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HS Coach Feature

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by FantasyAlliance.cm, Apr 9, 2007.

  1. This is one of my first features. It's on Ohio's track coach of the year. See what you think.
    Former Orange track coach John Keller won the 2007 Fred Dafler state track coach of the year award this January. The award, presented by the Ohio Track and Cross Country Coaches Association, is traditionally given in recognition of a coach’s career accomplishments. Keller retired following the 2006 season after 15 years in charge of Orange track.

    His illustrious career included seven CVC championships, including five straight from 2001-‘05, five district titles, four regional runner-up finishes, and a 95-14 record in dual meets. He has also guided a total of 44 individual and relay teams to the state meets, with seven winning it all, and 14 becoming all Ohioans. In addition, he has coached cross-country during the same span.
    “There is more opportunity for success in track. You can only be as good as the athletes that you get,” Keller said.
    One of those athletes, E.J. Martin, is now running professionally. Martin went to the state championships all four years of high school, starting in 1992, in various hurdle events. Jason McDonald also made states running hurdles during Martin’s career. The two of them helped Orange finish third in Ohio in 1994 and second in 1995.
    They also eased Keller’s transition from assistant to head coach. He got the head job in 1991 after Dale Cramer retired. That was only Keller’s fourth year of coaching and third at the high school level.
    “There was a lot more responsibility,” Keller said, “especially for someone young like me—I was 24—taking over for a guy who had been head coach for 30 years and had a very established program.”
    After going 4-5 in his first year, he lost only four meets in the next five years, all to Solon. Still, there were times when his inexperience showed.
    At the 1993 CVC championship, he managed to incur the wrath of every coach in the conference. The championship was supposed to be held at West Geauga, but because its track was being renovated, it took place at Orange. Orange’s track at the time had only six lanes, and the top six placers in each event receive points. Well, Keller had an idea…
    “I had a very good half-miler,” he recalled, “so I put him in the quarter mile on the first day, the qualifying day, then put him in both events the next day. I told him to take it easy in the 400 and save himself for the half-mile. He was going to score a point no matter what. The gun went off, and he jogged. I mean it wasn’t even close. And the Solon coach erupted. Everyone was looking at me, this young coach, completely outraged. They were like, ‘You took one kid’s chance to compete in the finals so that you could score one point by jogging.’”
    Keller had already beaten Solon that year, that victory being the last time Solon has ever lost a dual meet, so their coach wasn’t in a forgiving mood. The two of them didn’t reconcile until after the CVC was reconfigured in 1999, and the two teams did not have to compete against each other.
  2. (cont)
    Another lesson came that year in the state finals.
    One Orange sprinter dropped the baton in the 4-by-100-meter race, effectively disqualifying the relay team, and Keller berated the kid right in public view. “That was my biggest regret of my career,” Keller said, “He didn’t practice very hard, and it was because of him that we lost, and I let him know about it, but it was already over. It was done. I should have taken him aside and said something to him privately.”
    Keller’s intimidation factor, present there and in interviews with athletes, was evident even to students who didn’t run, but took his AP Gov class, where he tells the class on the first day, “If you don’t like politics, there’s the door.” Upon hearing his speech in 2005, Sandy Ginsburg told the cross-country team, “Guys, I just realized that Keller sounds the same when he’s coaching as when he’s teaching.”
    His ability to communicate with his runners was one of the keys to his success.
    “He got into the heads of the kids,” said Cramer, “and he had very good control of them. They did exactly what he asked. He was very much in command at all times.”
    “He made you believe you could do well,” said six time state placer Nathan Blatt, “I wouldn’t have made it to states all three years without him.”

    Keller was nominated for the award by Kenston assistant John Lust, but he didn’t think he would win it. Lust called Keller to tell him that he was nominated for district coach of the year, but he didn’t think he would win even that. When he was informed of the award, he said, “Are you kidding me?! I didn’t even know I was eligible.” Eligibility, in fact, extends to one year after retirement.
    In his retirement, Keller has gone from his track family to his own family. With Jennifer, his wife of twelve years, and three young daughters at home, having more time with his family was the main reason he retired.

    However, he also formed very personal relationships with some of his runners. Being with them three hours a day, he said, let him get to know them well. He also took some of the top runners to meets separate from the rest of the team, sometimes staying overnight. The farthest he ever went was to Syracuse, New York, with E.J. Martin and Jason McDonald, for the National Indoor Track Championships.

    After coming back from Duke for spring break, the first teacher that Nathan Blatt came to talk with was Keller. There was just something about him. “When I was running in a race,” Blatt said, “everyone tells me they were yelling for me, but Keller was the only one I could hear.”
  3. Sweetness

    Sweetness Member

    I think you need to rework the lede a bit.

    If it's a feature here's your chance to loosen up and play. This reads like a straight news story. Try observing Keller at a track meet or practice. Follow him around and just fill up a notebook of scenes. Then I'd lede with a scene.

    If you want people to read the whole piece, you need to draw them in. This lede deflects me as a reader. I skim the first six-or-so sentences and figure I have the gist of it.

    Give me reasons why Keller is a good track coach. Observations. Maybe move up the bit about he pissed off the other coaches in the conference. You should also call them, especially the Solon coach, if they're still alive. They could give you some good quotes.
  4. I think I feel sleepy.
  5. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    M. Lum -

    The workshop has no problem with constructive sarcasm, if accompanied by suggested improvements. If you just want to crack wise, try the other boards.

    What about FantasyAlliance's piece made you drowsy?
  6. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    An anecdotal lead might work better here -- be it from a former player, another coach, a principal, his wife...
  7. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    How would you fix it?
  8. I would start with a fantastic tale regarding the subject in question. If he's ever scaled a mountain, this would be the time to share that tale.
  9. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    Doesn't even have to be fantastic; something that is a good example of the person....
  10. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    The Legacy of Mike Lum apparently includes some apt and thoughtful notions about narrative strategy. The legacies of Sweetness and Slappy likewise.

    FantasyAlliance, I'd have to agree with all three previous posters. Features and profiles need a strong start, and an anecdotal lede is one of the better strategies we have for drawing readers in. Right now, you're opening reads more like a news item.

    An important part of your research for feature pieces is to draw great, or at least good, stories out of your subjects, knowing that you're going to have to rely on those stories as the building blocks of your feature. Facts and figures are never enough.

    One way to do this is to make sure your interview questions are sufficiently broad to get at some things of interest to readers. Sure, he's a track coach, but does he, per Mr. Lum's Legacy, climb mountains? Build ships in bottles? Do incredible imitations of historical figures? Even if you only have few minutes to question someone, try to pull some of this info out of them. If you can't get it from them, ask it of others, i.e., ask his runners about his quirks, habits, tics, pet phrases, etc.

    As an exercise then, I'd ask you to try this if you ever have time: try rewriting the lede using the last three lines of the piece as the first three lines.

    And as Sweetness suggests, fill your notebooks with observation, clear your head and then write like hell. Features should be fun.

    Thanks, FA, for posting your story so we could take a look at it.
  11. m2spts

    m2spts Member

    It read like a news story.
    Find something cute about his background, anecdotes, philosophy, etc., and keep your lead simple.
    Bounce from one graph to another. Do it quickly.
    Feature writing is a lot more fun than news ... in fact, your news stories should read like features, too, as long as the news gets in.
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