What…A…Weekend!

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The South Dakota connection in Salisbury, N.C. — (left to right) Steve Morgan was the S.D. Sportscaster of the Year, Logan Anderson (Aberdeen radio), me, and John Thayer (Yankton radio). 

BY JEREMY HOECK
jeremy.hoeck@yankton.net

I was on the same flight as Carlton Fisk, a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, last week as I embarked on a 4-day trip to North Carolina.

But that wasn’t even the coolest part of the journey.

Not even close.

No, the people I met and conversations we shared while at the National Sports Media Association (NSMA) awards weekend out in Salisbury, North Carolina, was one of the best moments of my young – as I came to realize – career in this business.

While yes, I was out there to receive my South Dakota Sportswriter of the Year award, the trip was more so about the experience. “Enjoy yourself” was the advice Sports Editor James Cimburek (who had won the same award and made the same trip two years earlier) gave me.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Salisbury is a town of about 30,000 residents and it’s located along Interstate 85 about a 45-minute drive northeast of Charlotte. It’s far from a town of ‘nothing,’ but when you’re there, you definitely get the small-town feel. But yet, it’s the headquarters of the NSMA. It’s where prominent sports journalists (across TV, radio and print) gather each year to honor each other and to have a good time.

It’s not a typical convention in the sense that you sit through hours of talks and seminars (which I would’ve been fine with, honestly, given the names in attendance). No, it’s more of a social weekend. Vans and buses transport people all over town to various events, such as a ‘Legacy Night’ panel, a brunch, a bus tour, a stop at a sports book shop, a BBQ dinner, a golf tournament, a tennis tournament, plenty of shopping and the big awards banquet.

And plenty of schmoozing.

As you do in a setting like that, you tend to become close with certain people. And I happened to get to know George Wallace (the D.C. Sportscaster winner) throughout the four days. Here was a guy from a big city where he helps cover the Washington Redskins and Washington Nationals hanging out with a small-town South Dakota guy who covers (among a handful of things) mid-major Division I athletics. As it turns out, we had quite a bit in common.

There were many other names I could mention of people I got to know throughout the trip, but the opportunity to hang out with them and talk shop was awesome. In South Dakota (and Nebraska), you tend to talk with the same media members. Rarely do you get the chance to stand around and chat with journalists from around the country. And that’s what I enjoyed the most.

And I’m just now realizing I should have counted the number of times I described to people where Yankton is located. “Southeast corner” or “right on the Missouri River” or “on the border with Nebraska” or “an hour from Sioux Falls.” It would’ve likely been 95 times.

But one encounter in particular stands out, as I sit here a day after I returned to Yankton.

It was early Tuesday morning in the lobby of our hotel. I was waiting for the bus to pick a handful of us up for the trip to the Charlotte airport, and up walks Cal Fussman (Esquire Magazine). He had been in town to honor and introduce his friend Gary Smith into the NSMA Hall of Fame during the previous night’s banquet. Cal walks up to me, shakes my hand, asks me where I’m from and hands me a copy of a book entitled ‘Going Deep: 20 Classic Sports Stories by Gary Smith.’ He looks at me and says, ‘I’m going to sign this for you.’ Completely out of the blue. And as someone who subscribes to Esquire (it’s the only magazine I subscribe to anymore), it was a huge treat to meet Cal. After he signs a message that reads ‘To Jeremy, And a very good night it was!’ he tells me he’ll look me up online when he returns home.

I had the opportunity to meet people like Tom Verducci (who presented me my award), Bob Ryan and Leigh Montville and Vince Doria, and spend time up close with names like Chris Berman, Doc Emrick and Rick Reilly, but here was a famous author and reporter coming up to me completely on his own.

That was all capped off by a bus ride two rows in front of Fussman and Reilly, who spent the 45 minutes talking about their craft. I just sat and listened, and it was probably the best bus ride I’ve ever experienced.

It was awesome.

If it sounds hokey to hear me say what an incredible honor it was to be included in that fraternity, you’ll have to excuse me. Because that’s exactly what I felt, coming home Tuesday. I had been surrounded by people who have done this for 20 or 30 (or even more) years, and they are still passionate about it. They obviously love what they do. And so do I.

You don’t get into the journalism field for the awards. I’ve been lucky enough to win a few of them in my career, but when you come back from an awards ceremony, you’re right back at your desk. You’re right back to planning your next amateur baseball feature or touching base with a source for an upcoming story.

And those are the things I love about this job.

The opportunity to talk with people. ‘Everyone has a story’ is something James and I tell our staff all the time. If you approach any assignment with that in mind, you’ll come back with some great material. Everyone’s got a story.

I experienced that over four days in North Carolina.

Everyone has a story. And I was just lucky enough to be there to hear them.

Follow @jhoeck on Twitter

A Season With The Highlanders

BY JEREMY HOECK
jeremy.hoeck@yankton.net

The journey.

