Print wrestling coverage sidelined
Terril is a town of 364 residents and it seemed like most of them were looking on from across the street as four fire departments tried to get a blaze under control the night of Oct. 12, 2015.
Tim and Michelle Roth spent 15 years at 306 State Street. They moved there when their oldest sons, Kolton and Reese were only 1 year old.
Michelle still looked stunned when she talked about the improvements her family made to their multi-level house over the years. A lower level had been gutted as part of a renovation project. Work was underway upstairs, she told us as flames still flashed where a roof should have been.
“But it’s the memories,” she told us. “Kolton won districts at wrestling for high school last year and I can’t get that back. It’s the pictures. Who cares about the house.”
His editor didn’t know it at the time, but Matt Heinrichs quietly began going through his old galleries at The Dickinson County News. Our sports editor loaded pictures onto a flash drive. He began pulling past issues of the paper out of the archives. He couldn’t get back everything the Roth family lost, but he could give them something.
Kolton got a few lost clips and photos back.
The high school junior has created a few more clips along the way — Matt just ran a photo of the No. 3 ranked wrestler when he picked up his 100th win. There’s a good chance we’ll see Kolton at the 2017 state wrestling tournament and there’s a 100 percent chance we’ll see Matt down in Des Moines if he does.
That brings us to the Iowa High School Athletic Association, a disappointing broadcast rights agreement and a decision to modify press coverage for hands down the most intense sporting event in the state.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association couldn’t manage — or even afford to manage — its portfolio of sports without lining up a broadcast partner for football, basketball, wrestling and other events. That’s why it established a relationship with the Iowa High School Sports Network.
The IHSSN isn’t a charity. No one would take on such a huge undertaking and agree to lose money on the endeavor. They own the exclusive rights to video and sound if the Spirit Lake basketball team reaches Wells Fargo Arena, if the Harris-Lake Park football team returns to Cedar Falls or if kids like Kolton reach the state wrestling tournament.
To protect its investment, the IHSSN appears to have influenced a few changes as part of its agreement with the Iowa High School Athletic Association.
n Still photographers are going to be moved from the edge of a wrestling mat to a spot behind a barrier a few feet back.
n Print reporters used to cover the state wrestling meet from a media table in the arena. The IHSSN’s new plan relocates them to a sequestered area with TVs, tables and a PA system.
That creates more room for exclusive video and television production, but if Matt doesn’t hear a public address announcement in the media room or if an excited coach jumps in front of him during a near fall, one of our company’s three hometown newspapers is going to suffer.
n And, who does Matt have to go through to get his state tournament credentials now? The Iowa High School Sports Network.
Matt will have a press pass to be in the arena but they expect most of his reporting from in front of a IHSSN signal in a media room — it’s a signal that’s hard to find in a vast majority of the state, by the way. That aspect of the athletic association’s IHSSN agreement might be the most disappointing.
The IHSSN consultants handed the television rights for high school championship events to CSN Chicago. The Comcast network isn’t an option anywhere in northwest Iowa. It doesn’t sound like it’s even an option in Des Moines.
As football fans who had to stay behind in Lake Park this fall already know: “You must be a cable, DirectTV or Dish Satellite subscriber with the CSN package” to even stream the event over your computer.
Put another way, the Iowa High School Sports Network has an agreement with a broadcaster that doesn’t reach a large part of the state. It controls the credentials for the very print reporters who could at least bring the story back to blacked-out regions of the state. And, it’s rearranging the furniture at Wells Fargo Arena in a way that makes it harder for people like Matt to cover great kids like Kolton.
The IHSSN is invested in the event. To them, it’s business.
The state’s sports writers are invested in the kids. To them, it’s personal. They shouldn’t have to move one inch from the arena floor.
Not one inch.
Russ Mitchell is the managing editor of Dickinson County News.