Why Tell Stories? How Sports and Storytelling Made Me Who I Am Today

Story-telling has been in my blood, probably for generations.

In the eighth grade, I had to do a project on my family’s history and the stories tied to it.  That research uncovered some interesting history as well as some beautiful and sad tales: my family, living on the island of Marmara in modern-day Turkey, were forced out of their homes in the Greek-Turkish population exchange of 1922.

Instead of going with the other Asia Minor refugees into Athens, my family immigrated to the United States, and my great-grandmother wrote poems describing her feelings as she left.  My parents helped me translate these poems into English, and it was probably the most research and writing I had ever done.

We all have personal experiences that make us who we are, and we love to tell stories about them, especially since we’re huge into college sports.  For me, the great stories that I’ve seen live or on TV that have impacted my love for the college game can be traced all the way back to 1994 as a first grader.

I was living in Eugene, Oregon at the time: my father was a priest at a mission parish, trying to build a long-standing community.  My first-grade teacher, just like everyone else in that area, was a huge Oregon Ducks supporter, but because her son was on the team.

This was not your “Phil Knight SuperNike Ducks,” but rather Rich Brooks was the coach of a team that he finally brought out of the dark ages.  To add to my young mind that being a Ducks fan was all there was to be, not only did we sing the fight song every Friday in the class before Gameday on Saturday, but there were two coaches in my father’s parish who would attend.

One fateful Saturday, I was sitting at home with my mom, helping take care of my little sister who was barely two months old.  I couldn’t remember who the Ducks were playing, I just remember the call on the radio:

I ran around the house screaming like a maniac.  It was easily the most exciting thing I had ever heard in my young life; since I couldn’t watch it until the news highlights later, listening to the call was especially fantastic.  I told my mom about it, and my dad hours later when he got home from work.  To them it was nice, but not life-changing like it was for me.

Fast forward three years.

My father got transferred up to Seattle, Washington.  We were told, “you can’t be Ducks fans, you’re in Husky territory now.”  My parents obliged as non-sports fans, and so did I, not really knowing what that meant.  It was there where I went to my very first college football game: The Oregon Ducks vs The Washington Huskies.

Since we were sitting with some parishioners, we essentially had to be Husky fans, but something had changed about the Ducks: their logo was different, their colors were darker.  All I thought at that time was “that’s stupid, the ‘O’ looks dumb on their helmets,” so I had no issues turning in my colors for the purple and gold (yes Duck fans reading this, I hear your pitchforks being sharpened).

The older I got, the more I understood rivalries (thank goodness) but that was not the only thing I understood.  I learned about nostalgia and heartbreak through athletics, by sitting alone in a church basement away from everyone,  crying out loud as I saw the live implosion of the Kingdome on a cold Sunday in March.  I remembered how just three years earlier I had watched my first MLB game live and just two months prior, I watched the Seahawks lose to Dan Marino and the Dolphins.

Fast forward another few years.

My family had moved to Las Vegas – all I had was UNLV basketball which was a harder ticket than pre-tiger Siegfried and Roy, and I had recently left my family to go to this school in Idaho.  All I knew was that the football team had a blue football field, but I didn’t care because I was back to watching my first love: college football.

I was almost always the first student in line on Monday morning to wait for the student ticket line to open up.  I watched as the Broncos stung the Sacramento State Hornets, dammed up the Beavers, skewed a June Jones’ Hawaii team, bit the La Tech Bulldogs, bullied Pat Hill’s Fresno State team and corralled the Utah State Aggies at home.

Of course, my friends and I never missed an away game either, watching downstairs in the basement of the Honors College.  The unthinkable had just been done: Boise State had just gone undefeated and had been invited to a BCS bowl, the first Group of Five team since Utah.  However, this was different: it wasn’t against some Pitt team, it was…

“…against Bob Stoops and OKLAHOMA!  So can you and I go Dad? We can drive to Arizona during winter break, watch the game and then dri-“

“How much are the tickets”

“Only $150.”

“ARE YOU KIDDING ME? $150? FOR ONE GAME? I’ll think about it.  You do realize you won’t get anything for Christmas, right?”

“Totally.  Thanks.  I’ll be waiting in the guest line at 3 am.”

“I didn’t say yes.”

“I know.”

Bottom line, he gave in the night before the tickets went on sale.  We all know how that night on January 1, 2007 went:

My father and I both still agree that it’s the greatest game we’ve ever attended. As the college years went on, and I became more involved in my studies, I found that I needed an escape.  Going to the games was not good enough anymore because there was always more work to do (thanks O-Chem and the rest of you bastard classes).

I needed to write; not just for classes, but to help keep my mind fresh. The internet was there with new websites and places to hang out with different people who had the same interests.  I found One Bronco Nation Under God: a Boise State website that was started by a group of guys who didn’t all live in Boise.  The commenters were quirky and funny and once football season started, one commenter, in general, held a meet and greet tailgate for the readers.  The blog went from an independent to this new up-and-coming network called SB Nation in 2009, and that’s where I discovered other blogs that I would eventually write for, including Mountain West Connection.

By my senior year, I had been writing fan posts on OBNUG, but they had a strong team of authors to plug out new content.  When Boise State announced their move to the Mountain West Conference for the 2011 season, I reached out to the manager of Mountain West Connection to see if he would let me write for the site.

At that time, MWCC had three writers: a Utah fan, a TCU fan, and a UNLV fan.  I did a trial write up, an extensive uniform research series starting with Air Force.  They liked it and I was made an author to continue that researched series (plus covering my Broncos).  Eventually, I would co-host a podcast for a full five years, becoming notorious for bad parodies as intro songs, before leaving Mountain West Connection.

Meanwhile, I had just been accepted to UC Riverside’s graduate program in Chemistry.  Seeing how little UCR sports were represented in the blogosphere, as well as the other Big West sports (See: Division I California Bus League Conference), I attempted to start my own Big West blog.  It went poorly but as a result I got to bring the Big West to Mid-Major Madness, another SBN site that was having a resurgence under its manager and his co-pilot (a guy by the name of Nic Lewis).

 

These gentlemen, especially Nic, helped refine my writing skills for speed and accuracy, so much so that when somehow stumbling into credentials for the 2013 West Regionals at the NCAA Tournament, I got to blog Wichita State’s unbelievable run to the Final Four in person.

Blogging sports helped me keep my sanity throughout all my years of grad school, and beyond.  The friendships I made and the mentoring I received from each manager for a different aspect of my life, have molded me into the person I am today and helped develop the skill sets I use today to succeed in my career.

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