The key to sportswriting -- other than enjoying and knowing something about sports -- is to leave the pom poms at home.
I am allowed to be a fan, even an obnoxious one, but not when I am working. In college, it wasn't difficult. The writers -- even college ones -- weren't allowed to cheer in the press box, and the pre- and post-game schedules were so set it seemed more like a workday than an afternoon watching football.
High school athletics is different.
Sitting between stringers from the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News on Saturday night when the Sailors lost to D'Evelyn, I had to bite my tongue. When someone grabbed a rebound, and the stringers questioned who, I gave a first name.
They looked at me blankly. They didn't know the names. I realized this is what separates small-town sportswriters from big city ones. Both men were extremely nice, and both are great writers, but they had nothing invested in the outcome.
They cover dozens of different teams in dozens of sports throughout the year. I cover three schools. I've covered the same athletes for three years.
I'm careful not to wear red to Steamboat games, orange to Hayden games or maroon to Soroco games. I don't clap during pre-game introductions or cheer during time-outs.
Saturday night, I came close. I caught David Pressgrove, the sportswriter for the Craig Daily Press, cheering on the floor at state wrestling one year and never let him forget about it. Other than being accurate, remaining unbiased is of the utmost importance in the newspaper business.
Because of the large chunks of time spent at high schools for practices and games (I was once accused of loitering in the Steamboat Springs High School parking lot because an adult thought I was a student) I admittedly watched Saturday's game differently than the others in press row.
I know many of the guys are playing with childhood friends. I know they call coach Kelly Meek their second -- or first -- father. I know that Mike and Martha Fosdick always wait right in front of the locker room for their son Tyler to come out after games. I know he usually comes out first.
Big city papers don't know that -- or care to.
I didn't raise any of these guys, but after three years I feel like I have watched them grow up. It was the same with the 2003 Steamboat football team or this year's Hayden girls basketball team, groups that also surpassed my expectations.
I'll always remember standing in the Denver Coliseum with tears dripping off my chin after the Steamboat volleyball team lost in the finals in 2002. I apologized for crying. I felt so dumb.
I was told it was OK because I was part of the team.
I've always thought my job is to introduce readers to the county's athletes as people rather than names and numbers, while staying objective.
This year's Sailors were candid, honest and gracious with information. They were talented but humble. I'm not sure at what point I became a fan, but for anyone who watched this team, it was impossible not to.