predominantly East Coast sport, as a child on the fields of the Spring-Ford School District. It was her original love - her first organized sport - and the lifelong athlete never intended to lose touch with it. She developed her stick skills by practicing with Mandy Moore O'Leary, eventually a U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Famer, and went on to play post-collegiate club lacrosse, despite never actually attending college.

    "Because I put my name on that list," Wallace said, "I got calls from like five different people.

    "But Santana was the first one."


    April 29, 1990, was the last time that Wallace had an alcoholic drink.

    "I lost my driver's license four times by the time I was 22, so I kind of got my act together," she said. "I was drinking and partying and stuff like that, and I just decided that I didn't want alcohol in my life any more."

    It was those trying and ultimately life-altering times that coincided with her five years as a Phoenixville resident. After graduating from Spring-Ford in 1985, the one-time Phoenix delivery girl moved just across the Schuylkill River from her hometown of Royersford.

    Her late father had been born and raised in the town, and graduated from Phoenixville Area High. Her grandfather, who still lives in the area, had originally relocated the family here for a job with the Phoenix Steel Corporation - a step up at the time from his laborious and dangerous coal-mining work in Johnstown, Pa.

  2. J.C. Wolf

    J.C. Wolf Member

    "It's so nice in Phoenixville because it's such a small town," Wallace said. "You can leave your house and go walk for ice cream or go walk to the movies or go walk to the grocery store. And I should actually know that, because I lost my driver's license for two years."

    As her mind was becoming a bit clearer and her life began taking a turn for the better, Wallace in 1988 landed a well-paying job in the healthcare industry, working for a company called Shared Medical Systems. She bought a house in King of Prussia, which she eventually sold - and in 1999 transferred to the organization's Los Angeles office, an area where she already had some acquaintances.

    "I just worked my way up through the ranks," she said. "Twelve years later, I knew that I wanted to do something else. (After moving to Los Angeles) I ended up in San Diego, because the weather is beautiful. It's 70 (degrees) and sunny every day. I loved L.A. and I loved San Diego, and I was just like, 'I've got to stay here.'"


    Lacrosse was an up-and-coming sport on the West Coast at the turn of the millennium, and in many respects, it still very much is.

    No sport has grown faster at the high school level over the last 10 years, according to U.S. Lacrosse, and there are now more than 130,000 high school players nationwide. Youth membership (ages 15 and under) in the organization has more than tripled since 1999, to nearly 100,000 participants, and lacrosse is also the fastest-growing sport over the last five years at the NCAA level.

    At Santana High, they "just wanted to add something new to the schedule," Wallace said. "Now instead of going home and playing with their guns, (the kids) can come out and play with their lacrosse sticks instead."

    The oldest high school team in San Diego is only about 12 to 14 years old, Wallace said, compared to Philadelphia-area squads that have been around since the early 1970s.

    "It's a much different game here," Wallace said, after Santana's second of four matchups against local squads. "It's a faster-paced game, the checking is rougher, the stick skills that these girls have - they hardly drop any passes."

    Many of the girls playing on local teams have learned the game early and come up through feeder programs, as opposed to the Santana kids, who have four years' experience at most.

    "The kids who just graduated last year were on the first team," Wallace said, "so the sport is all relatively new to all of them. We're playing against girls who've been playing since sixth grade, so they're two or three years up on us."

    The Santana girls, two-time defending Grossmont League champions, refer to the Northeast collectively as "big-time lacrosse territory." But by working with youth teams during the fall, Wallace is doing all she can to spread the game in the Southwest.

    "The youth program has kids coming in from all other areas of San Diego. So the girls that are coming in, we're teaching them how to play lacrosse and then they go off and play for another high school and they smoke us on the field," Wallace said. "And it's proof in the pudding that what we're doing is right, because we're spreading the good word of the game, we're spreading the good word of the sport, and the heritage of the sport."


    The game of lacrosse stems from Native American roots, so it should come as little surprise that the Kumeyaay Indians - whose three bands each operate a casino in the San Diego area - are the largest of the Santana High lacrosse teams' nearly 250 sponsors.

