Saturday, June 27, 2009

For the Love of the Game...

I spent last weekend on a bus. The Abilene Ruff Riders, our local arena football team were traveling to Corpus Christi for a game and myself and reporter Daniel Youngblood went along for the ride for a behind the scenes look at what a road trip is like for the team. It was an interesting trip, and opened my eyes a lot to what these guys go through.
These days you read and hear a lot about "pampered" athletes, I can tell you first hand, these guys are not pampered. We got on the bus at 9:30am Friday, and started on our way. We made it about three blocks before having to turn back, I can't say too much about that, I've forgotten my cell phone plenty and had go home to get it. However, about 20 minutes into the 7 hour trip, our bus driver made a wrong turn. And then he proceeded to flip a U-turn in the middle of the highway, it was an interesting experience. About an hour after wrong turn #1 came wrong turn part 2. For this turn around we did it in a small gas station parking lot, and little less harrowing. Other than a couple really close calls with a few light poles we made it to the hotel in Corpus all in one piece.
The entertainment on the way down looked to be first class watching the movie "Blood Diamonds" seemed like a good start, the movie was surprisingly good, but it was all down hill from there. Then we proceeded to watch such silver screen classics as "Night Train" and "Madea Goes to Jail. " Neither will be seeing time on my Netflix list. After we got to the hotel and rooms were divvied up the team got a little break before the team meetings started. After that, everyone pretty much was on their own for dinner. We ended up going to dinner with the coaching staff. This was a really good time, I've always felt eating a meal with someone allows you to really get to know them, plus we went for Cajun food! The attitudes were really light, these guys get along reallys well and don't take things real serious, and they joked around and made fun of each other a lot.
Game day was a long day, really long. It starts with a 10am meeting so the coaches can make sure the players are up. After that they are on their own till the bus leaves at 2pm for the arena. It was about a 30 minute bus ride to the arena, after that it's a 4+ hours wait for the game to begin. After walking into the "locker room" there was no doubt that this was the minor leagues. The team's locker room was in an ajacent building to the arena, and there was no air conditioning! After the pregame meal (in the arena, which at least did have air conditioning) most the players sat around listening to music, some even napped on the arena floor.
The team lost the game, which kind of sucked because they would have clinched a playoff spot with the win and probably would have made for some nice jube shots. But it didn't happen. As soon as the game is over the players shower at the arena. Again, in a show of the conditions they have to deal with there is one shower for 25 guys. Many of them chose to shower off under water spigots near the "locker room." Even worse, some of the guys even had to share towels since not enough were supplied! After that, it's on the bus for a lovely through the night trip home. We finally got home at about 6am. I was able to doze off for a while thanks to a couple more bad movies (Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins).
After looking back on the trip, being a professional athlete, especially in the minor leagues, is not that glamorous at all. Tour busses are not a great place to sleep. And, these guys make $200 a week, and an extra $50 is they win the game. Needless to say, not a lot of money. And, if you divide it by all the time they spend on the road, it equals a little more than minimum wage, and that doesn't include the time during the week that they spend practicing! One of the players told me they don't do it for the money, but rather the camradarie of the players and the friendships made, "I love these guys and that's why I keep playing."

Summer Time...

It's hot, really really damn hot! The temperatures all week have been hovering around 100 degrees and the forecast for the whole week was pretty much the same... hotter than hell. Wednesday, I was looking for a weather feature. So, I went to one of the local swimming pools after having spent most of the afternoon looking for something other than a pool shot. Pretty much everyone was home, or otherwise inside hiding from the sun, I can't say that I blame them, I'd probably have been doing the same thing if I weren't working! But, I was. So I ended up at the swimming pool. This is pretty much a last resort type thing, in an effort to not shoot pool photos for every weather feature we try to limit the amount we shoot. So, when I do shoot at the pool, I make damn sure it's something I like. When I got there I made sure to get a safe shot, something of some kids splashing in the pool, in case I had to go home with my tail between my legs, after all I can't go back with nothing. It seems like when you show up at a pool with a camera, everyone wants to show off, then again, most of these kids were showing off before I got there, I think it's a teenager thing. After finding the right place I wanted to shoot from it was just a matter of sitting under the diving board and waiting for the right person to come into my shot. I spent a few more minutes looking for something better, but didn't find it. This was the shot I wanted, and it just took sweating off a few pounds and getting splashed a couple times (I didn't complain a bit about it, it actually felt good!). I'm just glad I fixed the air conditioning in my car a couple weeks ago.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

High School Rodeo...

