Ross Maak: After 11 years, time to bid adieu
I know I’ve only been a sports writer here for a short time, so it may seem a little odd to our readers that I would write a farewell column.
However, I’ve been here at The Union for more than four years and I’ve been with the parent company, Swift Communications, for more than 11 years. I figured, “What the heck.”
It actually goes against everything one of my favorite editors taught me. Pat Butler always warned against writing “self-indulgent crap.” When it comes to farewell columns, I’d say they’re made up 90 percent of “self-indulgent crap.” However, after 11 years, what the heck, right?
In my career I remember seeing writers and interns come and go. One of my favorite parts of the job was taking some interns and “newbies” under my wing.
I remember one specific instance in Colorado. A co-worker of mine and I were scheduled to go cover a Denver Broncos game. When my co-worker became ill, I called one of our new part-timers and asked if he’d like to tag along. As a lifelong Broncos fan, he quickly agreed.
We covered the game, walked down on the field as time expired and interviewed some of his heroes.
In all honesty, I thought he must have been a Chiefs fan. He didn’t show any emotion whatsoever. No excitement, no shaky voice, no stupid rookie questions to the athletes. He was ice.
Then, in the car on the way home, he almost fainted. He told me that when we were walking down the stairs toward the field, “I actually had to keep telling myself, ‘right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot …’ I was so freakin’ nervous.”
It was those types of experiences that made the low pay and long hours seem a little less important.
There are a number of people who have made a lasting impact on my career and, more importantly, my life. A few follow, although by no means all of them, and in no particular order (until the end.)
Leading off (alphabetically, anyway) is The Union’s publisher Jeff Ackerman. Not only have I enjoyed my time immensely under his watch here at The Union, but he’s the one that brought me into the Swift family all those years ago in Carson City. For that, I’ll always be grateful.
Next is editor Richard Somerville, who hired me sight unseen into The Union. After a couple of great phone interviews, Somerville took the word of others in the company and hired me on. I showed up the evening of July 31, 2003, and started work here the next day. It seems like ages ago.
Somerville’s experience with the Readership Institute was invaluable. He rubbed some people the wrong way, but many aspects of the knowledge he brought to the newsroom are still in place today.
With Somerville’s departure, it opened the door for me to work for the aforementioned Pat Butler. Pat brought a strong Midwestern flavor to the newsroom that I couldn’t help but respect. He taught me a lot about how to work with people and respect co-workers, among other things.
Pat was a strong yet fair leader who taught me how to handle tough situations. I can’t begin to say how important that was for me in my work and personal life.
While not a mentor ” quite the opposite, I like to think ” Nick DeCicco deserves mention. Nick kept me young. Nick kept me thinking along different lines. He was always good for a laugh, even when I felt like I didn’t need one.
When Nick left, The Union because just a little less fun. It’s just the kind of guy he was. (Coincidentally, he went to go work for Pat, which so far has worked out very well for the both of them, a fact which has made me quite happy.)
One inspirational person from my past also deserves mention. Back in Greeley, Colo., I worked for six years with a sports writer named Matt Schuman. Schuman suffers from MD and has been in a wheelchair since birth. If there were an inspiration to sports writers in this world, he’s it.
Never once did I hear him complain. He is the nicest person I’d ever met and he treated everyone with respect ” even those that had no respect for him. He was a true pleasure to work with.
He also allowed me to see one instance that restored my faith in professional sports. In an age of Michael Vick’s and Pacman Jones’, I think back to this instance often:
He and I covered a Broncos game once, and during the post-game locker room interviews Matt wanted to get in on the crowd of people surrounding Terrell Davis. A horde of reporters were shuffling for a spot within earshot of the defending Super Bowl MVP, including Schuman.
Schuman was losing the battle, but not his patience.
That’s when it happened. Davis actually stopped the interview, asked a few reporters to move and let Schuman advance so his tape recorder could pick up the star running back’s quotes. The reporters reluctantly shuffled and Matt worked his way toward the front, obviously embarrassed.
Still, that once instance made me a Davis fan for life. And it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving reporter and person.
Back to The Union, there’s one other person who can’t escape my blabber ” the current sports editor.
Brian Hamilton is not only a great boss and a great writer, but someone I’m proud to call a friend. I won’t bore you to death with the friend details, but I will tell you how I feel about his ability to write.
Of the people I’ve run into in my 15 years in the business, I’ve never met a better, more passionate sports writer. He loves to write about everything ” especially sports ” and it shows in every interview and every story he does.
They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. Well, I’ll take 1,000 of Brian’s words over any picture any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Seriously. Go back and read some of the feature stories he’s written. They’re handcrafted better than any Sam Adams ale out there. A few years ago he wrote a story about the Barbara Schmidt-Millar triathlon that made me cry. His stories on Craig Strohm retiring from the Nevada Union girls basketball program were inspiring.
Maybe best of all was his work on the Jack McCrory stories, when the only athletic director in school history stepped down. Talk about drawing a portrait in writing. Wow.
I wanted to give McCrory a hug, and I’d only met the guy once or twice.
Some of us around the office like to kid Brian about how long his stories turn out sometimes. In a society where people tend to prefer their news in bite-sized chunks rather than all-you-can-eat buffets, Brian still knows how to produce a filet mignon. If
you take the time to sit and enjoy, it’s well worth it.
Hungry yet? I am.
Anyway, there are a number of other people here at the paper that I’ll miss. They’re
too numerous to mention, but they know who they are.
And finally, I did save the best for last. I must thank my dear wife Juli, who taught me one of the most valuable lessons in my life: It doesn’t matter how much money you make as long as you’re happy.
If she didn’t feel that way, there’s no way my journalism career would have spanned 15 years. For that ” and the 13 million other ways she means the world to me ” I’ll always be grateful.
Ross Maak started with Swift Communications in Carson City, Nev., in 1995 as a sports writer with the Nevada Appeal. He then worked in Greeley, Colo., for six years as a sports writer and spent more than three years as copy desk chief at The Union. He plans to remain a contributing writer to The Union sports pages in the future.
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