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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Starting a story over again ... on Chrstimas Day

Christmas Day, 1988. A Sunday. A rare holiday off from work at the Ocean County Observer.

Back in the day, there was no Christmas Day newspaper, so that meant I didn't have to work that Saturday like I normally did. However, to compensate for not working and producing a Sunday paper, management had us instead work on the Friday night before.

We had no Saturday paper at that time, so Fridays were free days for us. Well, we at least had something to cover at the Observer on that December 23, 1988. It was called the WOBM Christmas Classic at Ocean County College. And my game was Pinelands Regional against Toms River North. North was pretty decent. Pinelands was not so good. The final score was 77-23.

As a matter of fact, it was the first round of the event and the difference between the very good teams and the not-so-good teams was pretty radical in all the games that day. It prompted me to write the original lead of my story -- "The WOBM in the WOBM Christmas Classic took on new meaning last night ... We Only Book Mismatches."

Funny, I struck that lead out. Didn't think tournament director Kevin Williams would be all that hot with that lead or the story for that matter. But working that rare Friday and getting a newspaper out was quite a bit different. No work on Saturday, and that meant the last-minute shopping was not going to be interrupted. All was fine that day.

Well, all except one thing. I had put off doing the Ocean's Own feature for that week. I figured I'd get to it in the office Saturday night. Well for some reason, the procrastinator in me just didn't feel like going into work. Beside, the notes in our old One-System computers were pretty secure as long as the printer worked.

Cut to 6 a.m. Christmas Day. I got out of bed, got dressed on a cold morning and headed to the office, the 1977 Dodge Aspen getting me there to the Observer parking lot. From there, it was up the stairs and to the second floor. It was dark and quiet. Much to my liking, the only light was the sun starting to peak through the windows next to where the news reporters normally worked.

I turned on the one light at the sports desk. That was enough for me.

As I turned on my computer, I planned out how I wanted to get through the hour or two I was going to be there, then turn around, head back home and prepare for my Sunday ritual of "American Top 40" on WPLJ-FM, which started at 9 a.m. Sundays and was hosted by Shadoe Stevens, who had taken over the show from Casey Kasem that August. I knew the debuts I was going to hear that morning, starting with the Art of Noise and Tom Jones' version of "Kiss," which debuted at No. 40.

He had already been host of the show for four months and yet, Shadoe Stevens was already irritating my ears. But that's getting off on a tangent.

The computer was on and all I needed to do was look for my notes that read "oceansownnotes goodale." This Monday's story was on standout Jackson Memorial High School wrestler Scott Goodale, who I knew from playing Little League ball and knowing his parents Jim and Karen from their time at Holbrook Little League. Little League was my beat from 1984-99 at the Observer and yes, I pretty much knew just about everyone there.

So I go into whatever queue these old One-Systems had my notes. And I thought maybe I put my notes in a different spot. No notes. Nothing.

It's 7:15 a.m. I really don't want to be at work for more than another hour. I'm there for one purpose -- get this damned feature done! After all, this is the highlight locally of our Monday paper, the weekly feature on high school students at the 15 Ocean County high schools, the junior college (Ocean County College) and four-year university (all-girl Georgian Court) as well as the local everyday people who excelled in athletics.

By this time, I had taken a good amount of Ocean's Own features from Chris Christopher when Chris couldn't do them, and back in that day, it was an honor to do those stories.

And I really was looking forward to banging out this feature story on young Scott Goodale, a junior who was in the beginning of carving out his legacy as a state-caliber wrestler for coach Al Aires at JMHS, then going on to a fabulous college career.

But try writing the story without quotes. I was faced with that daunting task. Maybe I had printed the notes out from my interview with Scott and placed them somewhere in a folder that I normally work with. I tore open the folders I had. Nothing. I'd have recognized the notes on the sheets we used to print out that literally looked like print-out paper from some Stock Market report, the ones with the perforated lines and the holes on the side that you easily tore off.

Oh, those were the days.

Maybe I had misplaced them under some papers near the boss' work station. Nope. I had torn through all the folders and the work stations. Nothing. I had my notes from talking with coach Aires stored, but not from my interview with his wrestler.

It's 7:45 now and AT40 is starting at 9. So I had to bide the little time I had.

First, I grabbed whatever information I had on young Scott -- the factual stuff about his 1986-87 and '87-88 seasons and whatever he opened his 1988-89 season doing. And then I combed through other sports to get whatever he did there.

As I've always said, as long as the factual information is documented and found, half the battle is done. The only part of the job I had left was to re-interview him.

And I was very lucky to have Scott Goodale as my feature story for the week for I knew Jim and I knew Karen. It was just after 8 a.m. Kids are normally sleeping at this hour of the morning, especially on a Sunday ... strike that, Christmas Day Sunday!

I picked up the phone and called the Goodale household. I got Karen. I do believe if it were anyone else, I may have been slighly lectured on calling early. Once I explained what happened -- and sadly with the old One-System computers, that was occasionally -- Karen was understanding. It also didn't hurt that Scott was awake.

"Hi, Scott. It's Mark. How'd you like to do the interview again?" was what I said.

Once he understood what happened, then we went to work again. It was about 15 minutes and I got what I wanted out of him ... again. Those notes got printed up quickly and by 8:45 a.m., the final version was ready to be edited by Dave, my assistant boss, and placed on our sports front that night for Monday's edition.

Closed out the computer, the one light I had on and by the time I got into my car and headed back home, it was bright sunshine. Not a car on the road but mine at that hour and that made it easier to speed down Hooper Avenue at nearly 55 mph to get back, turn on the radio and hear the AT40 intro and that Art of Noise/Tom Jones debut of "Kiss" at No. 40. As a matter of fact, that was a big week for debuts -- Tone Loc's "Wild Thing" debuted at No. 37, Sheena Easton's "The Lover In Me" came in at No. 34 and the very first Top 40 hit for a dancer-turned-actor named Paula Abdul called "Straight Up" came in at No. 35.

I got home in time. I didn't have to see the office again until Monday.

Scott Goodale is now Rutgers University's head wrestling coach. It's been about two or thre years since I last saw Scott in the last 2000s. He has a family of his own and he's doing well.

I'm thankful to have had Scott Goodale as Ocean's Own that Chrstimas weekend.

Actually, I was thankful I had Karen and Jim Goodale as Scott's parents. Most parents would've frowned on that Christmas morning 8 a.m. phone call. But they were very supportive of all the sporting activities their kids did.

It also reminded me to never forget to properly save notes or print them out and keep them in a safe place so I don't have to go through that Christmas Day drama again.

On this Christmas day, I am thankful to remember all the parents who allowed me the time to make their children stars, no matter how big they were, and especially the parents who allowed me to talk to their kids at odd hours like 8 a.m.

I don't make it a habit now. Heck, I'm fast asleep at 8 a.m. normally. But every now and then, there's a late-night phone call to someone.

I'm glad you parents are understanding.

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