Last week was the annual Texas High School Rodeo finals. I used to hate shooting it, thinking it was much of the same thing a lot. And, as far as stories go, it was. We constantly cover many of the same things every year. But, for my photo column which started last week, the only requirement I had to follow was I needed to fill up a photo page. This makes it both fun and tedious at the same time. It's at the point where the weather is pushing 100 every day. So, spending time outside isn't exactly something I look forward to, but many of the best photos are in the horse barns, which are not air conditioned. I didn't have nearly as much time as I usually get to wander around looking for photos, but I was able to track down enough for a photos page and a few that I liked.




Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Shelby Millionaire...

Last Tuesday was draft day for major league baseball. Now, the day usually comes and goes around here without a whole lotta hoopla. We usually have a couple kids drafted, but usually it's someone from one of the local colleges, and when they do it's normally on the second day in an insignificant round. So, when Shelby Miller was projected to be a first round pick and possibly a top 10 pick, it was a pretty big deal. After we got down there we found out that one of the biggest problems was finding someone who got the MLB network, which was where the draft was being broadcast. It turned out one of the assistant coaches' mom was the only one and she was gracious enough to let in about 50 people, most of whom were strangers as well as local media.
I actually had other assignments in town before we left for Brownwood and showed up about 30 minutes late, luckily he didn't get taken yet. And then after we got there we waited... and waited. A lot of the mock drafts had him going with the 14th pick to the Texas Rangers. A pick I was kind of hoping to happen, not because I'm a Rangers fan, but so I'd hopefully get to see him pitch again. Instead, he went 19th to the Cardinals. His reaction wasn't that great, a lot of people cheered for him when his name was announced, but he kind of just sat there, I'm guessing he was a little stunned. Probably my favorite photo (top) was when the Kansas City Royals made their pick. Miller closed his eyes and covered his ears showing his hope that he would get passed over at least for one pick. It was pretty funny, especially considering our page designer who was doing that page is a Royals fan.