    The school does not financially back the program.

    "I was baffled that we had to charge the players to play," said Wallace, who, since joining the program in its second year of existence, has spearheaded the entire operation's fund-raising endeavors. "My first goal was to make it that the 2004 squad didn't have to pay anything to play. We were able to do that for that squad. Next goal was to win a championship, and to create a youth squad. Then we're keeping with this thing where you don't have to pay to play, and this year was the trip" to the East Coast during spring break.

    "Each year I have a goal in mind."

    The teams need $10,000 or so per year for operating costs, Wallace said, which they raise through bake sales and car washes and all manner of fund-raisers, and the team even began to give a scholarship away, courtesy of the Kumeyaay's donations.

    "Sycuan is proud to partner with ... those in times of need," said the Tribal Chairman of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, Daniel J. Tucker - who is also a Santana High graduate - in a videotaped message on the Kumeyaay Website. "Being involved and participating is the Kummeyaan spirit, and we are proud to be part of the San Diego community."

  3. J.C. Wolf

    J.C. Wolf Member

    Tucker was unavailable to specifically comment on funding for the Santana High lacrosse teams.

    However, the Sycuan band alone has poured millions of dollars of charitable aid into their reservation's surrounding communities over the years, in addition to a recent donation of $100,000 to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Up to this point, though, the Viejas Band has been the Santana lacrosse teams' primary donor.

    That may all change in the not too distant future, according to Wallace, as Tucker is mulling over a proposal to financially assist with a multimillion-dollar upgrade to Santana's lacrosse field.

    "We're looking to raise money through them to get us two new synthetic turf playing surfaces," Wallace said, because the football field Santana currently plays on is all ripped up from various events, including upcoming commencement ceremonies, for which the school will close off the site beginning May 5. "So when we make it to the playoffs, we're not going to have home field advantage, and we never have had it."

    Part of the high school campus is to be pulverized and have draining installed, laying the groundwork for the new playing surface at a cost of $1.1 million. The synthetic field itself runs an additional $1 million, and Wallace is seeking out local construction companies, plumbers, electricians and others to either donate or provide their services at a discount.

    "We need sponsors really bad, so you can put a plug in for that," she said. "We've got benefactor info on our Website, www.shsgl.com, and we've got PayPal.

    "I want the best apparel, I want the best field playing surface, I want the best coaches," Wallace said. "I just want the best for these kids, as I would for my own child."


    While the medium-built, brown-eyed Wallace spends the week retracing the steps of her youth, it's the 16 youngsters she's brought home with her who are making positive memories to last a lifetime.

    "I see them starting to bond together in a lot of ways," said Susan Carmody, a team member's mother and one of five chaperones. "I don't think any of them had been to New York City," where the team visited on Tuesday, immediately before its game against Phoenixville. "A lot of them had never actually seen snow coming down," as they did on Wednesday before their game with Upper Perkiomen.

    Several others had never before been on an airplane, or to Philadelphia, or in a high school - get this - with walls in the hallways. (Santana is comprised of individual indoor rooms connected by overhangs, allowing the kids to be outside whenever not in a class.) One girl asked what "Amish" was.

    "They're just so jazzed," Wallace said. "They're running themselves ragged."

    "I think any extracurricular activities you can give to kids to do ... hopefully you'll reach some who maybe don't have all the support that they need, that they have at home. That it'll help them," said Carmody, who works as a teacher at another California school. "I see that with the kids I work with, too. A lot of them have very little support at home. And so whatever programs you can give for the kids, hopefully we'll be able to maybe reach some of them. And if you can give them something that they're passionate about, it's huge.

    "It's huge."

  4. J.C. Wolf

    J.C. Wolf Member


    Wallace's next fund-raising idea aimed at expanding Santana's lacrosse program is to invite 50 or 60 elite athletes from surrounding high schools to the first-ever "Jim MacLaren Lacrosse Classic."

    MacLaren is a former football and lacrosse player at Yale University, who went on to survive two near-fatal accidents, and was honored with ESPN's Arthur Ashe Courage Award. He had his leg amputated at the age of 22 after getting hit by a New York City bus, battled back to become an Ironman triathlete, and went on to be named the fastest amputee in the world.

