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Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by Cullen9, Aug 11, 2011.

  1. Cullen9

    Cullen9 Member

    Here's a feature I wrote this past weekend that ran on the day of the big game. I was trying to do something a little different with this story, so I would really love some feedback.

    Thanks guys.

    (NOTE: I changed some names around, so if you balk at something being factual incorrect, that's probably just because I changed a name here or there.)


    There was a time, way before Shrine Bowls came to town, when the best job in Waylon was on the hill overlooking MacLin Field.

    On that hill, men watched every pitch and every double to the gap. Waylon High School baseball, in particular, but if you’re standing in the right spot, you can see the football field, too. The men — security guards, actually — would watch as they gripped a rifle in one hand. An eye on the action, an ear on the North Dakota state prison behind them.

    Opposing teams were sometimes intimidated when they had to travel in buses through the prison’s gates and to the field. Men on the hill with guns watched as boys on the mound used guns of their own. Hard-throwing righties and pinpoint lefties.

    “I never thought anything about it,” says Leon Reagan, the former athletic director and baseball coach at Waylon, which the field is named after today (MacLin-Reagan Field). “I was brought up with the prison always being here.

    “We never really had any fear of the prison.”

    For opposing players, though, it wasn’t a familiar sight. Bob Holdman, the current athletic director at Waylon, remembers traveling to Waylon when he played for Black Mountain. He recalls seeing those men on the hill — and other extra security measures — as his team pulled in.

    “It was just different,” he says. “You’re 16, 17 years old. It wasn’t any big deal, but it’s a little different perspective. But you didn’t dwell on it.”

    Of course, leaving wasn’t as easy as turning the key and driving home.

    “They check your bus when you left,” Holdman says, “to make sure you didn’t have any extras on board.”

    Occasionally, you would see prisoners on the hill, too, taking in a game. It was only the most trusted prisoners; not just anyone could slip outside to watch the Yellow Jackets on game day.

    Prisoners also helped the school on occasion. The 87-year-old Reagan remembers a guard named LeRoy Johnson coming down the hill with 20 to 30 prisoners in tow to help move the bleachers.

    “Instead of taking the bleachers apart,” Reagan says with a smile, “they’d pick it up. The whole thing.”

    When the Twin States’ best football players and thousands of fans arrive today for the 58th annual Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl, they probably won’t notice the old prison. It closed in 1975. They might see a few people on the hill, but none will have a rifle perched on their shoulder. And there will be no security gate to drive through, just throngs of people to weave past.

    The guards might be gone, but the 1820-building still stands as a reminder.
    “That’s something about that field,” Reagan says, “that’s a little different than most.”


    If you dig down six inches in the middle of MacLin-Reagan Field, you’ll find the secret.

    When the prison owned the land where the fields are now, it was all gardens. After much thought, though, the prison gave the land to the school to build athletic fields. Before that, Waylon used the fairgrounds off Route 44 for all its games.

    There were heaping piles of fine, ground-up metal nearby that was untouched. Superintendent Tom Burns, as Reagan explains, and others figured they could probably put that to good use.

    “They decided maybe all that fine sand-like material would be good to put under an athletic field,” Reagan says. “So that’s what they did.

    “If you go out there and dig, you go down six inches and you see this black, sand-like material. This is why the field is always ready in the spring a few weeks ahead of any other school, because the water goes right through the top soil and it’s gone. If you don’t put water on this field when it’s a dry summer, there’s going to be brown grass out there.”

    With virtually no tree cover, the fields dry quickly with direct sunlight. Year in and year out, season in and season out, MacLin-Reagan Field is ready to go before most fields on the Connecticut River.

    “It was always great to come up here and play early,” Holdman says.

    Holdman was one of many who laced it up at the bottom of the hill. Reagan recalls names — too many to remember all of them — that were some of the brightest to shine. He’s seen the fastest, the strongest and the smartest walk across these fields. Ewald. Lacoss. Woodward. Swinyard.

    “Some good players played on this field,” Reagan says.

    Great players came from all generations, but they were more prevalent when the towns were booming.