Monday, June 15, 2009

State Track, Day 2

Day 2 of the state track meet isn't quite as long, but it's a lot more concentrated. Saturday is actully six track meets in one day. The boys and girls meets of Class 1A, 3A and 5A are all run. The morning like the day before is just field events. And again, it gives me time to concentrate on the field events. Because, once the running events start it's trying to be in two places at once or hoping to get lucky and the kid I'm covering is either throwing, jumping or vaulting between races and I can get over there to get a nice shot and get back in time to shoot the race.
This year's meet was pretty disappointing in how few local winners we had. I've said this a million times before, it's not my job to cheer, my job is to tell the story. But, for obvious reasons, I;d prefer to be covering the winners since the photos normally are better. Actually, I'd prefer the kids win who weren't expecting it. Or, they just show some personality after they win, pump a fist, let out a scream do SOMETHING more than just walk off the track!! You just won a damn state championship for crying out loud... be happy!!!
The bulk of the work on Saturday is during the afternoon, while the sun is the hottest. So, while I'm spending much of my time trying to stay hydrated and searching for any little bit of shade near the track that I can find, I try and shoot a few races in between. The 1A and 3A running events last from noon until the last races which start about 3:30. And, 1A is the bulk of where our athletes come from, but this year we had a lot of 3A kids competing too, so there were very few races I wasn't shooting. To put it in perspective, of the 1,400+ photos I shot that day, about 1,100 of those were taken in the four hours of the 1A/3A meet.
Rochelle High School's Bonnie Richardson (above) made national headlines last year when she won the Class 1A girls team title by herself. She's quite the athlete, competing in the 100m, 200m dashes as well as the high jump, long jump and discus events. She's pretty much a shoe in to be a heptathlete in college. Even though she doesn't compete in our area (Rochelle is just outside the southern part of our coverage area), her story is unique in that she was competing for the team title alone again this year. Plus, she competed in Abilene during the regional meet, so it's not like she's not known to the local track fans. So, I made sure to grab a shot of her while she was competing for the story, which again made the national headlines after she repeated her solo team title, winning it by 2 points.
After this, I've got about two hours to download and edit the 1,100 images in the unairconditioned media tent again. To make it even warmer I spent about 40 minutes with my head under a jacket to reduce the glare, only taking breaks to wipe away the gallons of sweat to keep from shorting out my computer (if it were a Mac I wouldn't worry, but it's a PC... what I wouldn't give for a Mac!!). The 5A meet began at 6pm and first local kid raced at 6:30, so I needed to have everything edited and sent before then. I actually got everything edited, captioned and sent by just before 6pm. I think the lack of great emotion shots made it easier since I didn't have to make any real hard decisions to make about what to send.
The highlight of the night is the 5A meet. As far as track meets go, the Texas 5A meet puts some of the best athletes in the country competing and it's just damn fun to watch even if I'm not covering it. But, I was. Abilene High had a girl in both the 100m hurdles and 300m hurdles and boys team in the 4x200m relay. The AHS showing wasn't quite as good as expected so of course the emotions weren't quite there. Amanda McGill did finish third in the 300m hurdles, but didn't celebrate too much, I think she was expecting better. The boys 4x200m team finshed 7th but ended up getting bumped up to 5th after two teams were DQ'ed, but still nothing to get too excited over. There were some really great races to watch while I was waiting for the ones I was covering, in the boys 100m dash a kid ran a lightning fase 10.08, which would have shattered the national record of 10.14 had it not been wind aided, still it was fun to watch.
One thing I think I missed on Friday that I made a point to do was shoot less from the finish line and mix my shooting up a little more. I think on Friday I was waiting for a nice emotional shot that never seemed to happen. I wish I'd have just written it off and gone with the creative stuff earlier instead of waiting for something that didn't happen. I was sure to change it up a little on Saturday. The 100m dash is one of the events I try to shoot from somewhere other than the finish line, I prefer to line up about halfway down the track and pan the shot, it makes the race look a lot better as well as does a nice job of showing how fast these athletes are moving. However, shooting at the finish line does have its advantages, such as when a kids looks like he's going to win the race, but ends up running out of his lane only to be disqualified. All I had to do was get the shot of him actually stepping out of his lane (above), which wasn't that hard since I think he took about six steps in the other kid's lane.
All in all I think Saturday's photos turned out a lot better than day 1. The final race of the day is always the mile relay. The nice thing about it is you can get all the handoffs in the same place as well as shoot the start without having to run around the track or miss anything. It also usually yeilds some of the best photos, since not only are the kids exhausted at the end of the race, but if they do well they usually celebrate since it's more of a team event than individual. That's exactly what happened with Hamlin (top photo), they were in 5th place on the last leg and their anchor, Jaylen Rogers, who had already won the girls 800m run earlier in the day, ran a great leg and finished third to put the girls on the medal stand. I was glad to see it, I finally got that nice emotional shot I'd been searching for all weekend... it also ran as the main photo on the sports front.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

