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HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS AND THE MEDIA : Coverage Gets Bigger, Imprint Turns Bolder : Overview: Prep reporters widening their scope to include girls' sports and off-the-field activities.

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS AND THE MEDIA: A SPECIAL SERIES. TODAY: The Progressing Press. As the Southland's major daily newspapers strive to provide readers with increased community coverage, reporting on high school sports has expanded. The additional emphasis has brought changes in the types of stories and the role of the reporter.

January 21, 1993|JASON H. REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As cameras rolled and reporters fired a volley of questions, Sylmar High football player Tyrone Pierce stared into the room with wide-eyed trepidation.

Although Pierce considers himself savvy, the situation overwhelmed the 17-year-old linebacker.

The setting was a news conference to kick off the inaugural CIF/Reebok Bowl matching City Section 4-A Division champion Sylmar against Southern Section Division I champion Bishop Amat.

Pierce, along with Coach Jeff Engilman and fellow captain Art Larrea, reveled in the attention. However, Pierce felt out of place. He was, after all, in high school.

"It was like nothing I had ever been at before," Pierce said. "It was like a big press conference for a college team going to a bowl.

"I haven't talked to too many reporters, so that was really different."

Said Engilman: "It is kind of strange to have the media so involved in (high school sports), but they are covering more things (this way). Times have sure changed."

As the Southland's major daily newspapers strive to provide readers with increased community coverage, reporting on high school sports has expanded. The increased emphasis has brought changes in the types of stories written and the role of the high school reporter.

John Reardon is among those who have witnessed the metamorphosis first-hand.

The Rio Mesa football coach, who began his career 30 years ago, marvels at the extent of media coverage and its impact.

"It's a neat thing. It's so much bigger than when I started out," he said. "There have been big improvements. We never used to have these long stories on the kids like we do now.

"It helps school spirit and the kids and parents love it. Everything is so complete. It's as good as the stuff you see on the college teams."

The so-called major boys' sports such as football and basketball are not the only ones to reap the rewards of such coverage. Longtime Simi Valley softball Coach Suzanne Manlet has seen major strides in newspapers' attitudes toward coverage of girls' sports. She attributes the advances to improved play, better overall coverage of high school sports and the realization by newspapers that there is an audience for girls' sports.

"I've been coaching for 15 years, and (the coverage) has only become better," Manlet said. "It used to be that people thought girls' sports were not worthy of publication, but I think a number of people will tell you differently now. More and more, (newspaper) reporters have come to the games.

"There is more exposure now, and that only helps to create more interest."

Alemany girls' basketball Coach Melissa Hearlihy, too, believes the media are doing a better job of recognizing girls' athletics. She said its impact is not lost on the athletes.

"It seems like it has become better, especially in the past couple of years," said Hearlihy, in her eighth season as the Indians' coach. "I used to have to reach a certain point in the playoffs before I ever saw a reporter at the games, but now reporters come to the games all the time.

"The best thing about it is when the kids open up the paper and see the stories and pictures. It makes them feel good, and that's important."

As with college and professional sports, newspapers are the leading medium in covering high schools. In fact, newspapers are vital to high school coverage because of the broadcast medium's relative lack of presence.

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Still, KCOP-TV (Channel 13) signed a five-year $395,000 contract to televise the CIF/Reebok Bowl. The lucrative agreement helped bring the game to fruition. Some radio stations broadcast high school sports, and others devote time slots exclusively to talk shows on the subject.

But with the exception of championship games, record-breaking performances and other infrequent stories, the job of informing the public about the who, what, when, where, why and how of high school sports in the Southland is left to newspapers.

The Southern Section media directory lists 44 daily newspapers covering the 482-member section. Six daily newspapers cover the 49-member L.A. City Section.

The manner in which reporters covering high schools gather and write information differs sharply from their brethren at other levels. Reporters covering college and pro sports typically do so under optimum working conditions.

They are assisted by college and team staff members who arrange interviews and provide writing areas, statistics and phones to file stories at the conclusion of games, all of which helps to meet deadlines. Even quotes by coaches and players are supplied.

High school reporters are not as fortunate.

Not all schools are equipped with facilities for the media, and reporters regularly are forced to write by light in cars, in bathrooms and in other on-campus rooms away from fields and gymnasiums, which cuts into already limited writing time.

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