Iowa is a word that makes me want to jump in my car and drive far, far away.
Iowa is the guilt trip that makes me miss home and asks when I am going to get some common sense and put all this traveling behind me. It's a place that shifts between some of the worst weather any right-minded person could stand, and balances it out with those summer evenings when it's a perfect 72 degrees and everything around is so impossibly green that it begs the question, "Is this heaven?"
Into this state are born two types of people: the lifers and the leavers. The lifers are the backbone of the state, usually found in the rural areas where the soil will make or break you. There's not much in the way of excitement to be found there... but the people who call it home figured out a long time ago that happiness is nothing more than a case of Busch Light and a gravel road that never ends.
To an outsider, that world can be foreign, even a little scary. Yes, everyone in a town really does know everyone else, often by name. Yes, people will go down the highway giving the one-finger-off-the-wheel salute to every passing car, and no, it's not the middle finger. Life is slower and simpler, and I often envy those who made the decision to stay.
I am a leaver. To attend college somewhere warmer or more interesting wasn't an option, so I attended St. Ambrose University in Davenport. If you aren't familiar with it, don't worry. St. Ambrose is an NAIA school, which puts it roughly on par competitively with Division III schools... except somehow with even less media coverage. To be a fan of college basketball in Davenport is to learn new meanings of the term "black hole."
An hour west will get you to Iowa City (if you're into that kind of Big Ten thing), but for our purposes, the closest schools are roughly two hours away. There are barren cornfields, icy roads, and bitter cold to keep you company on the trip. Through three years of college, I attended exactly three games in person. For spring break in my senior year, we ditched the cold of the upper Midwest and went tropical -- four hours south to St. Louis for the MVC Tournament. For four wonderful days we slept, watched basketball and drank. If one of those three had to be skipped for any reason, we went without sleep.
Southern Illinois is the MVC team everyone remembers from that 2006-07 season, fighting Kansas to the wire in the Sweet 16. But don't forget that it was Creighton who came out on top in the final. As the seconds of the championship game ticked down, my friends and I slid by security and stormed the court along with the whole student section. Somewhere between the mosh pit and high-fiving Nate Funk, I realized that I was heading towards a pretty unhappy future if I didn't have mid-major college basketball in my life somehow.
But those thoughts were quickly forgotten once I was back at school; that's the way it happens. It would take another Iowa winter before I was finally convinced that I'd had enough.
The morning after my birthday two years ago, I woke up and grabbed a notepad and wrote down all the things I wanted and needed to accomplish in the next year, and the ideals I wanted to embody as a person. For a long time I laid in bed and self-diagnosed my life, making a note whenever I would stumble across something that seemed important. The last thing I wrote that morning was to take some chances. Two months later I moved to Denver.
If everything worked out according to plan, I wouldn't be writing this. For a month I went unemployed, burning my way through my savings until I swallowed my pride and took a real estate job through a temp agency. After one week there, I was offered a job that I had applied for on my own. Before I could call them back and accept, I accidentally knocked my phone off my desk and broke it in half. By the time I'd found enough money to replace the phone, I changed my mind.
The temp job became permanent, and I ended up working there for over a year. For the first time in my life, I had basketball that was actually close to me. I had a choice between two schools from which to buy a season ticket. From my Wheat Ridge apartment, it was a half-hour drive north through the suburbs to Boulder and Colorado University, or a half-hour drive southeast into the city and Denver University. I went with Colorado.
Colorado's season opener was a ho-hum win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. A few days later, we were "upset" by Montana State and a bench player named Bobby Howard who could seemingly hit shots from anywhere on the court save the free throw line. I left the arena that night knowing it was probably going to be a long year for the Buffs but that I had just seen a pretty good team. I decided to investigate.
To be honest, I had only read The Mid-Majority in passing. Like most, I was spoon-fed what was given to me by ESPN and all the other major outlets. I'd like to think I knew more than a lot of people about mid-major basketball, but I rarely paid much attention to these conferences before February. (I had no idea what pixelvision was!)
