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Feature feedback

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by Cullen9, Feb 5, 2011.

  1. Cullen9

    Cullen9 Member

    Hey guys,

    First of all, thank you for all feedback from my last post. I have put it to good use already.

    Second, here's a feature story I wrote this week that I'd like critiqued. I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to work with this piece, but I think it turned out OK.

    As with the last post, I see some things that I wish I had done differently, but I'll wait to mention them to see if I get the same things back in the feedback.

    Thanks a ton, everyone.


    SPRINGFIELD -- Steve Pollan slowly walked down the length of his team’s bench as the game clock ticked toward zero.

    “I want you to celebrate,” he said to his bench players, “like you just won the national championship.”

    His Springfield boys basketball team was closing in on a 68-52 win against Rangley on Jan. 25. After running the clock down in the final minutes and hitting clutch free throws, the Vikings had finally done it. It was their first regular-season win since February of 2009.

    Until that cold January night, the Vikings were 0-9. The season before they were 0-18. And the season before that, thanks to that February win, a close one over local Fall River, Springfield claimed just one victory.

    It may sound like too much. It may sound like celebrating a 1-9 record like confetti is falling from the rafters is a bit overblown. But understand that for the seniors like Sam Johnson and Bryan Tate, and even for the first-year coach, that win was more than just a win.

    It was a step toward a brighter future.


    When Brian Ferrell interviewed for the Springfield girls basketball coaching job late in the fall, he said he was willing to adapt. Whatever the school gave him for athletes, whatever the system gave him for basketball players, he was going to make it work as best as he could.

    As much as he has wanted a fast-break, run-the-floor type of team, this was not the season for it. He’s got good athletes in the post (Renee Lane) and sharpshooters (Darlene Wood) and ball-handlers (Jasmine Lee), but his inherited team just isn’t made to run the floor from start to finish.

    So, like he said he would, he’s adapted. The team has had mixed results, though: Springfield is 2-10 and has lost five in a row. Its record may be a little deceiving, as Springfield has played some of the best teams in Division III, including defending champion Newton and runner-up Waylon, and held its own at times.

    Ferrell has tweaked his team along the way. As players have become more comfortable over the course of the season, he’s created new plays to see what works. He’s also created new lineups to see who works.

    “That’s been my biggest challenge, to find the right combination of kids to play together,” Ferrell said, “and to find what each one of the player’s comfort level is. Starter or off the bench, we’re starting to get there now.”

    Adapting doesn’t happen over night, anyway.


    It’s hard to ignore the scar of losing.

    For the players, when losing happens so often it almost becomes a habit, it’s an easy thing to master.

    “One of the biggest challenges I think we face is confidence level of our team,” Pollan said. “I think they’re accustomed to not having success when they play basketball. As soon as things start to go wrong, it’s almost a slippery slope as far as the focus level.”

    The stigma isn’t just with the players on the floor. As the teams continue to put up sub-par seasons (its last state championship was for the girls team in 2006, a perfect 22-0 run), it has begun to infect the school. Ferrell and Pollan both know there are other athletes at Springfield capable of playing basketball at the high school level -- but you won’t find them suiting up to play in Molson Gymnasium.

    “I think there are other basketball players out in Springfield, be it boys or girls, that have just said no,” Ferrell said. “I think they have the stigma of losing. That’s a big obstacle to overcome.”

    In some cases, players are there. Or, almost there.

    “I don’t know why they’re not coming out,” Pollan said. “We had one kid try out who didn’t play last year. Really thought he would help us, and he made it through the three days of the tryout. (He) didn’t come back … just kind of vanished.”

    One thing that may be hurting the boys basketball team is the success of the Springfield wrestling team. While those Vikings aren’t necessarily drowning in numbers, the team does include some of the best athletes in the school, including many players from the football team -- the 2010 Division VI state champions.

    “I think the wrestling program has a few athletes that if they were basketball payers, they’d be pretty good,” Pollan said. “I certainly imagine that if they have played basketball their whole lives, they’d be pretty good athletes on the basketball floor.”

    Neither Pollan or Ferrell will use that as an excuse, though. Now, two months into the season, the first-year coaches know what they have. But more importantly, they know where they are going.


    The first win for the boys team glued a smile to Pollan’s face afterward. Was his team perfect? No, but it was as close to perfection as he’d seen all season. It was the closest to perfection the team has seen in three seasons, actually.

    “The kids felt how good that feeling of winning is,” Pollan said. “The kids were happy to be out on the basketball floor. Just kind of reminding them how good winning is definitely helps. Plus, I think it helped them realize that they can win.”

    Like Pollan, Ferrell and his team has worked on the little things day by day, game by game. He continues to craft his team toward the goal he’s always had for the Vikings. He may not have the fast-breaking team like he desired, but everything else is coming into place.

    “I’m all right with it because I feel I’m creating a team atmosphere and the girls are understanding what I’m all about,” he said. “I think things, as we move forward, will be easier.”

    Moving forward is what both coaches are concerned with. While the Springfield boys team is still searching for win No. 2, Pollan knows the team is making positive strides. A year from now he doesn't want his kids to just win games, he wants them to feel like winners.

    “I want to be a competitive program in every game we play,” he said. “I almost feel like you have to feel like a winner and act like a winner before you can be a winner. You have to have that attitude of winning.”

    Ferrell wants to see his team in a year be “in the middle of the pack.” He knows that Springfield won’t be made into a champion over night, but he wants progress to continue. As long as the progress keeps up, the team will be right where he wants it sooner rather than later.

    “It would be nice to get a little respect from other schools, that Springfield is in town and we have to work hard to beat them,” he said. “Right now we’re just at the bottom of the list and everybody thinks we’re just an easy win. I want to get over that.

    “I want people to know that when we come to town,” he continued, “they have to play their best game to beat us.”

    That brighter future isn’t too far away.
  2. TheHacker

    TheHacker Member

    Hey Cullen ...

    I see what you did here -- boys' and girls' basketball teams at the same school, both struggling mightily. But the way it was written was confusing. It took me a few minutes of reading and re-reading to connect with the fact that you were talking about two teams.

    It's a good idea, and I love that you're looking at the big picture. You need to have a nut graph somewhere after setting the scene that explains how both teams at the school are having a rough time. Get the history/background clearly stated early in the story to set the premise. You made a quick cut from the lead on the boys' team to talking about the girls' team. That's where I lost you the first time I read it. In that spot should be a transition to explain where you're going with the story.

    The other thing you need to do in a story like this is talk to the kids. There weren't any players quoted here. What do they think? Do they try to get classmates to come out for the teams? What does the school's AD say? You always want to get more voices into a story like this one.

    You mention that the wrestling team has some good athletes ... is your area a big area for wrestling, where there are youth programs that feed the high school teams? And how's the feeder system in the area for basketball? Is that part of the reason the high school teams have trouble? In my area there are certain sports that don't have much participation at the youth level, and that translates into poor teams at the high school level.

    Overall, a good idea ... keep going for stuff like this.
  3. Cullen9

    Cullen9 Member


    Thanks a ton for this.

    Talking to players was definitely something that I missed in this story, and I realized it quickly. I also wished I had described the coaches better -- age, background, etc. I seemed to neglect that aspect, and they're both obviously big player in the story.

    Thanks again for all the feedback.
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