Access is awesome.
Simple as that. For my job, access is crucial for a job well done.
Still, I never take for granted the access I receive to interview some of the best young people in our region.
I have a strong professional relationship with most of the coaches and athletic directors in Southwest Washington. A trust has been built through the years. They understand the job I am trying to do, and I respect the boundaries each coach has for his or her program. For example, some coaches tell me to come out to practice whenever I want, while others want a call or a text to set up a specific time. For me, it is all about honoring those wishes.
I was reminded about the access part of my job this weekend when Dirk Knudsen of Northwest Prep Report wrote a long column detailing what he called the Dark Side of high school football. Gambling. Recruiting services with questionable ethics. Using technology to cheat.
All of these things have me concerned about access.
More and more people are wanting to get closer to the teams. That could be a bonus to high school sports. It certainly was for Southwest Washington when Bryan Levesque brought us gshlfootball.com. However, there are some out there hoping to get access who do not follow proper protocol, who might have questionable motives.
A coach complained to me recently that someone who later claimed to be a member of the media just showed up at his practice and starting talking to his players — without even introducing himself to the coach.
A sports reporter at another newspaper told me that a photographer asked a school for a sideline pass in the name of the newspaper, claiming he had been hired by that paper. The school contacted the reporter, and he had never heard of this person.
Knudsen's essay dealt with so much more, but I am confident I can speak to the issue of access. Well into my second decade of covering high school sports, I have been granted total access to a number of teams. As a subject-matter expert, here is my plea:
Coaches and ADs need to be vigilant. They need to know who is talking to their players. Those of us who have been granted that access must understand it is a privilege. If we have to go through a little hassle to be given press passes, we should understand. We are not dealing with professional athletes, adults. We are dealing with teenagers. Those in charge of those teens — coaches and ADs — should take time to ensure WE are worthy.
Think of high school sports as an extension of the classroom. Would any sane person think it is OK to just show up in a classroom and start talking to a student without having pre-arranged the meeting with the teacher first? Of course not.
Perhaps the finest example of gaining access the right way was the rise of Levesque into the most popular football dude in Clark County. He earned access by working the phones, by going to practices to introduce himself and his product to the coaches, and of course, by treating the athletes with respect. Levesque ran into early hurdles because some wondered who he was. That is a good thing. Coaches and ADs should be asking questions, confirming who we are, what we are doing.
Levesque was a man with a website and a dream. He made it work by being professional.
Unfortunately, as Knudsen pointed out, there seems to be a few more unprofessional people each year just showing up, expecting access.
If people keep abusing the privilege, access just might be denied to all of us.
And another little piece of the high school sports experience would be gone, too.