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writing about a coach's death

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by mtvsportswriter, Feb 14, 2011.

  1. mtvsportswriter

    mtvsportswriter New Member

    On Saturday I had to write one of the toughest stories I have ever written. Early Saturday morning the high school boys and girls soccer coach and assistant girls basketball coach of the high school where I cover died of a heart attack.

    I had one of my best relationships with this coach as i was able to talk with him in times other than when I had a tape recorder in his face.

    I've written a few stories during my time as a news reporter, but this was the first time I had ever written about a person's death who I had known as well as i did this coach.

    I was wondering how many other people out there can relate to this?
  2. SoCalScribe

    SoCalScribe Member

    Not sure if this is on-topic or not, but I have to believe I'm only one of many here who, because of my profession, gets tapped to write the obit for passings in the immediate or extended family. I always consider it an honor, not a burden, of course.

    I bet your close relationship to the deceased helped you to craft a meaningful obit that will truly mean something to those who were close to the departed. For a small group of people, they were probably the most meaningful words you've ever written.
  3. 93Devil

    93Devil Well-Known Member

    Years ago I was tipped off by the head coach that a long time supporter of the team did not have much time left. I penned a column that wound up being buried with the man about a week after it ran.

    They are tough to write, but very well worth the effort.
  4. WolvEagle

    WolvEagle Active Member

    A few years back, I had to write the obit of a beloved and highly successful girls' basketball and girls' track coach who died of an aortic aneurysm. If memory serves, he was only 45-ish.

    He got along great with the entire sports staff and was just a cool guy. His athletes and students loved him. He had to have been the most popular teacher and the most popular coach at the school.

    I wrote a long obit and also wrote a story about the funeral. I was lucky to get into the sanctuary, which was full. Our SE had to sit in the full school gym at the church - there was a closed-circuit broadcast.

    It was a very, very emotional time for the school and the community, which is fairly small. The healing process took a long time.

    I had to set aside my emotions to be a reporter, which wasn't easy, but it had to be done. When I was able to decompress, I was more angry than anything that the hospital didn't diagnose this. The docs should have caught it - instead, he died alone in a hospital bed, minutes after one of his best friends left to run some errands.

    The whole thing wasn't easy, but it's just something we've got to do in our line of work.
  5. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    A few years ago, I wrote a story about a local wrestling coach losing his lifelong battle with cancer. Had already cost him part of an arm. Wrote the story from those around him because he was too ill to talk.
    He died the morning the story appeared in the paper.
    Very tough.
  6. shockey

    shockey Active Member

    they are very tough to get through writing but like most other difficult tasks in life they end up being among the most rewarding experiences we have. it's a chance to eulogize someone you've been close to and/or has been very important to you professionally and personally.

    think of it as an opportunity to shine a light on the person's life that few others may be privvy to. and a great way to express your grief.
  7. HanSenSE

    HanSenSE Well-Known Member

    Wasn't a straight obit, but first time I recall this happening was about 20 years ago when I was covering the local dirt track. I'd interviewed one racer after the night's program, and a day or two later there was an accident in his garage and he died. The cop reporter had it in a roundup so I was totally unaware until I got to the track next Saturday when they had his photo on several jars collecting money. One of his best friends at the track drove his car that night for "one last lap." Did lots of interviews in the pits afterward, mooched a photo from the track promoter and ended up with the story about the driver on the front and the usual racing story in sports. Still, totally strange thinking about interviewing someone one day, and he's gone the next.
  8. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    Can't add to that. Well said.
  9. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    Several years ago, the football coach at one of our local private schools died of a heart attack. He was a good guy, always friendly and helpful to us, and like others have said I felt honored to write the obit. It helped that I'd also become friendly with the family (they were all either athletes in town or involved in youth and high school sports to some degree), so they opened up a little bit and shared some nice stories.
    As hard as these stories can be on an emotional level, that's one part I've always enjoyed. People really want to talk about their loved ones, so I think letting them share some memories helps with the grieving process on some level. It's a small part of it, but I always feel like I'm helping.

    Getting back to this particular coach, though, it was tough. He was also an assistant baseball coach at the school, and they were in the middle of a state championship series. They'd lost Game 1 on a Thursday, then got rained out Friday and he died on Sunday morning. So they delayed the second game until after the funeral, then got more rain.
    By the time they played Game 2 it was something like 10 days after Game 1, and there was no doubt the coach's team was done. Even the head coach told me on one of the off days that he didn't care if they won or lost, he just wanted to get it over with.
    The absolute worst part, though, was the end of Game 2 (it was a best-of-3). The final was 6-0, so the outcome was more or less decided heading to the last inning. With two outs, the assistant coach's oldest son came to the plate.
    He struck out to end the series. It was both fitting and heartbreaking.
  10. RedCanuck

    RedCanuck Active Member

    I've written more of these than I want to admit as I was doing sports in a small town that had a number of beloved coaches and administrators pass away over a few years. I was friends with all of them and it was probably just as tough on me being at their funerals as it was many in the community. I just wrote from the heart and they seemed to be well received.

    One coach who died particularly young - he had a heart attack while playing hockey and was the picture of perfect health - really affected the community and I remember being involved in a campaign for defibrillators in public places after his death.

    Anyway, his widow eventually wrote a long thank you letter to a lot of people who had been so kind when he died. She listed some of the other people who wrote stories about him and didn't thank me. A couple days after her thank you came out, she brought me a card and asked me to forgive her for forgetting while she was grieving, of course i did. The reason she didn't include me: Her family had already framed my story (but not the others written) and put it on their wall as it touched closest to their hearts. That's a moment I'll never forget.

    Always just write the truth and tell the story, it pays off and it will help you remember and move on as well.
  11. BYH

    BYH Active Member

    One of the most meaningful things I've ever done is pen my Mom's obituary. I don't think anybody else was lining up to write it--my Dad was a basket case and I don't think putting the obit in the paper was something that was crossing my sister's mind--but the morning after Mom died I said "I'm doing the obituary and that's that." I felt it was the least I could do after my Dad and sister had tended to my Mom and watched her deteriorate on a daily basis over the last few months of her life.

    Wrote it that afternoon, after we got back from the funeral home and after we'd sort of gotten our second wind, and reading it aloud to the family in the living room was therapeutic. It was heartfelt and straight forward (it helped reading all the horror stories here about overwritten obits). A few days later, the local paper called and interviewed me for a longer feature about my Mom, which made me feel good.
  12. Spartan Squad

    Spartan Squad Well-Known Member

    Almost five years ago now, there was a wrestling coach who died in an off road vehicle accident. It was the first time I wrote the obit for someone I knew, and it wasn't easy. I'm in a small town, and his death hit it hard.
    He was the kind of guy who would do anything for his wrestlers, former and present. And people in town would do anything for him.
    About the hardest part of it was talking to his wife who was talking about how her kids were taking it. First, and only time, I actually cried while doing an interview, and I once interviewed a woman who was going to die because her doctor misdiagnosed breast cancer.
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