Since graduating from the University of Dayton, Nate Waggenspack and Will Hanlon have learned the world of sports writing isn’t as glamorous as some make it out to be.
The two former Flyer News sports editors are still in the newspaper industry, though their paths have been quite different from what either expected.
For Waggenspack, a 2011 alumnus, that path led to Craig, Colo., a city with a population of less than 10,000. As a sports reporter for the Craig Daily Press, Waggenspack never covers the college or professional games in the area, as there are none.
“It is almost exclusively high school and community-type sports,” Waggenspack said. “At least 65 percent, I’d say, is [dedicated] to Moffat County High School … the only high school we have here in our area.”
Roughly 1,800 miles east of Craig, in York, Pa., Hanlon usually is putting together pages for the next morning’s edition of the York Daily Record.
While he isn’t writing sports, his job as sports designer for the paper is still something he finds enjoyable.
“I don’t think I necessarily like this better or worse, but I’ve learned that the real world isn’t college,” he said. “A few years ago, I would have loved to cover [major sports] as a writer. Now, I’m not sure.”
Both Hanlon and Waggenspack think of their experiences at Flyer News as time well spent. According to Hanlon, making the transition from the paper’s sports desk to the role of editor-in-chief his senior year was tough, but it allowed him to hone some important skills.
“Dealing with young writers was tough for me … some would miss deadlines, others would turn in poor-quality writing,” Hanlon, a 2009 graduate, said. “I know I wasn’t a strong writer early, so that helped me keep things in perspective. Now, I’m glad I was able to help them grow as journalists.”
One of those young writers Hanlon helped mold was Waggenspack, a sophomore at the time.
“Will was always helping me improve my writing, and provided a lot of constructive criticism,” Waggenspack said.
While the two never really got to know each other outside of work, both agreed that seeing a familiar face to both of them was always nice.
When former Flyer News adviser Larry Lain retired at the end of the 2011-2012 school year, Hanlon and Waggenspack were among the dozen former staff members at his retirement party. Both credit Lain with helping them get to where they are now.
“I actually got the job here because one of [Lain’s] former editors-in-chief contacted him looking for recent graduates,” Waggenspack said. “When I was at UD, Dr. Lain was always there to answer my questions.”
“I got to know Lain very well senior year,” Hanlon said. “It wasn’t just going over the state of the paper, either. He helped me grow as a person, rather than just as an editor-in-chief.”
According to Hanlon, the sports desk at Flyer News during his tenure was a lot different from those found at local and national papers. But, he explained that was essentially the goal.
“We wanted to compete with the Dayton Daily News for readers,” he said. “Since we couldn’t put up breaking news or game stories right away like they did, we wanted to provide people with stories they couldn’t really find anywhere else.”
The answer, Hanlon said, was publishing strong, one-of-a-kind features in the section. Hanlon recalls one of his most memorable stories being a piece on former basketball player Charles Little during his senior year.
“I arrived at UD Arena a few hours early,” he said. “It was Little’s last home game as a Flyer and I observed him and talked to him before hand. After the game, I had the chance to talk to his mother about everything.
“She really put the story in perspective. She was more excited about him graduating than she was about the game.”
Since then, Hanlon’s job description has changed but so have the challenges.
He said working at a paper, like Flyer News, which prints no more than twice in one week, was a challenge in itself. Making sure everything in the upcoming issue was as timely as possible was difficult. Deadlines were hard to manage, but he said at the Daily Record, there’s no luxury of a few days to pull things together.
“Those late nights that were just once or twice a week at UD are every day for me here,” Hanlon said. “The copy desk is obviously busy at night. Everybody needs to be on top of things, or else things don’t get done.”
Like Hanlon, Waggenspack said he encounters a variety of challenges. As a writer covering unconventional age groups, he often faces the different dilemma of inexperienced interview subjects.
“Most of the younger kids I talk to for my articles don’t have as much media exposure as people in Dayton,” he said. “I always try to get the Moffat coach and the opposing coach; usually they are more detailed than the middle school athletes are and add some additional context.”
Stress aside, both noted they have been involved in covering important stories for their respective papers.
For Waggenspack, a two-part feature on a local track star was one of his most memorable pieces. He said the story detailed the high and low points of the runner since the end of his senior season and touched on the personal struggles he faced.
“I was happy that it didn’t turn out to just be a ‘fluff’ piece,” Waggenspack said. “I got some very honest interviews and it ended up being about … how he knows and his coach knows that he has a long way to go. I thought that story turned out really great. It was one I’m proud of.”
Hanlon, who has worked for the York Daily Record for three and a half years, copy edited stories covering the Jerry Sandusky trial and said it was one of the most extraordinary things he’s experienced there.
“There’s no big paper up in State College, so when the Sandusky scandal hit, a lot of our writers were going up there,” Hanlon said. “Because of the town’s [isolation], it was almost anyone’s game.”
For both, those kinds of stories are what make the challenge of working in sports news worthwhile. Even if they aren’t sure where they will end up, Hanlon and Waggenspack are both enjoying the moment. Not to mention, the fact that they’re still working in the field of journalism.
“I’ve always thought I’d someday like to move on … but I’ve been saying that for nearly four years now,” Hanlon said. “I’m still here.”
“There’s not a whole lot beyond my job here, but I’m really happy,” Waggenspack said. “I’m doing what I want to do, and that’s write sports. Other than that, I don’t really have any goals in mind.”