SPORTS WRITING STRUCTURE
Writing about a game or a sporting event is essentially the same as writing a straight news story. Like straight news, sports stories are written in the inverted pyramid style (discussed in the previous chapter). The main difference between sports and news writing is in the lead. A sports lead usually emphasizes the who and how of an event, while a straight news lead usually emphasizes the who and what.
Like a news story, the lead is normally a onesentence summary of the essential Ws and H, the bridge links the lead to the body, and the body is written to present facts in descending order of importance. We will now examine the lead, bridge and body of sports stories in more detail.
Sports leads normally use the who and how as the lead emphasis. Leads should include the who, what, when, where and how. The who may be the teams involved or the names of key players. The what will normally be the name of the sport, league or tournament. The when should be the date or day of the event, and the where should be the location of the event. The how is usually a brief description of how the game or contest was won and the score.
SUMMARY LEAD. - In a summary lead, the who and how will be the lead emphasis. The final score should be in the lead and not repeated elsewhere in the story. Many beginning writers, in an attempt to summarize the game, repeat the score in the body. This is wrong. If the reader forgets the score, he can easily refer to the lead.
Consider the following example:
Alvin Gecko's second-half scoring binge led the Pensacola Goshawks to a come-from-behind 94-93 victory over the Saufley Mole Chickens in Wednesday night's basketball opener at Tallship Field House.
In this example, the lead emphasis is Alvin Gecko (who) and his scoring binge (how). This is a classic who and how summary lead, highlighting the key player and how the game was won. This is the tried-and-true sports lead, and the type all sportswriters should master.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION LEAD. - The background information lead is another type of lead you should know about. It is a lead many sportswriters now use, especially when writing about games that have been broadcast over radio or television. Since readers are likely to know in advance the final score, who won and how the game was won, many sportswriters write leads that emphasize background information or locker room quotes to attract the reader.
The following is an example:
If Myra Naviete's sprained ankle slowed her down Saturday night, you couldn't prove it to the Naval Station Miami Pirates.
The speedy forward, who was sidelined three games because of an injury, scored 23 points to lead the Naval Security Group Hialeah Seminoles to a 56-37 victory over the Pirates in women's basketball action at Milander Gym.
That's the word coach Thomas Katt used to. describe his Century Dolphins' 88-79 basketball victory over Rainbow Central here Friday night.
(Bridge) "We stunk up the gym," Katt said. "I hate to say it," he added, "but the better team lost tonight."
Note that these leads emphasize background information and are not one-sentence summary leads. They still include the essential Ws and H, however. Some newer journalism textbooks advise sportswriters to write this type of lead and to stay away from the simple summary lead You may wish to follow this advice as you develop your sportswriting skills, but first you should master the bread-and-butter summary lead.
Bridges in sports stories serve the same purpose as news story bridges, primarily to link the lead to the body. Like news story bridges, they are often categorized by the purposes they serve, easily remembered with the acronym WAITS: W - Ws or H not answered in the lead are answered in the bridge.
A - Attributes information found in the lead.
I - Identifies persons or groups impersonally identified in the lead.
T - Ties the story back to a previous story. S - Secondary facts are brought out in the bridge.
Very often, sports bridges are used to bring out secondary facts that explain the significance of the game. The bridge might, for example, explain that a loss drops the team into the losers' bracket in a tournament, that a victory ties the team for the league lead, that a loss marks the fourth in a row for the team, or any other important consequence.
Consider the example that follows:
The shutout is the first suffered by the Fightin' Giant Lampreys since losing 24-0 to the USS Greystone in the second game of the 1992 season - 39 games ago.
The victory extends USS Saufley's winning streak to eight and extends its lead to four games over the second-place Naval Hospital in the Blue and Gold Division.
Many beginning sportswriters incorrectly write the bodies of their sports stories chronologically. However, if the key play took place in the fifth inning or the third quarter, that is where the body should begin. Usually, the key play will be one that breaks a tie or gives the winning team the go-ahead margin. In baseball, it might be a four-run inning; in football, it might be a 60-yard touchdown pass; and, in basketball, it might be two clutch free throws in the final seconds.
Sometimes, the key will be a defensive play. It might be a blocked punt or a diving catch in the outfield that prevents three runs from scoring. Sometimes, no single play will stand out. Then it is up to the writer to choose what to highlight. Analyzing statistics and interviewing coaches or players after the game can help you isolate turning points in the game.
If a key play happens to be an error, do not be afraid to write about it. Athletes put themselves in the public eye whenever they take the field, opening themselves to praise and criticism. If, however, you are writing about youth activities or Little League game, it is appropriate to avoid mentioning the name of the player who committed the error. In such cases, attribute the error to the team or position.
It is not necessary to write about every inning, period or quarter of a contest. If nothing of consequence happened during a period or over several innings, you do not have to explain that nothing happened. Rather, you may briefly explain with an introductory phrase like, "After two scoreless innings . .." or "Neither team could move the ball until ..." Do not bog your story down with detailed accounts of each batter or each ball possession; focus on the key plays.