I don't remember what words I Googled the next day, but one of the hits was to a one-paragraph blurb about the game on TMM. I read that entry and since I had time, I started digging through some of the recent posts and archives. It didn't take long to get hooked. Two months later, Colorado was about to begin what turned out to be a 1-15 conference season and I was still plugging away at my job, going in early so that I would be off in plenty of time for the 5 o'clock east coast tip-offs. On the morning of January 6th, >I read this post
Since I don't drink or smoke or have much to complain about, I tend to hang out with the sports information directors. There are a lot of SID's on my Christmas card list, and zero sportswriters. SID's, by their very nature, have to be poets and geeks at the same time, and don't get bylines. They're in this because they love it... it's certainly not for the money, or for the ego tripping.
My true, heartfelt advice for anybody who loves sports and writing and statistics is to become a sports information director. They are the true conduits, those for whom acting as intermediary between sports and the public is its own reward. They have my highest respect, and always will.
That was the day I started preparing myself to leave Colorado.
Last January, I took a drive into the mountains. I had no destination in mind, but it was a beautifully sunny day with no chain laws in effect. Gas was cheap, and I wanted to be surrounded by what I was leaving behind. After about an hour, I pulled off of I-70 and ended up in the town of Frisco. On the edge of town past all the skier's lodges was a park with a large pond and huge white-capped peaks on all sides of me. I didn't have the exact picture of where my life was about to go anymore, but I hoped that I could find the answers along the way. I'd spent too long trying to find happiness in a 9-to-5 life, it was time that I started doing what was in my best interests and see where it would take me. I wrote a list, and ended it with "Be the Change You Want to Be."
On June 6th, five months to the day that I had made up my mind, I loaded up my car and left. The lease on my apartment had been fulfilled, and America was once again my oyster. For five months I'd been applying for any sports information job I thought I might have a chance at. I didn't try to kid myself, they were all entry-level positions or internships. Finally, in April, I'd gotten the answer I needed. One school looked past my inexperience and had given me the opportunity to get my foot in the door. It was, of course, St. Ambrose.
My phrase "will work for free"ť also might have been a selling point. For two months I tried to pull in as much knowledge as I could with no sports going on and I'll always owe a debt to the SID there for the help he gave me.
I learned the Stat Crew system
from watching baseball and soccer on TV, and from old NCAA Tournament game tapes I had from the 90's. I wrote small news releases when something noteworthy happened. I designed my first media guide.
A summer I'd been dreading turned into a blast. Still, I only planned on being there for a short time and I wanted to get out before the school year started and I found myself jobless. For brief periods of time I thought I might have found something in Mississippi and Wisconsin. Both fell through. By this time, it was mid-August and I was getting desperate. I sat down one day, and made a list of schools, and began contacting them to see if they had any openings in sports information.
Admittedly, I set my sights low. Almost all were non-Division I schools within roughly a four hour radius of where I was. For whatever reason, I'd found a way to scratch off all the Division I schools from my list ...except for one. There was nothing particularly special about that one, I hadn't grown up rooting for that school or paying special attention to the conference it was in, and I knew nothing about its town. But half an hour after I attempted contact, I got a reply. We emailed back and forth and two days later I accepted an internship with them.
That's how I find myself today working at Miami (Ohio).
If you've stuck with this story for this long, or I've struck a chord with anyone out there who has been mulling getting into college athletics or sports information, my advice is this: go for it. At one time, I thought that my career wouldn't matter as long as I was happy with my living location. I found out I was wrong. Life is too short to spend 40 hours a week bored or miserable or both... so do what makes you happy.
A year ago, I'd sit at work and get excited about driving an hour round-trip to watch the Colorado Buffaloes get smoked. Now I get to sit in the front row, and I listen in on a Charlie Coles press conference once or twice a week. It's a wonderful change.
At my core, I'm still a traveler. My time at Miami is likely just a short stop on whatever journey I'm on. I hope that in another few months, I'll be able to find a job based on the merits of my experiences here; I'm ready to see where that might take me.
Last month, I turned 25. I took a good hard look around, and thought that for once I finally had things going in the right direction. So what I wrote was "Follow Your Visions and Do What It Takes to Get There."ť I think and hope that's a goal we all strive for.