    “Bellows Falls and Springfield were a lot bigger schools back then. They were Division I schools,” Holdman says. “Springfield, when I was in high school, had 1,100 kids in it. As did Stevens. Those were big schools. Bellows Falls was 800 kids when the shops were going strong through this valley. There were some big schools through here.

    “There have been some real good players on this field. No question.”


    Holdman knows the truth.

    A column ran in a major South Dakota newspaper after last year’s Shrine Bowl. Its message was simple: Waylon High School was not fit to host the Shrine Bowl.

    It said the game “doesn’t belong at a high school. It belongs at a college facility, where the staff support is stronger, the parking is better, and the overall atmosphere is better for fans, players, coaches, media and all others involved.”

    It’s something that nags at Holdman, who, along with people like Waylon football coach Jim Tufts, have gone above and beyond to make the Shrine Bowl happen.

    “The frustrating part of last year is we’ve never pretended to be Dartmouth College,” Holdman says, noting Waylon is the only high school to ever host the Shrine Bowl. “We’ve never pretended to be the University of South Dakota. We don’t have their financial resources, we don’t have their group of people to do this, let’s be honest. This is a small, rural North Dakota high school. We’re not set up or designed to handle those events.

    “I think it’s a tribute to our community. That our community embraced it and really worked hard to make it happen.”

    This will be the third year in a row that Waylon will host the annual game. Dartmouth College hosted the game every year since 1968 (except once — Plymouth, 2006) until a construction project made its stadium unavailable. With the Shrine committee wanting to stay central for both South Dakota and North Dakota, Waylon decided to step up.

    “Jimmy (Tufts) came to me and said, ‘Do you think we could pull this off?’ ” Holdman says. “We’re the kind of guys that like challenges, so I said we could try.”
    There may be no easy way to get to Waylon — unlike Hanover — but if you hit a dirt road and you can hear the parade this morning, you’re almost there.

    “He thought he was coming out of space coming here,” Holdman says of the columnist. “He had to drive on a dirt road. My goodness. He had to drive a quarter of the mile up a dirt road and he thought we were sending him up to Alaska or something. People down (in southern South Dakota) will tell you that they think this is the end of the world. They really do.”

    Part of the reason Holdman and his crew agreed to take on the Shrine Bowl was to shine a light on what Waylon has to offer.

    “It’s an opportunity for us as the Waylon community to showcase ourselves and to say that we have a nice facility,” he says. “Look at that grass now. That’s a pretty damn good looking football field. Do we have all the aesthetics of the brick walls and the scoreboard with your name on it? No, we don’t. But when the bleachers are all filled up, that’s a pretty nice atmosphere for the kids.”

    Holdman doesn’t let himself get caught up in all the fuss, because he knows what the game — no matter where it’s played — is all about.

    “The game is for the burned and crippled kids in the three hospitals,” he says. “The idea behind this game is to earn money to fuel those hospitals. If they’re making money that they can send down to the hospitals, that’s the bottom line.”


    You’ll see Leon Reagan today. He’s quick to point out that he still makes it to games.

    “Oh yeah,” he says. “I’m not that old.”

    He’ll be up on a hill — but not that hill. At the corner of the endzone, positioned up on the banking and under a few trees, you’ll probably see Reagan sitting in a chair with people surrounding him. It’s the best view a person could ask for.

    “He’s got a nice shady spot on the bank up there,” Holdman says. “That’s a good place to watch a football game.”

    As for the players, Holdman and Reagan both know it doesn’t matter where you play. Those 70-plus players won’t let up on the field today. They’ll still hit hard and they’ll still play to win. High school field or not.

    “Once the adrenaline starts running and you get your name announced in front of 5,000 people,” Holdman says, “how do you not get excited?”
  2. tagline

    tagline Member

    I'd guess this story would be about 40, 45 or 50 inches long, and I count only two sources: the current AD and the former AD. In my mind, to justify something this long, you've got to find more sources to add varied voices.
  3. Cullen9

    Cullen9 Member

    I'm not sure it was quite 40, but I'm not positive.

    The whole "having enough sources" has been a problem of mine. I had quotes from players I could have used, but I felt their best quotes strayed from the story too much.

    Thanks for the feedback, tagline.
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