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4/24/2013
Sports: Metaphor for life, vehicle for learning
Ketchikan Daily News Sports Editor A.J. Jankowski talks to students in Judy Christensen's sports literature class about sports writing recently. Staff photo by Hall Anderson


By DANELLE LANDIS

Daily News Staff Writer

Ketchikan Daily News sports editor A.J. Jankowski was surprised when Ketchikan High School teacher Judy Christensen invited him to speak to her sports literature class.

"I just couldn't believe there was a sports literature class here," he said. "I just think it's awesome that there is one."

Even his much larger high school in Lancaster, N.Y., did not have a sports-focused English class, he said.

The first time Jankowski spoke as a guest presenter in Christensen's sports literature class was in November, and he took on the assignment again earlier this month.

He said he was eager to share his experiences, hoping to excite the students about sports writing. He remembered guest speakers as being very important to his own learning as a journalism student.

Although he was passionate about sports in high school, he said he had resigned himself to a career that would leave sports on the sidelines, knowing he was not professional player material.

When he entered college at State University of New York at Oneonta in New York he majored in music production. During that year, in a entry-level English composition class, a professor assigned an argumentative paper about "anything."

Jankowski, in his paper, grappled with his unhappiness about the possibility of the Buffalo Bills National Football League franchise moving to Toronto, and that's when it dawned on him: "I had more passion in that one paper than anything in my music industry major," he said.

He transferred to Rutgers University in New Jersey the next year, where he majored in sports journalism.

He said he found his high school English teachers' relentless insistence on strict essay form frustrating.

Writing seemingly endless essays "kind of turned me off to writing," he said.

He wanted to leave Christensen's class with a sense of the excitement of writing, and to give them the idea that they, too, could have a career writing creatively about their passion: sports.

Another idea he wanted to imprint on Christensen's students was that sports is not only exciting to be a part of, but it is an essential part of human society.

One exercise he led in Christensen's class was to take turns reading a Sports Illustrated magazine column by Rick Reilly.

In the column, Reilly wrote that people would sometimes ask him when he would get a job writing "important" stories.

In defense of sports writing, and sports in general, Reilly made several points, including: Sports is about loyalty, passion and family as people pass their loyalty for one team through the generations; sports also "leads to instant parades. How cool is that?" and "turns hardened people to mush."

During Jankowski's first visit to the class, Christensen said the focus was more on Jankowski sharing his experiences. In the April visit, Jankowski not only shared his own professional journey, but gave the students copies of a set of baseball game notes and box scores and coached them through writing an article about the simulated game.

The students asked many questions about the jargon in the assignment, and about the rules of baseball.

"They all looked really lost" at first, Jankowski said, but by the end of the class, they produced articles that were "very good, very well written."

He said he was surprised at how good both classes were at coming up with questions and engaging him in conversation.

He coached the students through finding the most important moment of the game, with which to create the article's first paragraph, or lead. He asked them how they might organize the events in the telling of the story, and what would make an effective headline.

Christensen said the sports literature class was created, and originally taught by, Kayhi teacher Rebecca Bowlen.

"The kids love it," Christensen said.

This is the second year Christensen has taught it and she said she is excited about trying some new ideas.

This year, she said it was a great exercise for students to complete an extra-credit project to attend a sporting event and write an article. She also took the whole class to watch a basketball game that happened to be played during school hours one day and the students practiced reporting on it.

Next year, she said she'd like to get the students working on all different types of sports, following the school season, starting with football, moving through cross country and the many others.

She also is working with Kayhi's journalism teacher, Michael Cron, to find space in the Kayhi newspaper for her students' articles.

She added that she urges her students to read local sports coverage, as it is motivating for them to read about friends and others they know while also becoming familiar with the headlines, writing style, word choices and captions in the newspaper's sports writing.

Sports holds a special place in a community, Christensen said, especially in a smaller town. She described sports as a "metaphor for so many things in life" and said sports are woven all through community life, which makes sports a "special thing."

She also praised the quality of Jankowski's coverage, saying the students have not been able to find mistakes in his articles, even though they try. The details he includes, rather than just skimming over results, also impresses her, she said, and inspires her to instill those skills in her students.

"The kids really, really can connect" with sports, she said, making it easier to teach writing skills.

Jankowski said he hopes he gets more chances to share his love for sports and journalism with students.

"I just kind of wanted to show why I personally feel like there is no more exciting job," he said.