- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
COLLEGE PARK — I have a confession to make.
I have not been an objective sports journalist.
Some of you right now are saying to yourself, “It’s about time he finally owns up to it. That’s what I’ve been contending for years. I knew he never liked (fill in the blank with your local high school team of interest) after he wrote about them losing that one time.”
Uh, sorry. That’s not what I’m getting at.
Unless I’m writing a column like this, anything you read with my name attached to it has been crafted with the best intentions of utmost objectivity. It’s against my journalistic religion to write my stories any other way.
My confession has to do with my rooting interest, not the words I’m penning for your reading enjoyment, columns aside.
I am guilty of rooting for our Southern Maryland Athletic Conference basketball teams in the state playoffs whenever I’m sitting in press row at Comcast Center in the heart of fear-the-turtle country.
I’m particularly guilty of rooting hard for our Charles County teams when they reach the coveted state playoffs.
And here’s some insider information: My fellow colleagues sitting alongside me at University of Maryland are just as guilty as I am of the same kind of partisan rooting.
How can we not be?
We naturally become attached to the teams we regularly cover throughout the regular season and every step of the way in their postseason pursuits. Only the coaching staff and the players know more about the ins and outs of their team than us media types by the time we reach the March Madness of the state playoffs.
It doesn’t take long sitting in press row of a state playoff game before you can detect the rooting interest of a fellow journalist toward his/her team, usually through a statement that is spoken in the unemotional tone of a neutral observer but has the biased substance associated with a fan’s perspective.
It’s an art form that us journalists have perfected when we get to the state playoffs where it’s OK to have a rooting interest — just as long as we’re still delivering an objective piece of prose when our team’s state-playoff runs are all said and done.
Unless, of course, you’re writing a column like I am now where opinions and bias usually overwhelm objectivity. Aren’t columns a beautiful thing?
There’s really nothing wrong with a local journalist being a quasi-fan while watching a state-playoff game from press row. Almost 100 percent of the time, we’re covering our team against an opponent from another conference within the state that we have little in-depth knowledge about — aside from their stats — and don’t normally write about.
So the state playoffs are the one time where us local journalists and you fans become one. We just don’t perform all the fun antics and organized chants from the stands while the school band plays one hearty number after another since we have the media credentials draped around our necks and must uphold professional decorum while seated in — you guessed it — press row.
So yes, I left Comcast Center shortly before midnight Thursday down and out like all you North Point fans.
I have seen lots of high school basketball during my 14-plus years as a journalist, and I was confident — really, borderline cocky — this North Point boys team was going to join their female cohorts as the first SMAC school to capture boys and girls state titles in the same school year.
The North Point girls had just finished celebrating their Class 4A state title the week before at the University of Maryland Baltimore County in Baltimore as Maryland’s favorite.
The North Point boys were facing the same lofty expectations thanks to a star-studded senior class featuring point guard extraordinaire Marquis Wright, inside double-double force Matt Bonds, the multifaceted Naim Muhammad, ultimate competitor Anthony Williams and the steady role production of Daylin Davis in the starting lineup.
These seniors were part of the 2011 state championship won by North Point that ended the SMAC’s long-suffering drought that had lasted since 1972 when the league previously owned Maryland bragging rights in boys hoops.
And there was plenty of reason two years ago as I sat in North Point’s jubilant postgame press conference following that dramatic 76-72 state title-clinching win over Baltimore City top-ranked Patterson and its YouTube sensation Aquille Carr — who Wright, as only a breakout sophomore that postseason, outplayed to begin his stardom — to expect these Eagles to make a dynasty run over Maryland.
Then last year, as I rooted hard in my professional manner as only us local journalists can, state favorite North Point was downed 65-63 during the state semifinals on a last-second driving layup by Eleanor Roosevelt of Prince George’s County.
In Thursday’s state semifinals rematch, Roosevelt eked out another nail-biting win over state-favored North Point again. This time it was a 61-58 Roosevelt victory when a last-second three-point attempt that looked good out of Bonds’ hands just rimmed out. North Point came an unlucky roll of forcing overtime in miraculous form after being down 54-41 with 5 1/2 minutes left.
And I could feel the inner giddiness from my colleagues of our sister Gazette newspaper in P.G. County as they sat beside me in press row. I can’t blame them. I was a rim-out on the Bonds long-range shot at the end of regulation from possessing that same giddiness, because North Point wins that game if overtime happens.
Of course, to the outside world, we kept our journalistic game faces intact as if we were unaffected by the outcome, one way or the other.
Besides that North Point state glory of two years ago, I’ve become pretty accustomed at interviewing our county representatives in a downcast postgame press room at Comcast.
It still feels like yesterday when I had to get comments from the heartbroken players and coaches of the Lackey team of 2006 and the Thomas Stone clubs of 2008 and 2010 that fell in the state finals those years after failing to hold on to late leads.
I was rooting hard for those teams too.
Just like I was Thursday when I was the last media person to leave Comcast as a somber North Point team was filing out of the arena to get on the team bus.
Wright — the most dynamic basketball talent I’ve ever covered in the SMAC, and that’s saying something just this year alone because I’m also a huge fan of Thomas Stone standout point guard Michael Briscoe — still had tears running down his face almost an hour after the game ended.
He finished with a game-high 16 points in the final showing of his remarkable high school career, but the Loyola (Md.) recruit struggled with his jumper, missing all nine of his shots in an uncharacteristically scoreless first half.
“It was just an off night for me,” the normally even keel Wright said, holding back his emotions. “To me, [not winning a state title these last two years] does [take away from our 2011 Maryland title]. We should’ve have won [the state title] at least once out of the last two years.
“[Roosevelt] was just the better team tonight.”
Maybe this is the fan coming out of me, but as an objective sports journalist when it comes to my reporting, I still believe North Point was the state’s best team the last two years — if not for those final couple of seconds working against the Eagles Thursday and in last year’s state semifinals.
Guess it’s time to quit rooting so hard for our SMAC and county teams until the next batch of state playoffs.