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Archive for Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Wedel will be missed on tennis circuit

April 18, 2006

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Once people discover what I do for a living, I typically encounter one of three scenarios: the congrats, the complaint or the question.

The congrats - "Boy, you're lucky. You have the best job in the world. You get paid to watch games!" - and the complaint - "It's obvious you like School X better than School Y!" - aren't great conversation starters.

Nobody wants to hear what actually goes into being a sports journalist, just like no one truly wants to know what goes into their breakfast sausage.

And trying to discuss why you don't have an agenda with someone who obviously believes otherwise is likewise pointless. If I want to engage in a debate I know I can't win, I'll just go home and have a conversation with my wife.

However, the third interaction - the question - can lead to enlightening discussion.

"What is Joe Schmoe really like?"

Being able to answer that query is something I take great pride in as a journalist. Part of being a good storyteller is being able to relay to people the information they can't get from a box score or a five-second sound bite on television.

Of course, fans always want to know about the stars. Thanks to my travels and the positions I've held, I could be the biggest oxymoron of them all - a rich sports writer - if I had a nickel for all the times people wanted to dish about Karl Malone, Tony Gwynn or Brett Favre.

However, it's usually those with less name recognition who are more fun to talk about. Take Lawrence High tennis coach Dick Wedel, for instance.

We need to talk about him now because in two months, he'll head off to fish in Montana, and if the bass are biting, he might not come back.

After 27 years or so - Wedel himself isn't quite sure of the number - the longtime LHS mentor has decided to end his coaching career at the end of the boys tennis season this spring. He'll still participate in clinics at First Serve, the indoor tennis facility in southwest Lawrence, but it will be far less time consuming than the full coaching slate he's tackled each fall and spring for nearly three decades.

That means more time with wife Diane, longer summer vacations in Big Sky country, and less-colorful riffs for sports writers heading out to the LHS courts in the future.

I've only been on the high school beat here for eight months, but that's seven months more than I needed to discover Wedel is one of my favorite people I've met during my nine years in this business.

Every time we talk he has something good to say - and I use that adjective specifically because of its flexibility. Good as in complimentary. Good as in humorous. Good as in right on the mark.

Such a personality is a journalist's dream. A perfect anecdote came to light during the last week when, while being interviewed by one of my co-workers, Wedel spun a line about excuses and socks and how they're both full of holes.

But that's not the good part. What makes the story memorable is one day later, he e-mailed our staff to thank the writer for using the quote.

Trust me - when coaches decide to verbally color outside the box, the last thing they typically want is to see it show up in print on their doorstep the next morning.

But that's what Dick Wedel is really like - as if anyone who's ever picked up a racket in Lawrence the last 27 years didn't know it already.

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