(BRANDON HANSEN/Managing Editor of the Chewelah Independent)
The greatest thing about the “sports industry” as opposed to other areas of work is when someone gets into their sweet spot, they very rarely leave. When you talk about sports writers, you’re usually talking about guys who have been in the same position for years, talking with the same coaches and same players for years and years on end.
Rick Reilly was at Sports Illustrated for so many years that the back page of the magazine basically became the Reilly page. Bob Robertson has been the voice of the WSU Cougars for so many years, it’s really hard to listen to a radio broadcast these days without his familiar gravely-yet-friendly tone where he describes Martin Stadium and the Cougars better than anyone else. Bob started calling for the Cougs back in 1964.
There’s Vin Scully, who called the Dodgers for 67 years, beginning back when they were still in Brooklyn. Duke men’s basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski has been the head coach of the Blue Devils since 1980.
Bob Uecker has been calling Milwaukee Brewers games since 1971, and he basically stole the show in the movie “Major League” as the radio broadcaster.
The same goes for successful high school coaches. Recently, Centralia just had Ron Brown retire after 700 victories as the boys basketball head coach. His first season with the Tigers was cut short when he was called into active duty because… of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Longevity is something to be celebrated in sports, and I’m glad that if you get a job in the industry, it doesn’t burn you out too badly. Ask other people about their day jobs, and they might grumble until the cows come home. Ask a sportswriter about his job, and while there may be a few grumbles (don’t get me started on the chalk boxes they’re making photographers stand in at the 2B State Softball Championships), pretty soon it becomes talk about this season or that player or that great moment in history.
Chewelah is extremely lucky to have someone stick with their athletic programs for so long. Geno Ludwig, for one, who along with his wife Sharon were recently named the 2019 Honored Citizens.
This is an honor that is long overdue, and I join many other people in amazement that the two hadn’t gotten the award yet.
But for Geno, his career is something of a rarity. Not many sportswriters can say that they played and coached in the same program that they have now written for since … well, the late 1960s. You see, Geno started writing about the Cougars as a senior in high school. Once he moved back into Chewelah after college, The Independent called him up again to have him write for their sports pages.
When we did our big feature on the 1977 Chewelah Football State Championship team, I called Geno up and asked if he could go through the archives and come up with a story. Well guess who wrote the original state championship story back in 1977? Geno.
His writing is an awesome combination of whimsy, a good dose of honesty (he won’t shy away if the Cougs have a bad game), first-hand knowledge of being a high school coach and a good habit of coming up with sports terms I’ve never heard before but are way more entertaining than anything else I’ve read in a newspaper.
In an industry where there are a lot of longtime sports professionals who have spent years around their teams, Geno stands apart as he didn’t just write about Cougar athletics, but he’s experienced them through the years as a coach as well.
It’s a simple joy to be paid to watch sports, while other people have real jobs, but it takes a lot of late nights and talking to some coaches who have experienced the highs and lows of athletics. Geno almost makes it appear effortless. He churns out sports stories like a machine, and sometimes I refer to him behind his back as RoboGeno.
I’m not sure how many newspapers can claim to have the same sports writer since the late 1960s, but we can. That is some grade-A consistency. While many small high schools may have had a fresh reporter out of college constantly cover their team, Chewelah always had a grizzled sportswriting pro who probably also coached the kids he wrote about.
It’s a unique situation and certainly something we should celebrate, because what other town can lay claim to someone who has accomplished this?