Friday, December 7, 2018

My Season in Review, and Some Final Thoughts From My Time at SuiteSports

By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

The MIAA High School Football season ended in style last weekend, with Friday night and Saturday serving as a celebration for the 16 teams who had earned the right to take the field at Gillette Stadium.

It was a fall filled with extraordinary storylines. John DiBiaso took over as Catholic Memorial's head coach and immediately led the Knights to their first super Bowl appearance in 40 years. Despite losing stars all over the field, King Philip managed to return to Gillette for a third consecutive season only for John Dubzinksi's buzz-saw of a North Andover team to finish off a perfect season.

Scituate's senior captains Aidan Sullivan, Daniel May, Josh McKeever, and Josh Comeau completed their rise to the top in Division 5, as the Sailors grabbed their first Super Bowl in program history, while Cohasset stunned most when it halted Mashpee's quest for a four-peat. Paul Sobolewski's efforts to put Pope John back on the map showed that they are paying dividends, as the Tigers reached the Division 8 Super Bowl mere years after not having a program to speak of.

The final days of the football season, however, also signaled the end of SuiteSports' coverage of high school sports on a consistent basis, and my time with the blog. I will let my lead editor Joe Parello divulge more information on that matter in the coming days, and I'll continue to write for the Boston Herald's High School Sports section. 

As I begin to explore other opportunities in sports, this seemed like a golden chance to open up and reflect on my time on the high school beat.

There are those who have been around the high school scene for a far greater amount of time than I have. As Dan Shaughnessy told me when I started out at The Herald, Danny Ventura is the “dean of high school sports” and there is no truer fact than that. Danny has been an incredible mentor for me both personally and as a writer.

Brendan Hall was the first person to give me a chance back in March of 2015 during the Eastern Mass. basketball finals at the TD Garden. My pathway through college and up until now would certainly look different were it not for him trusting me to fill in for a sick employee at ESPNBoston.

Even in just my five years on the beat, however, I have recognized the importance in making sure high school athletes receive the coverage they deserve. A healthy diet of reporting on high school sports is crucial, and I hope that those out there with the resources can fill whatever void may be left behind.

For a little over two years, steered by Joe, we at SuiteSports did what we could to cover the gap left behind by the departure of ESPNBoston's High Schools page. Due to our limited monetary and physical resources, we unfortunately were not able to get to every event, cover every sport, and discover every athlete we may have hoped to. Despite that, we pounded out every preview, game recap, human interest story, and any other form of content that we could provide, because recognizing student-athletes for their accomplishments is our ultimate goal and responsibility. 

Through my time at ESPNBoston, the Boston Herald, and now with SuiteSports I have had the unique experience of covering some of the premiere athletes this state has seen in the last half decade. 

Since just 2014, I've reported on numerous major collegiate prospects including Danny Dalton, Tyler Nelson, Kellan Grady, Mike Vasil, Billy Seidl, Ethan Wright, and Mike Sainristil. I've been to the infamous HoopHall Classic for all three outlets to watch some of the top amateur basketball players in the country such as Shareef O'Neal, Bruce Brown, and Nick Racocevic take the floor. I’ve covered baseball, hockey, and football games at Fenway Park, and spent countless hours patrolling the sidelines at Gillette Stadium.

To be entrusted to cover some of the best athletes not only in the state, but in some cases the region or country, at a time when they are just starting to develop, is an incredible honor. I look forward to the days ahead where I am able to watch on TV or look across social media platforms and see an athlete perform at the highest level after reporting on them when they were just bursting onto the scene.

Yet, I have always found the greatest source of value and jubilation in this job stems from being able to shine a spotlight on the players that are enjoying their only athletic moments in the sun.

Those that may continue on to compete in college, but never receive the same time of athletic attention that they can attain when playing for a Super Bowl, league title, or sectional championship.

For many, their time in high school is their one chance to be a town hero or celebrity. It’s their moment to bask in the glory that being an amateur athlete brings. It may be their only time to hear their name chanted by thousands, see their name as the headline of a story, or be the main photo on the front cover of a newspaper. I believe there's a responsibility that falls upon the local media to help those players squeeze every ounce out of that experience.

High school sports is invigorating, enthralling, electric, and special because it is, in its truest, the most authentic form of competition that exists. Players strap on the pads on a Friday night, take the diamond on a Monday afternoon, or prepare to go up and down the ice or court to experience the adrenaline rush of competing for their friends, teammates, and community.

