BY JEFF FALK
Imagine, if you will, a scholastic sports world in which no one was in the stands. No one attended local athletic events.
Not spectators, not parents, not student bodies. No one.
Would the athletes perform at levels as high? Would the games matter, as much? Would they eventually go away all together?
Studies suggest that student-athletes play better when someone is watching, when attention becomes positive reinforcement. The proof that student-athletes are more likely to do well in the class room, to go on to college, to be involved in other activities, is overwhelming.
And in these days of technology and electronics, one could argue that being involved with sports is even more important.
Over the past 100 years – or for as long as Lebanon County sports have existed – The Lebanon Daily News’ sports department has been promoting local sports, celebrating County athletic excellence and rewarding hard work through unrivaled written, photographic and now video coverage. In some not-so-small ways, The Daily News’ local sports coverage makes Lebanon County a better place to play – and live.
“I think it varies, depending on the kid,” said Lebanon Daily News’ sports editor Mike Givler of the importance of attention. “Some kids really thrive on it. For other kids, it doesn’t matter as much. But for the kids who it doesn’t matter, 20 years down the road they’ll be able to look back on what they’ve accomplished. Sports is great because it teaches life lessons. You learn how to succeed and you learn how to fail. And as far as coverage goes, I think it’s a reward for parents too.
“When you have a combination of a well-written story and good photos, it’s just a great package,” added Givler. “I can just imagine how many of our reports have been cut out of the paper, and ended up on refrigerators.”
Lebanon Daily News publisher Scott Downs and managing editor Andrea Rich did not immediately return messages seeking comment for this piece.
Also undeniable is the sports department’s coverage’s importance to the overall well being of the local paper. There’s an old newspaper adage that says the only reason the sports page is found inside of the news-laden front page is to keep the sports coverage dry – an exaggeration that drives home a point.
The Lebanon Daily News’ sports department seeks to inform and entertain its readers on a daily basis, and it has always emphasized its coverage of local sports over national events. The Daily News’ covers the widest range of local sports, from field hockey to racing to tennis, played by all nine of the County’s public and private schools, and beyond.
If there’s something happening athletically involving a Lebanon County native or resident, The Daily News is there.
“I am biased, but I think it’s (the sports’ coverage in relation to the health of the newspaper) very important,” said Givler, who’s been calling the shots for the past 15 years. “We’re putting stuff in the paper that no one else is, and we’re doing it better than any other newspaper anywhere. It’s our coverage area. It’s what we’re supposed to do. People are buying the paper for the sports.
“We want to cover the big games, anything involving Lebanon County teams,” continued Givler. “We want to tell the story of the local athletes and coaches and fans. And we try to tell the human-interest side of the story.”
Givler has two talented, seasoned sportswriters at his disposal. Full-time scribes Pat Huggins and Chris Fidler, a pair of Lebanon High grads almost a generation apart, always focus on the positives, downplay the negatives, but never shy away from the truth.
In some ways, Huggins and Fidler are the perfect complements to one another. Huggins, a 15-year veteran of the business, focuses on painting a picture with words, while Fidler, a three-year relative newcomer to the game, covers sports with technology, as much as with a pen and paper.
“Pat definitely has the ability to pull out the positives,” said Givler, a graduate of Manheim Central. “He does a great job of playing to people’s emotions. And he does well under pressure. He’s a professional, from top to bottom. He’s really liked. A lot of people look to him for his thoughts and opinions. And he’s very well respected.
“Chris is new in terms of being a full-time guy, but he’s been writing about sports in Lebanon Count for six or seven years,” Givler continued. “He knows the area. He knows the people. He knows the community. He’s definitely taken the digital side of it and ran with it. He’s really used video to his advantage. He’s been a huge asset for us.”
Visually speaking, The Daily News has things covered with lead photographer Jeremy Long. Long’s passion, intestinal fortitude and talent comes shining through every time he captures a special local sports moment with his camera.
“Jeremy knows the game,” said Givler. “He can anticipate what’s going to happen. That’s 75 percent of shooting sports. He has that mindset of going above and beyond. His work has improved tremendously.
“He’s still very young,” added Givler. “He still has that fire, that youthfulness. He has drive.”
The Daily News also couldn’t do what it does without a stable of competent part-timers, affectionately known as ‘stringers’. Givler employees a stable that includes Jeff Deweese, Don Scott, Julie Beidler, Matt Specht and Dan Callahan, as well as photographers Chris Knight and Ashley Walter.
“There’s always room for improvement,” said Givler. “But considering the size of our staff and budgetary constraints, we do the best we can. I have two guys (Huggins and Fidler) who put in ten to 12 hours a day. Under the circumstances, we do as good a job as we can.
“I’ve got a great staff,” added Givler. “They work hard. They’re well respected in the county. I feel very blessed. But if you told me five years ago we’d be doing the things we’re doing with technology, I would’ve said, ‘Wow!’. It makes it interesting. It brings a whole new aspect to the business.”
But as times have changed and our community has evolved, so has The Lebanon Daily News’ sports coverage. As long as that continues, the local newspaper will keep fostering interest in Lebanon County athletics.
“It’s change in a way that The Lebanon Daily News is no longer just a newspaper,” said Givler. “We’re a media organization, and the newspaper is just one thing we produce. We’re not just a newspaper that arrives on the door step every night. It has changed dramatically, just in the time I’ve been here. For me personally, I’m more hands-on with my job. Covering events is no longer just reporting, it’s tweeting and it’s videos. The whole time element is more critical than what it used to be.
“I don’t know (about its direction). I have no idea,” concluded Givler. “Every day we’re creating mechanisms to do things better. I don’t know where it’s going. We’re trying to keep up. We’re almost a TV station and a newspaper wrapped up in one. I’m sure six months from now there’ll be some new way to report games. It’s endless.”