    Eight years after the initial accident, he became an incomplete quadriplegic when he was struck by a van during a triathlon. MacLaren has since become a motivational speaker.

    "I met him in October, and he said he would lend his name to our lacrosse classic," Wallace said. "This significant man lent me his name for my lacrosse classic, so I really want to make something of it."

    Community members sometimes criticize Wallace - now the president of the San Diego County Girls' Lacrosse Association - for taking on too much work, she said, and for refusing to cut any of the 50 girls from the team.

    "The importance of this program is to give the kids something to do," she said, watching the girls sample cheesesteaks - and wondering how it will feel to take the field at Spring-Ford. "I got a little choked up when I gave my spiel at the hotel before we left (to play) Phoenixville ...

    "But them just being here is proof enough that they're behind what I believe in and what I want to do. And sometimes I'll turn and I'll want to quit, because I am criticized a lot, but what's wrong with having goals and what's wrong with trying to find people to support you and believe in what you have going on?"


    When last we heard of Santana, it was for a very different, far less positive story - one that gripped the very nation its girls' lacrosse team has now traversed.

    But the past, no matter how disturbing, often holds the keys to the future.

    "Every single thing happens for a reason," Wallace said. "I truly believe that."

    After falling, 16-2, to Spring-Ford on Friday - their third loss in as many games - the girls from Santana take on St. Paul VI, a Catholic school from Maryland, today on Spring-Ford's field.

    "As far as the lacrosse goes," Carmody said, "they were feeling like they were just going to get creamed."

    And to a large degree, they have.

    But for the girls from Santana High, the community of Santee, and a woman from Royersford, the final scores of these games are completely irrelevant.

    It's the other results that count.
  5. Angola!

    Angola! Guest

    Out of curiosity, how many inches is this story?
    I read the first two posts and thought they were good, but it just became too long. Of course, it might have been easier to read in paper form.
  6. J.C. Wolf

    J.C. Wolf Member

    Not sure offhand, but I believe somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 inches.

    I do think it may have been easier to read in the actual paper, but if it wasn't, that's a problem. :-\ It ended up being very well received by the community, so people obviously finished it.

    Also, the last two posts are significantly shorter than the first two, a result of trying to squeeze it all into only three posts and coming up just over the character limit.
  7. JC,

    I think it's well written and researched, but I had trouble staying focused on the story. And I don't think it was because of the length. There was just something about it that was a tad...I don't know, I can't quite put my finger on it.

    For what it's worth, I'll take another stab at it later...
  8. J.C. Wolf

    J.C. Wolf Member

  9. rpmmutant

    rpmmutant Member

    It was a tad long. I would have ended the story with the building of the new field. Still would like to know more about her alcoholism though. That might have been where a little more time to interview her would have been nice. It's easy to write about the sport and players and coaches, but a little more info on her alcoholism would have given the story what we in the fourth estate like to call human interest.
    Still a good read. Lost interest after the field was planning to be built though.
  10. Alma

    Alma Well-Known Member

    Mr. Wolf,

    The opening is a total jumble of time. Reading it in a vacuum, without any pictures or graphics to assist, here's the various ages/times I see in the first 25 graphs or so:

    Six months pregnant
    Later today
    Little more than five years ago
    March 5, 2001
    The very next year
    One night shortly after the birth
    Many months earlier
    April 29, 1990
    Twelve years later

    All the times are disconcerting to me. Then you throw in the other numbers, - 3000 miles from home, 15-year-old, .22 caliber shotgun - and it gets more frustrating. Our brains stop at numbers. We strive to make sense of them. The lede 60-inch story must simplify itself: A pregnant woman sees a ball. That's an interesting image, and that's the image that matters. Where in the street was it? How'd she see it? Did she pick it up? Take this image and weave it into the summary graf you use about darkness, light, etc.

    If I read it twice, I can follow, but I question whether Wallace's whole bio has to be in the story - does it really matter that was an alcoholic 20 years ago? Or how she got to San Diego? - and I really question whether it needs to be near the lede.