State Track, Day 1

Last Friday was the first day of the state track meet. The first day of the meet is incredibly long, I start shooting at 8am and the last race is shot at 9:30pm. And that does even include putting together the slideshows, which is another couple of hours.
Austin in June isn't exactly the most inviting time to be spending 14 hours outside, but it's what must be done. Not only is it hotter than hell and humid, the press box at Mike Myers Stadium doesn't fit all the media covering the event, so of course the photographers gets stuck outside in the press tent. Of course, we get no air conditioning, heck there aren't even any fans. But, at least there is power.
The morning starts out with the 3,200m runs, after that the late morning and afternoon is all field events. It was nice because most of what I had to shoot was pretty spread out and I had time to concentrate on making good photos.
One thing that was different this year was graduation. Because all the regional meets were postponed for the swine flu scare, the state meet got pushed back three weeks. Which was also graduation weekend for many schools across the state. To make up for make of the kids who were missing their own graduations, the UIL made plans to hold a special graduation ceremony for all the athletes who were missing their commencement services back home. I actually wrote about a couple kids who had to decide whether to give their speeches of run at the state meet. They participated in the service along with a few Abilene High seniors. My favorite photo was of Abilene High's Jamar Sims and his bright yellow shows, which paired with his graduation gown made for the school colors of black and gold.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

State Softball

Thursday was the first day of a really busy weekend. In fact, Thursday was the easy day, all I had to do was drive to Austin, shoot Early High's school's softball game in the state tournament and put together a slide show for the web and I'm done. It sounded easy enough. I'd seen this team play before and they were very good. However, when a team gets no-hit in its game, getting all those photos becomes A LOT harder!
I know from covering last year's state tournament that pitching usually dominates in the state tourney. So, I wasn't expecting a whole lot of hits, but for the team to get no-hit wasn't expected either. One thing about Early is they don't make a lot of errors, which they didn't make in their game either, which would have been great for them had they gotten some hits, and maybe scored some runs. Instead, it was just another zero on the board.
The one thing about these big games I can always count on is the end of the game and the reactions that it brings. It's pretty much a given that when you lose this late in the year there will be some emotions. There was. And it's a damn good thing too, because other than a mediocre at best second base shot I got pretty much nothing from the game. I guess it's a good thing this game was played at 4pm so I knew there wouldn't be deadline issues and I could hang around and watch the players get their medals. The top photo of the girls hugging happened quickly, I saw the two girls holding hands and kept my eye on them, then the other two hugged. I let out a big sigh of relief after that... I knew I would at least have something to send in. The good thing about this is I wouldn't have a scheduling conflict on Saturday having to shoot a softball game and the state track meet at the same time.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Getting done before it starts...

Well, it's graduation season again. And, I've pretty much come to the conclusion that every graduation ceremony is EXACTLY the same! The more I go to these things, the less I like that. Not that I've ever been a fan, but the more I watch, the more I notice I see nothing new. That's why graduations are one of the few event I make sure I show up to early. The Wylie High School graduation was the perfect example. The put the staging area in a different place this year and had all of the seniors lined up in two rows of chairs. So, basically I spent about 20 minutes looking for the shot above. I wanted something where everyone was doing something a little different, and I actually find the photo I was looking for. Then, as they were lined up in the parking lot to go into the coliseum for the ceremony I got another one I liked (because I'm a sucker for silhouettes). Then I spent 40 minutes watching the same exact graduation service I saw for the last 10 years, and making no new photos. Oh well, maybe next year.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Word Nerd...

I always find it ironic when I'm given the assignment to shoot the winner of the local spelling bee. Considering I can't spell worth a damn! The funny thing is, since I have pretty much become the portrait guy, I get this assignment nearly every year. And, since Scripps is the sponsor of the national spelling bee (my paper is a Scripps paper), it's not like we can't cover it. So, when I went to shoot our local spelling bee winner, I wasn't sure what to expect. It was actually really cool to how down to earth the kid was. She told me she doesn't really study the dictionary a lot, she just looks at the word orgins and some of the word list, but she doesn't study a whole lot. However, I think the best part of it was when she said she really just wanted the free trip to Washington DC and wouldn't be too dissapointed if she got knocked out early since it would give her more time to see the city. Ha! I think I would have felt the same way, not like I'd ever get to the national spelling bee. Thank God for spell check!