They do it with the hope of an athletic scholarship, but knowing the only guarantee is having the chance to compete on behalf of their school.

Unfortunately with that come a number of warning signs as it pertains to the direction high school sports is trending. The old adage players play and coaches coach is constantly under siege as folks take to social media to callout others and refuse self-responsibility. 

Entitlement has encapsulated the area. For 99-percent of parents and fans, their main desire is make sure their kids and his/her teammates have the best high school sports experience that they can endure. Those role models, however, have become overshadowed by a select few who are now the face of interactions between adults and coaches.

These individuals believe that they have been ingrained with the skills necessary to teach blocking techniques, a zone defense, how to hit, and who to pitch better than the coaches they've entrusted their kids with. Has anyone ever considered how little sense this makes? Perhaps most absurdly above all else, they think they know the rulebook better than the referees trained to officiate the game.

I've sat in the press box, on the sidelines, and in the crowd as adults have screamed at Super Bowl winning coaches, "It's unbalanced formation! Make an adjustment!" or yelled out at injured kids “stop faking!” as if their wail will somehow not be construed as utterly embarrassing.  

The attitude and actions of these select few have been nothing short of detrimental. It’s led to the dismissal of one of the top high school baseball coaches this state has seen, and caused a plethora of others to step aside. 

Fearing that their kids are not getting the exposure they are entitled to from both the coaching staff and the media, many have decided to remove their kids from an MIAA school and place them at a local prep school. No, I am not referring to the star athlete who has proven he would benefit from greater competition, or the kid who would certainly benefit from an extra year of high school athletics before entering college. 

I am talking about the countless players who have been convinced by AAU teams, fans, and other adults that the grass is always greener someplace else. They leave their friends, coaches, and community because they believe it’s the golden ticket to stardom. More often than not, they end up right where they would have been and without the once-in-a-lifetime experience of coming out to a home crowd.

If you’re good enough, they will find you.

Every time a high school sports season concludes, I ask myself whether I did everything I could to make it about the players. They are the stars of the show that always appear in primetime and provide countless material. From game-winning plays, motivation stemmed from a personal tragedy, or just enjoying a few months to remember they are the ones who provide the content. At the end of the day, the athletes are the one's who orchestrate the script and we just put it into words.

Going forward, I hope that other outlets that have started up in recent months such as MassVarsity succeed in tandem with the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, MassLive, and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette to generate as much coverage for high school sports in this state as possible. I encourage people to support their local town newspaper, as they are the source of so many valuable, often untold stories that help paint part of the picture. Together, when at their best, they all fit together to makeup the beauty that is high school sports.

Amateur athletes are here to have the time of their lives, and a healthy media presence only amplifies it.

I have been fortunate enough to work for three terrific editors in Brendan, Joe and Danny, who have given me the privilege to cover the very best that Massachusetts high school sports has to offer. 

In the long run, I do not know what's to come for me, but I know I am far better off due to the world-class parents, fans, coaches, colleagues, and most importantly players that I have met and covered.

Thank you to everyone over the years who has taken the time to read, follow, comment on, and share our high school sports content here at SuiteSports. Your feedback has only made me better at what I do, and for that I am forever grateful.


Unknown said...

Matty Feld... Speaking for myself and I am sure for a lot of coaches and others who are ingrained in high school sports in Eastern Mass and statewide, THANK YOU for ALL that you do and have done. Please know that your work the past several years is appreciated and has not gone unnoticed. Your comments in this blog are spot on about the experiences some high school student-athlete get to have .... and the ones that others give up and ultimately miss... through their choices, decisions, departures etc. Loyalty to community and school is still strong overall, but you are absolutely right, a lot of these kids and and their parents have big ears when private/prep school recruiters come a calling and are told of all the "opportunities" they will have if they change their scenery. Yes, most if not all end up with the same or fewer of these opportunities at the end of the day. Well said by you, who is right in the battle. Good luck and thanks again, you will do great wherever you go! —Steve Freker/Malden HS

J Bartlett said...

Great job Matt. I only learned of Suite Sports this year but enjoyed you almost daily articles on the site. Being a Journalism major, I know the job is not easy but you made it look so.

Good luck in your future endeavors !

Jeff Bartlett

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