NYBA 50th Anniversary Coverage: From Pencil To Print, How It Happens
With the “From Pencil To Print: How It Happens” series we aim to share the writing process and story behind some of The Newtown Bee’s articles. We will periodically feature stories on some of our top articles and how our reporters pulled everything together to bring our readers the news. Articles require fact checking, follow up e-mails and phone calls, taking notes and/or recording meetings, writing and rewriting to create a finished product. And then updating in time to meet the deadline for print! The hours of time put into creating a story are not always obvious in the polished final story readers receive — nor is the time spent chasing down leads and pursuing sources as a story unfolds. It is also not possible for readers to know the satisfaction that comes from sharing information; and that is the pinnacle of journalism.
The article “Senior Leagues Give High School Students Competitive Basketball-Playing Opportunities,” published April 3, 2020, was the last in a series of articles highlighting 50 years of the Newtown Youth Basketball Association (NYBA). The Newtown Bee previously published two features detailing the history of the program, one of which came about thanks to one of our dedicated readers, and a sidebar about the league’s presidents.
Although the final piece to this half-century celebration of the program was published following the conclusion of the season, the coverage started to come together more than a year ago, back in March of 2019 when NYBA Board Member/Travel Program Director Kathleen Mulligan sent an e-mail letting The Newtown Bee know the 50th anniversary season was coming up in 2019-20. Following an exchange of e-mails and feature ideas, I gathered names of sources through NYBA contacts and reached out to past and current coaches and league directors, in addition to looking through the winter months of five decades of Bee coverage to find old photos and information pertinent to the series.
Initially, I contacted Jack Shpunt due to the fact his days of coaching in the program date back to its first season. Shpunt visited The Newtown Bee in the fall and shared lots of details about the history of the program, along with some photos. A followup e-mail to Shpunt was necessary to confirm some of the information, such as spellings of names, from our in-person interview. I attended NYBA girls’ and boys’ games to also have some current-season action photos to accompany this coverage. I caught up with NYBA President Top Martinez at a Newtown High School boys’ basketball game and interviewed him on the side of the court before going back to taking photos for my high school coverage. Multi-tasking and seizing interview opportunities are essential. Staying organized, too, is important when it comes to coverage of sports; pages of notes on one game or event often contain quotes from a source for something unrelated just because the timing or scheduling works out that way.
I reached out to NYBA board member Kathy McCleary for comments on the program. And Mulligan provided details about the program’s involvement with FAITH Food Pantry and Unified Sports, as well as the NYBA’s Senior Citizen Appreciation Night. Mulligan also provided comments about the program for this kickoff to the 50-year history and was a tremendous source for contact information.
The first piece, “Newtown Youth Basketball Association Celebrates 50th Anniversary,” was published on February 7. It detailed the many changes within the program, as well as what has largely stayed the same, over the course of 50 years. The article informed readers that the league was started by St Rose Sports Guild before being taken over by Newtown Parks and Recreation. It highlighted names of players who went on to play professionally, requiring online research to verify spellings of names and other important information. Much of this information came from notes from the interview with Shpunt, as well as time looking through Bee editions dating back to that inaugural season.
On the day the first article went to print, I received an e-mail from lifelong Newtown resident Bart Smith. “Your article on youth basketball in Newtown was great. I also enjoyed the football series you did earlier. I played both sports in the early ’70s, so these are a great read for me,” Smith wrote. “I’m sure that there are many photos out there, that hopefully will be shared with you. Attached are a few of mine.”
This communication is a great example of how article ideas come to be. Often times, a reader is moved by an article and shares a bit of their own story or details about somebody or something else they feel is worthy of coverage. In this instance, I followed up with Smith for more comments and put together a feature “Celebrating 50: Bart Smith’s Look Back At The Youth Basketball Program’s Early Days” that was published on February 28. Smith had a photo of one of his childhood teams and full names for all but two of the players in the photo. I e-mailed Shpunt to see if he had the missing names, and he did.
The piece on Smith was accompanied by a sidebar highlighting past presidents of the program through information provided via e-mail by Mulligan and Mark Chernoff, who played in the league in 1970s, started coaching in 2005, joined the NYBA board in 2009, and served through 2017, and who currently volunteers during player evaluations and travel tryouts.
Coverage of the Senior Leagues was built off of information provided by former boys’ league director Cornelius Dunn in e-mail. I followed up with current boys’ league director Ted Hannan as well as girls’ league director Laura Terry for comments. It is important to reach out to multiple sources and, in this instance, also have representation from both the girls’ and boys’ league representatives.
The boys’ Senior League playoffs began at NYA Sports & Fitness the night of March 6, the same night as the South-West Conference boys’ swimming championships at Masuk High in Monroe. Being that I am a one-person sports department staff, I went to the beginning of the swim meet for an hour and a half (some of the most photogenic swim events take place early in the meet for one thing), then drove up to Newtown for the end of one semifinal game and beginning of the other in an effort to represent each of the semifinalist teams in photos in the paper or on our website. Identifying players in sports action photos requires attention to detail (noting what color shoes a player has if numbers are not visible in the photo is one way to help ensure accurate identification). Fans or scorekeepers also help with identification. I hurried back to Masuk for the last hour of the swim meet for more photos, interviews, and the final results.
Objectives of the articles in this series, not unlike any other article, are to be informative, interesting, and — of course — accurate. When it comes to features such as the series on NYBA, another challenge was providing information on a big time period that required several sources and a fair amount of research. Great sources, such as Shpunt — who was a part of NYBA for almost all of those 50 years — and all of the NYBA representatives, help make assignments enjoyable.