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Learning to get a kick out of soccer



Published: Fri, September 21, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



I got a pretty interesting letter the other day.

I don't get many letters, although to be honest, the letter was addressed to the sports editor. But since the letter was about a column I wrote about a Canfield soccer player, I considered it mine.

The basic gist of the letter was that the story was "terrible, silly and immature," that our paper was giving too much space to high school soccer and that the readers don't care. The writer also said that, at best, the column belongs in an "average area high school newspaper."

The column comment didn't surprise me. I can sometimes act terrible, silly and immature. And since I'm not an expert on the journalistic merits of area high schools, I figured it was an insult.

When I showed the letter to the editor, he said, "Hfmgghrr," which could mean anything from "Why don't you get me some coffee?" to "If this computer crashes one more time I'm going to throw it down a flight of stairs." He doesn't like mornings.

Nameless: So I decided to respond myself. And my reader friend -- he didn't leave his name; I guess his typewriter ran out of ink -- may be surprised to know something: I don't really like soccer.

Mind you, I don't mind covering soccer games. Soccer players are pretty engaging and less likely to say things like, "We need to control the line of scrimmage" and "The media hasn't given us any respect this year."

I also like soccer coaches. For instance, Boardman coach Fawzi Mujahed is thoughtful enough to yell through the entire game so that no one falls asleep when neither team scores for 45 minutes. And when Fitch coach Randy Pratt throws his coffee during a game, he never aims for reporters. Not yet, anyway.

I even like covering the games. Especially the paychecks that go along with it.

But personally, I don't like soccer. I'd much rather open a bag of Doritos and watch two unknown Czechoslovakian tennis players at midnight on ESPN than catch a Major League Soccer game. (Not that I watch either of them -- I don't have cable.) And I share the same frustration with many other Americans in that there's not enough scoring and no one knows the names of the players. I also hate ties.

Of course, soccer fans will tell me that I don't understand the game, that I would need to play it first, that I have a short attention span, that I'm an ignorant imbecile incapable of appreciating soccer's subtleties. But that's not true -- I have a very long attention span.

Merits coverage: But I don't have to love a sport to recognize that my newspaper should cover it. There are hundreds of soccer players, fans and parents in the area. There are thousands of soccer fans. No one expects our paper to give more coverage to soccer than high school football -- nor do they ask us to. But they do expect us -- and rightly so -- to cover some of the games.

And some of the reporters who cover soccer may prefer other sports, but they realize that soccer is good for the area, and good for the paper.

So soccer coverage stays. We may not cover it as often as we'd like, but we're not going to cover fewer games simply because a few people don't like it.

The same goes for cross country, volleyball, basketball, baseball or any of the other high school sports.

Like they say, if you don't like it, don't read it.

But I'll admit that my reader friend was right about one thing: the column probably didn't deserve to be in an area school newspaper.

Heck, it didn't even make it in Canfield's paper, although I hear the school's shop teacher thinks I show real promise.

XJoe Scalzo is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at scalzo@vindy.com.




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