The sports editor of The Harvard Crimson does not receive much mail. Last year, I got one letter.
Sometime last spring, when, among other things, the Harvard men's track team was enjoying one of its finer seasons in recent memory, along came a letter from the mother of one of that squad's standout athletes.
The author wrote that she was a bit perturbed by the lack of coverage we were giving her son's--and his teammates'--accomplishments.
She subscribed to The Crimson from her home in Colorado mainly to keep abreast of the track team's exploits. Her complaint was that many of the team members--including 1988 U.S. Olympic marathon alternate Paul Gompers--deserved far more than the six to eight column inches they received on this page once or twice a week.
I wrote back explaining that there was only so much room on the page to cover more than a dozen sports teams. I told her that there were only a half-dozen sports writers to report on those dozen-or-so teams.
But I also assured her that I would make an effort to provide more complete coverage of the Harvard men's track team.
A couple of weeks later, I got a postcard from you-know-who thanking me profusely for taking the time to respond to her letter. She wrote that now that her older children had grown up and moved away, there was a spare room in the house. "Anytime you happen to be in Colorado and need a place to stay..."
Though I have no immediate plans to meet my pen pal, I was happy to learn that people on the other side of the country actually care about what appears on this page. I also think that the sports page as a whole benefited from the exchange.
A sports writer, like anyone else, always remembers where he got his start. And in my case, my first fulltime beat was also my most memorable one.
From the rookie reporter's standpoint, there was no particular reason to be excited about the Harvard women's basketball team at the start of the 1985-86 season. The two previous years, the Crimson was a combined 11-40, which translated into a pair of last place Ivy League finishes.
My editor, good friend and sage Jonathan Putnam pulled me aside, though, and showed me something he had written in his final article about the '84-'85 team.
"They will win next year," the last line of his story read.
How prophetic. Coach Kathy Delaney Smith's women cagers made Harvard history by becoming the first Crimson basketball team--men's or women's--ever to take home an Ivy League title.
Dating back to the start of organized Ivy play in 1901-'02, the men had never finished any better than second. Meanwhile, in their 11 years of existence the women had only four above-.500 records to show.
Led by a pair of talented sophomores--Sharon Hayes and Barbarann Keffer, who went on to finish one-two atop the all-time Harvard career scoring list--the Crimson rocketed from last to first in '85-'86 and finally snapped Harvard's long string of futility.
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