    I question why Wallace is allowed to go on so long in the piece with motivational material.

    I question why none of the athletes are quoted in the piece, but a mother is.

    I have other questions, but I'm not sure they matter much. It sounds like Wallace was an engaging interview, full of tremendous material, and the story reflects that. She seems to have controlled this story into exactly what she wanted it to be. I think, in the future, if she has critics…talk to the critics. Not to her about her critics.

    Apparently the story had to be written during their trip, and not after - although it would have been better if it could have been held for a couple weeks to really polish it.
  11. J.C. Wolf

    J.C. Wolf Member


    Well, first of all, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to read the story and post your thoughts. I'll attempt to tackle some of your questions ...

    I did have a bit of trouble focusing this story, since the nature of this beast is that it's all over the place to begin with. You've got Wallace, the kids, the sport, the indians, the school shooting, etc. I decided to try to focus on Wallace, since she seemed like the common thread. Also, the story's newsworthiness stemmed from her returning home and bringing this group of girls cross country with her.

    Her "whole bio" is not in the story. And, to be honest, I found myself questioning whether more should have been included. For example, I just barely touch on her young daughter, who was also along for the trip, and I didn't feel it appropriate to delve into some other personal matter, like where the father of her child was.

    I did, however, feel that some of her life story was crucial to the story. I think that her struggles with alcoholism, which coincided with both her time as a local resident and her formative years with the sport, really helped to humanize her story. Everyone has their demons; many are not able to overcome them.

    I also think that how she got to San Diego needed to be answered, since it's not exactly down the road from Philadelphia. And the cross country journey helps to symbolize how far not only Wallace, but the girls, their school, and the sport have come - in a broader sense. "Look at how far they've all come!"

    If you feel that Wallace just rambles on with motivational material ... well then you have a pretty clear picture of who this woman is - a high school coach from a scarred background constantly trying to help children overcome their own crisis.

    None of the athletes being quoted was something I wrestled with. I spoke to a handful of them, watched them interact with each other, and described some of their actions and excitement, accordingly. None were particularly quotable. I quoted the one mother, because here is a woman from this California community, a teacher herself, explaining why she took a week out of her life for these kids, and how this coach and this sport has changed their lives for the better. That was the reasoning, at least.

    Wallace certainly did not "control the story into exactly what she wanted it to be." In fact, I believe she was put back by so much of the negative aspects included in the story, parts that I felt were important. She wanted to just gloss over the whole school shooting, and much of that information was garnered from old news articles. She also didn't think I was going to write so much about her alcoholism. A good bit of this isn't information she simply volunteered, mind you.

    I do, in fact, wish I had more time than just those two days to work on it. But there was no way that I could have held it for a couple of weeks to polish it. Working for a daily, the newsworthiness would have been long gone at that point.

    Well, this post is getting pretty long.

    But there is one other thing ... and I don't mean to be ignorant ... but ... your brain stops at numbers? I'm not sure I understand, since our whole business is numbers. Final scores, shooting percentages, all manner of statistics. I mean ... I'll take your word for it ... but perhaps you can expound.

    And thanks again.
  12. Alma

    Alma Well-Known Member


    Of course one's brain stops at numbers. And you're right: Recap and preview stories are full of them. But should a 60-inch story weigh itself down with so many dates, ages and times? In my opinion, no. As I'm reading it, I find myself trying to figure out your jumbled chronology instead of focusing the subject and character of Wallace.

    I think you should have quoted one of the team members.

    The rest of it…I understand your thinking…but writing…

    "When the Santana High girls' lacrosse team takes the field later today - a world away from home, at its coach's alma mater - a week of colliding timelines and breathtaking experiences, both new and old, will reach an arresting crescendo. A close look reveals the dark histories of many simultaneously converging, and from that point emerging as a brighter, shared future."

    …doesn't mean you necessarily showed it. I mean, that's a pretty good paragraph, but the story, more interested in funding details and job history/chronology, doesn't live up to "an arresting crescendo." It needed more personalities in it.
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