It’s been at least a month or two since I’ve written a feature on one of our student-athletes. I know a lot of you out there enjoy the human interest stories that have sprung in the sports pages of the Star-News this season. Not sure why these stories are not regularly written but it is my aim to bring you stories of our athletes who do and have gone through so much more beyond the world of sports. These stories are different. They are not the usual game stories/notebooks we write on a daily basis. Lots of thought go into writing these potentially sensitive stories. But they’re stories that, if written well, can have a positive impact on the reader. Many parents and coaches tell me all the time they enjoy the “human interest” stories I’ve written since I’ve started working here seven months ago. I’m humbled by their words. It’s those kind of stories that I’m most proud writing about and the kind of stories I will continue to look for and write along with my gamers, notebooks and the spicy columns.
On that note, I bring you this new thread I’m calling “Behind the Feature.” More often than not, readers ask how I found a particular story and what went into writing the piece, and I’m always happy to oblige with a response. This new thread will focus on what went into writing the feature, any hurdles that had to be jumped and the angles I considered. This thread will either be popular or it’ll fizzle like my “High School Heisman” thread that didn’t last more than four weeks during football season.
I’d be happy to hear your thoughts and if this is something you’d be interested in reading.
For our first “Behind the Feature” post I bring you the story of St. Francis boys soccer keeper Jordan Bell.
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I’d been covering St. Francis boys soccer for a good three weeks or so. I’d seen them play in the semifinals of the CIF-SS Division I playoffs where they lost to Millikan. As the story goes, they got invited to the CIF SoCal Division II Regional playoffs and they smoked through every opponent, including a 4-2 win over Cathedral Catholic to claim the SoCal championship last Saturday at Warren High in Downey.
For those who weren’t there, the game was a 7 p.m. start and our deadlines at the Star-News are pushed back, meaning my 18 inch story had to be turned in by 9:50 a.m. I brought my laptop with me that night so I could at least write my lead during halftime, which I did.
When the game was over I wanted some reaction from coach Glen Appels and at least one player. I figured Jordan Bell had a great playoff run, so why not him. Minutes into the interview, Bell mentioned he’d felt his brother, Kyle Joseph, watching over him and how Bell would write the initials “KJB” on the grass before each game. This sort of left me stunned because I had no idea Bell’s brother passed away in his sleep just seven months ago. I wasn’t the only reporter interviewing him when Jordan brought that up. I believe Gabriel Rizk of the Glendale News Press and one of my best friends Ivan Orozco of the San Diego Union-Tribune were there, too. After we got done talking to Jordan we all headed our separate ways. I was heading back to the press box to finish my story as deadline approached.
But as I walked halfway off the field, something inside me (perhaps the instincts of a reporter) made me turn around and talk to Jordan again. He gave me some more info about his brother. By the time I got to the press box I wasn’t so sure about my lead anymore. Jordan’s story captivated me, and though I wanted to inject this new element to the championship-winning story, I felt Jordan’s story would be better served in another platform. After all, the story of the night was St. Francis winning the title. I felt Jordan’s story deserved to stand alone.
Appels thought it’d be best if he relayed the idea of my wanting to write a story to Jordan first and if his parents were OK with it then Jordan would text me back. And he did.
We were initially supposed to meet Tuesday around 1 p.m. for an interview but with putting together the All-Area teams and players planning to arrive between 3-5 p.m. to the office for their photos, it was best if we talked later when he came in for his photo. We eventually had some time to talk and after all the athletes were done taking their photos, it was finally time to begin crafting Jordan’s story. I sat at my desk at 5 p.m. and put in a call to Karen Bell, Jordan’s mom. I asked if she had a few minutes to talk about the feature I was working on and she said yes. She already knew I would be calling. These stories are never easy to write and the interview process is tough, too. Asking what kind of person Kyle was and what he meant to not just his family but also his friends and complete strangers resulted in some teary answers from Karen. I thanked her for her time and said , “I know it must be difficult to talk about him .. ” but Karen interrupted by saying, “When I talk about him it makes me cry but I’m happy to talk about him because he was such a great person.” And that’s why I like writing these stories because they deserve to be told.
I struggled with the angle for a while. I wanted the feature to be a tribute to Kyle but I also wanted you to know how influential Kyle was in Jordan’s life, all the while describing Kyle’s tenderness not just to his family but also to complete strangers. Great quotes from Jordan and his mother really told the story. Everything was smooth sailing once I figured out Jordan and Karen (not me) told the story best.
I gathered my thoughts and began writing with momentum at about 7:40 p.m. I was done at 8:20.
My copy editors were gracious enough to give me the time and space I needed to tell the story.
The photo that ran with the story was courtesy of the Bell family. Initially, we were planning on running an action shot of Jordan, a photo taken by one of our staff photographers during the Millikan game. I was elated, however, when we were able to scan and image the hand-in photo brought during the interview by Jordan. The photo of Kyle hugging Jordan in his younger days added color to the feature and made for an even better tribute to a wonderful son, brother and friend.
Thanks for reading the debut of “Behind the Feature.”