A sports columnist’s mailbag: One last time


Sam asks: Hey Sam, you beautiful man, graduation is coming up soon. Any final thoughts on your reign as the best columnist at The Daily Illini?

When I transferred to the University of Illinois after my freshman year, I didn’t know where I was going to fit in. 

I loved to write, and had some broadcast experience, so I had an area of interest but no direction. I originally applied to host a radio show on WPGU, the University’s alternative student radio station. 

I remember feeling very confident during the interview, and I was sure I would get a spot. I remember interviewing with someone, maybe a music director, but I’m not totally sure. He was basically testing my alternative music knowledge. I love music, but I have never been big into the alternative genre. 

I remember the guy asked me questions like, “How many Nirvana songs can you name?” and, “Talk to me about Radiohead.”

This was where I struggled. I just wanted a talk radio show. I didn’t mind playing music as well, but in this case, my lack of alternative music knowledge may have done me in.

I got an email a couple days later from the woman who gave me my first interview and it was a mass email addressed to all the people who didn’t make the cut. Among the reasons she gave for me not getting hired was, “I was looking for those with more of an edge.”

OK, whatever, that was three years ago, and this story has a happy ending.

I was pretty down at that point. I was a broadcast journalism major, and I couldn’t even get a job at the student radio station.

I went to see Lynn Holley at the College of Media to get some advice. She told me to apply for a sports reporting job at The Daily Illini. I went to one of The Daily Illini info nights, filled out an application and waited.

I waited for about two weeks before getting impatient and going back to Lynn. I assumed I didn’t get the job, so I needed to know what my next move would be.

She was shocked that I hadn’t heard back, so she immediately called Max Tane, who was the on-air sports editor at that time. She told him to reach out to me, and she essentially got my foot in the door.

Max contacted me, and we scheduled an interview time. I remember waiting in the Illini Media building; I was very nervous to speak with Max. When he arrived, we spoke for probably 30 minutes before he said,  “How does on-air softball reporter sound?”

I was thrilled!

I honestly didn’t care at all what sport he put me on, I was just happy to start at The DI. I was a reporter, a sports reporter.

I didn’t really get to know anyone very well early on. I kind of assumed I wouldn’t become friends with anyone, for no other reason than my relatively quiet personality at that time. I was at a new school and involved with a new organization.

Everyone at the DI seemed like they knew each other really well, and I never thought I would be a part of that group.

My first year was great, but I didn’t socialize much with my coworkers. I was honing my craft, and getting better with every story, but socially, things could have been better. When I began covering hockey junior year, I started to get more comfortable at the DI. I started making friends, and everything seemed to be falling into place.

By the second semester of my junior year, I felt like I was a part of the team. I was now inside of the group that I felt outside of the year before.

Senior year, I covered two of the major sports at Illinois: football and men’s basketball. Neither team was very good, but the experience was incredible. 

For football, I got to travel to Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin to cover road games. For basketball, I got the incredible opportunity to cover the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago.

Throughout the early stages of my journalism career, I loved the work I was doing, but felt like I could be doing more. I had creativity inside of me that couldn’t really be fulfilled with general sports reporting, so I started writing sports columns along with my on-air stories.

Those columns filled my creative void.

For one of my columns I tried out a mailbag, where people sent me questions, and I answered a few of them for the column. I did this a couple times before approaching my editor and asking him if I could make the mailbag a permanent thing. He was open to the idea, so I tried it out.

If you spoke to my editors, you would know that throughout my time at The DI, I have given them a decent amount of trouble.

Editor’s note: Sometimes Sam was a bit too creative for his own good. 

I always tried pushing the limit with my writing, and sometimes I pushed that limit too far. Believe me, there are a few people at The DI whose lives would have been a little easier if I wasn’t a knucklehead sometimes.

But I am who I am.

That being said, I knew I needed to change a few things, and I made those changes. I still gave my editors fits about what they wanted to take out of my columns, but I just couldn’t help it.

“A Sports Columnist’s Mailbag” was the most fun I had at The DI in my three years at Illinois.

It gave me a creative outlet to try to be funny, insightful and hopefully entertaining. I found my voice through writing the mailbag.

My editors gave me way more freedom than I probably should have had, and for that I will always be grateful. I took advantage of this freedom at times, but in the end I have no regrets and think we created something fun.

When I say we, I am of course including all of you who sent me questions every week. Seriously, you guys are amazing, and you made writing the mailbag even more special.

I made amazing friends and memories both in and out of the newsroom during my time at The DI.

Thank you to The DI, my readers, my girlfriend Sophia and my mom and dad, who helped me craft the mailbag to what it is today.

Sam is a senior in Media

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