From the bottom of the standings into respectability. From years of frustration into one of hope. The hope of a turnaround. The hope that maybe, just maybe, this is the year.

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Scotland manager Jason Vaith wraps tape around a new bat before Tuesday night’s amateur baseball practice in Scotland. (Jeremy Hoeck/P&D

That’s where the Scotland amateur baseball team finds itself this summer. And that’s exactly why the Highlanders make for a perfect focus for a summer series in the Press & Dakotan.

We’re calling it a ‘Season With The Highlanders.’

We will be taking you, the reader, behind the scenes with Scotland during the South Central League (SCL) season. I will be attending practices, hanging with the team during an occasional game and profiling the players. Put simply, you’ll see what it’s like for a small-town amateur baseball team.

And that one that has struggled the last few years.

There’s no ignoring the fact that the Highlanders – typically one of the youngest teams in the SCL – haven’t been competitive for some time now. Truth be told, they haven’t won a game against a SCL opponent since June 6, 2013. That’s a string of 54 consecutive losses (including district tournaments), heading into tonight’s (Thursday) home game with Crofton.

That’s why, in our opinion, Scotland is the best option for this series. It’s a team looking to turn a corner; looking to gain a foothold. It’s the kind of story you hear about far too often in the amateur baseball ranks; a small town struggling with numbers but still finding a way to keep a team. Scotland could’ve folded up shop and stopped fielding a team. Some towns have. But not Scotland.

Teams like Crofton and Wynot, for example, have historically found success in the SCL and at the South Dakota state tournament. Those are teams that have recently captured state championships. They are perennial contenders. But when you come into every season knowing you’ll likely be right there near the top of the standings every summer, there’s not much of a climb.

Scotland, on the other hand, has the steepest climb of anyone.

And we’ll be taking you inside that journey all summer.

Will this be the summer the Highlanders win a game or two? Come along for the ride and find out.

Follow @jhoeck on Twitter

More on Dawn Plitzuweit’s hiring at USD

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BY JEREMY HOECK
jeremy.hoeck@yankton.net

There were way too many tidbits from Monday’s announcement of Dawn Plitzuweit as the new women’s basketball coach at USD that I won’t be able to share in a story, but I wanted to post them here.

Here are some thoughts from both Plitzuweit and USD athletic director David Herbster.

Coach Dawn Plitzuweit

On unique challenge of entering a championship program: I think the biggest thing for our ladies to understand is that because you’re at the top of the mountain doesn’t mean you stay there. Now you begin. You go back down to the base and you start to climb again. Certainly, graduating five seniors that had a huge impact on this program will help them understand that it’s something we have to start working on immediately.

On coaching staff process: Bringing in the people that are the right fit for what we want to do moving forward is really important. To me, it’s more important to get it done right than to get it done fast, although getting it done fast and right would be the best case scenario.

On vision for the program: Right now, the biggest thing for us is to understand that all of the little things add up to success. Focusing on the process and letting the results take care of themselves is the first key.

On getting acclimated to recruiting in South Dakota: That’s certainly an exciting opportunity for us. Girls’ basketball in the state of South Dakota and the region is performing and winning at a very high level. And so, to get connected to those players and those coaches is a huge piece to this puzzle, and I’m looking forward to that.

On the style she brings: For us, what we’ve been able to do during the course of time is take a look at what makes the most sense with the personnel we have currently. What I’m really comfortable teaching is the motion offense. It’s a very versatile style of play, it’s something where in time where point guards are posting up and post players are shooting threes, and everywhere in between. And the personnel we have is close to that. What we might do is modify it for a little while. My first year at Northern Kentucky, we ran a patterned offense because that fit the young ladies we had. Year two, we started a motion offense that had a post player on one block and one block open for anyone else to post up. That changed over the course of time. A lot of it will depend on the young ladies we have and how comfortable they are with it.

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Athletic director David Herbster

On how Plitzuweit entered USD’s radar: We called her. When you’re out there, you’re talking to other people, you’re going through the names, she was one of those that came up. When she got the call from us, it wasn’t somethings he was looking for, it was something we presented to her. Like many of them, it takes a little bit of time. Real quickly, we were able to have a great conversation with her on the phone, and pretty soon you’re meeting in person, and then pretty soon she’s agreeing to come here. The whole thing happened pretty fast.

On multi-year contract availability: Certainly in the conversations we have, if you don’t have multi-year contracts, if you don’t have the facilities, if you don’t have the ability to provide the resources, this is not that attractive of a job, even if you’ve won the WNIT. If she’s (Plitzuweit) going to leave some place where she has a multi-year contract and come to place where there aren’t multi-year contracts, that’s a big red flag for anybody.

On role new arena played in search: The arena is a huge factor, but as much as anything, so is the facilities on campus. What we’ve found over the last several years, our facilities and what we have planned are really nice, but this campus is beautiful.