Writer’s Block: Evolution of an interim sports editor

Although I am a 15-year veteran of ABC Newspapers’ reporting staff, I have recently re-entered rookie status.

Sue Austreng
Sue Austreng

You see, as of this writing, I’m just getting my feet wet, entering the second week of an abbreviated season as interim ABC Newspapers sports editor. I’ve been called in to pinch hit these next six months while sports editor Jason Olson sits on the DL (in this case, Daddy Leave).

While managing a team of sports reporters is a new position for me, taking the field and playing the games is old hat. From the time I was a little girl, athletic feats – however amateur and playful they were – have been a joyful part of life.

Sporting seeds were sown when I was just a little kid. Recognizing my tomboyhood – and happy to share his baseball prowess with his energetic little girl – Dad spent many summer afternoons in the backyard, throwing me hard grounders and sky-high pop-ups, always making sure I kept my eye on the ball.

Why, Dad even taught me to “throw like a boy,” showing me how to cock the ball behind my ear and then snap it forward. Coaching me all the way: “Don’t forget – snap your wrist! Follow through! That’s the way.” And Mom was the cheerleader, always ready with a glass of Kool Aid and a handful of chocolate chip cookies – the best refuel food ever!

Carefree childhood days were spent playing a pick-up game of flag football with the neighbor boys or heading down to “the circle” to play some baseball. Of course, there were night time games of tag and dodge ball and Annie over, too.

When I got into junior high, gym class meant training to win the Presidential Physical Fitness Award. As I recall, back in the ’70s, there were pull ups for boys and bent arm hangs for girls. There was the softball throw and long jump, the 50-yard dash and the 600-yard run.

Dad transformed our basement into a presidential physical fitness training room, hanging a rod from the rafters for the bent arm hang and painting a toe line on the concrete floor for the long jump starting point. He’d time my hang to test my endurance and mark with masking tape the length of my jumps.

For the running events, Dad would time my 50-yard dash as I sprinted from our driveway to the neighbor’s. For the long run, Mom would mark my starting time and then watch for me to return after circling the block.

When I got to high school, the “real” sports stories began. I made the varsity volleyball squad as a ninth-grader (when ninth-graders were still in junior high) and competed in the state tournament every year. I was on the starting line as setter and server when we took home the state championship trophy my senior year. (Go Cards!) I lettered in fastpitch softball and girls’ basketball, too.

After graduating high school I took up long distance running and discovered the joy and peaceful serenity of hours of diligent pacing as I trained for (and finished!) two marathons, one half marathon and countless 10Ks. I’ve run throughout my entire adult lifetime and I’m still running outdoors all year long. The triumph of conquering the elements (whether ice and snow and sub-zero windchills, or stifling heat and humidity, headwinds, tailwinds, rain or sleet) gets me out the door at the break of dawn nearly every day.

When my children were little, I happily became a T-ball mom, then a baseball fan, then a soccer mom, then a mat maid and a softball mom, snapping the shutter and capturing my children’s victories (and defeats) and cheering them on with abandon throughout their childhood athletic careers.

As long as I can remember I’ve considered myself an athlete and feel a brotherhood of sorts with other athletes.

And so, to take on the position of interim sports editor seems like something of an athletic challenge – one that may teach me the intricacies of yet another athletic feat: juggling. Because as I become acquainted with MSHSL and ARCC spring sports schedules, tournaments, players and coaches; as I touch base with runners and sprinters, ball players, golfers, tennis and lacrosse players; as I follow the world’s soccer players competing in the USA Cup; as I watch the senior pros hit the links at the TPC for the 3M Championship; as I interview athletes and write sports stories, juggling seems a valuable talent to acquire after all.