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Old 02-28-2008
Timesfreelanceguy Timesfreelanceguy is offline
Wrestling Media
 
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Greetings from the west coast...

of Illinois.

My name is Shannon Heaton. Until very recently, I was known here as "Dispatchguy." Well, we writer types are kind of fond of accuracy -- some of the time, and only when it suits our purposes. So the name change.

How 'bout a little backstory.

backstory

More seriously, I grew up wanting to play basketball. I was kind of tall all along the way, though never the tallest. One of the best days of my life was in sixth grade, getting the call from my dad (who also was my Biddy Basketball head coach, which might explain why I got to be the starting point guard) telling me that a 6-1 kid from another school was going to play for our team. No, it's not true that my dad works for Montini now.

I kept playing, though the further I got away from my dad's coaching, the less I played. Apparently, basketball teams don't want junior-high kids to launch 25-footers (in a pre-three-point era; hey, I did make many, at least when I was in the left corner of the floor) and commit fouls, instead of moving the basketball and moving one's feet.

First exposure to wrestling was in my freshman year. I went to Pleasant Valley (Iowa) HS, with Royce Duncan (then as now the wrestling coach) as my gym teacher. We had a wrestling unit, and -- then as now -- wrestlers and basketball players were fond of one another. So Duncan, who knew I played hoops, set me up with someone my relative weight -- the varsity 155-pounder, also a freshman. I walked out to the mat, put my hands up in a quasi-wrestlingy looking sort of stance, and then -- in a whirling vortex of light, sound and, yes, emotion -- I found myself counting the lights on the ceiling of the wrestling room and heard Duncan's hand slapping the mat about a millimeter from my left ear.

Hated wrestling from then on. Or so I thought. Didn't watch or think about it again until my freshman year of college. At Iowa, as everyone here knows, it's hard to avoid wrestling, particularly when the Hawks were in the middle of a title streak. Plus I could drink beer and watch. So a buddy of mine and I would go.

A couple of years later, I occasionally covered the wrestlers for the Daily Iowan college paper. It was fun going on road trips, at least, and I got to see a lot of the other Big Ten schools along the way.

I graduated in 88 and found myself out of work. I landed a job covering sports part-time for the daily newspaper in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I needed -- in this order -- beer money, CD money, book money and occasionally car payment and insurance money, so when my sports editor looked at me and said that because I was from Iowa, I had to know about wrestling and that I had the beat, I of course said no way.

Beer money being beer money, I took the gig thinking I could at least tolerate it. When I left the paper in 1992 to pursue graduate school, it was because I'd fallen in love with wrestling that made me almost not take the plunge to go back to school.

Fast forward eight years. Marriage. Three kids. Move from Ohio to Illinois Quad-Cities. Clinton to Bush. Lots of great wrestlers in Illinois that are mostly just legends to me.

Through a mutual friend, I begin freelancing for the Quad City Times. I get to cover wrestling on the Illinois side of the river, mostly, and for the first time in nine years (92 to 01). I make my first trip to state. I get to see Kucala throw the mills on Tannenbaum. I get my first encounter with some guy named Friedl, who would join my pantheon of favorite interviews a few years later, when Illinois won the Big Ten title in Iowa City. And learned how tough it can be to interview kids who don't want to be interviewed, such as Lambros Fotos, who was beaten in OT in the quarters by Stevenson's Adam Ulrich.

I take a job with the Geneseo Republic weekly paper in May of that year. I stay until September of 2002, when the Moline Dispatch hires me. I take over wrestling (volleyball, cross country and track, too). Get nominated for a couple of IWCOA awards, which is nice. But I write for the fans and the kids, not for awards.

Not only do I grow to love the sport, I start thinking about my career and how I can get it into my life 24-7. I see Tyler Clark win his one Illinois title and Clayton Rush win both of his. I see Kevin Amy and Branden Nimrick win titles at Rockridge. I see AJ Lavender and Fotos win titles and go on to, sadly, short-lived Division I careers, though both are doing exceedingly well now.

I get sidetracked. I tend to do that sometimes. I leave the wrestling scene I dearly love and pursue an opportunity. It was a good opportunity, in a huge wrestling area, but the opportunity and I didn't fit together very well, given the circumstances of the time. I return to Illinois, convinced I needed instead to move on from journalism. But it pulled me back in, not in the direction I thought (and initially hoped) it might, but kind of back to where I started somewhat.

I am back to freelancing for the Times. I get back into wrestling. I am doing coverage on both sides of the river. I am content with how my first year of coverage went, but I plan to do much more in 2008-09. I see Reese Taylor and Tony Bahrs win state titles in Illinois, and saw Davenport Assumption finish fourth in the Iowa Class 2A duals.

Now, I want to make sure I am available to satisfy my jones for wrestling in the "off-season." I went to Sterling Newman last Sunday for frosh-soph regionals, and plan to go to Sterling for sectionals. Don't know if Springfield is in my future, due to family needs, but maybe. I want to make sure I attend as many good wrestling events as possible. What should I hit this spring and summer? Let me know.

I don't know how many questions I can answer about how newspaper people approach wrestling coverage, but I do have 12 seasons' worth of experience, so maybe I can help. Having this blog will make me need to know even more about your area of the state, particularly once the season begins.

Thanks for putting up with me -- in my prior identity -- over the past few years, and I look forward to a long future.
Cheers!
Shannon
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  #2  
Old 02-28-2008
EPwickedmom EPwickedmom is offline
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Location: Sterling, IL
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Shannon ... I so enjoy everything you write! You have not only a way with words, but a magical way of putting them together so dramatically! So once again I say ... BRAVO and THANK YOU!!! You are a massive asset to the sport!
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  #3  
Old 02-28-2008
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agdfan agdfan is offline
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I always enjoy reading your articles. We were honored that we had you covering both Clayton's titles. Sure you can't make it to Cedar Rapids??? I still have a sweatshirt for you!!!!
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Old 02-29-2008
FoxesFan FoxesFan is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 3,155
What a Pro

Shannon:

You were one of the first recognizable reporters going back to Grant's Jr. high days. You have always been a pro. I appreciate the personal touch you put into your work. I wish that I could see more of your 'next day' reporting, but really appreciate when you let us know when something is posted online.

I believe that you have also developed a solid reputation as a credible source, knowlegdable on all Illinois wrestling. On that score, you are seperating yourself from the pack and moving into 'elite' status.

One of 'those bright moments' this year was returning from Geneseo and reading your posts from the tournament. When you noticed Dwight and wrote 'I'll bet FoxesFan is happy' it was just great. I thought -- how does this guy know to put us together? But that's just you. You make it a point to know the backstory.

We are not done yet, Shannon, one more Wyeth -- Adam, a little guy. If the Lord is Willing, he'll be 103 for the Foxes next year. See you at UT the night before Thanksgiving.

You are a special guy.

John Wyeth
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  #5  
Old 03-01-2008
Timesfreelanceguy Timesfreelanceguy is offline
Wrestling Media
 
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some additions and clarifications...

I also see Riverdale's Jonathan Gosa win a title, same year as Clark and Nimrick.

And Coach Duncan and I get along very well now. Wrestling caused the rift, and wrestling healed it, at least in my mind.

Shannon
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