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Reflecting upon 50 years of unimportance


A new year being the traditional time to ponder what has passed and what is yet to come, it seems fitting to mention I’ve just finished my 50th year writing for Dayton newspapers.

It’s a career that started in the sports department reporting on hockey, about which I knew next to nothing. And golf, about which I knew even less, although I had heard that the Masters was sort of a big deal before I was dispatched to Augusta to cover it.

In 1968, I was handed a sportswriter’s dream job: beat writer for a newly formed NFL team that was to be named the Cincinnati Bengals. My first assignment was to interview the team’s legendary coach Paul Brown, also the founder of the Cleveland Browns. As the interview concluded I confessed, “Mr. Brown, I grew up in Cleveland and I’ve always been a Browns fan, so when the Bengals play against them I’m probably going to have mixed emotions.”

“Young man,” he replied, “how to you think I’M going to feel?”

After seven seasons, an editor asked if I was interested in getting out of sports and taking over a general interest column then called “Off the Beat.”

“What would I write about?” I asked.

“Whatever you feel like. I think it’s time to expand your boundaries beyond sports.”

My first “Off the Beat” column was about the opening day of baseball season.

But eventually, my boundaries expanded to include covering a local frog jumping contest. Wrestling a bear (I lost). Flying with a stunt pilot (I almost lost it). Baring it all at a nudist camp (the other campers yawned).

Somehow, all that morphed into writing truth-based, but highly exaggerated, anecdotes about my family. There was nothing exceptional about my family, but that was the whole point. What my wife and kids did was pretty much what other wives and kids did, and I suspected some readers might find reassurance in knowing their families, however weird, probably were typical.

Not everyone agreed. As one editor put it, “When are you going to quit writing about home and family stuff and start writing about important things?”

The answer, obviously, was “never.” I just felt that plenty of other people were writing about important stuff; if you look hard enough, for instance, you might be able to find something about Donald Trump in these pages. Besides, if families aren’t important, I don’t know what is.

So I guess I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, and when people ask how long I plan to keep writing columns, my answer will be the same as it has been for the past 50 years.

“Until I get one right.”



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