On Memorial Day 2000, I was assigned to cover the District 10 championship game between Iroquois and Linesville. Iroquois, a perennial powerhouse then, were favored to win.
Sports editor Bob Heist was covering the game and basically told me Linesville will lose and to just get a vertical action shot for the sports front.
Since I had other assignments that day that sorta took the pressure off, except I don't really work that way. Every assignment is a story and requires my best effort.
I don't remember what my other assignments were, but they put me out in the western part of the county. Probably a Memorial Day event at a cemetery. It must've run later than I hoped because I was pretty stressed out that I was missing the game back in Meadville.
Let me preface this next part by saying, at the time, I used this stuff called film and could not know instantly if I got the shot or not. I was a confident, but I liked having plenty of time to make good photos.
Feeling nervous about the time, I pressed the pedal a little heavier toward the medal heading up Gable Hill. The rumor, as told to me by the state trooper a few moments later, was I was doing in the neighborhood of 80 miles per hour.
I wasn't in my usual beat up clunker, I was in smoother-riding larger car. I haven't disputed the rumor.
By the time I realized I was being trailed by the law, I was near the I-79 overpass. I pulled over and just watched the hands on my watch spinning away.
I was clocked by an unmarked car driven by a lieutenant. After he wasn't getting my attention with his blinking lights, he must've called for backup. The cruiser with lights and siren I most certainly noticed.
When the determined looking trooper approached by vehicle, I explained myself including where I was headed. Spying my camera gear on the seat the trooper asked if I worked for the paper.
He took my paperwork to his superior in the unmarked car before returning shortly to tell me I was getting a warning.
I recall him saying “the lieutenant said his (niece or grand-daughter) is playing so get there. Just slow it down and be safe." He may have even dropped the players name and number.
So, on I went… probably a few miles per hour under the speed limit..
The field was horrible for photographers. Only one decent spot between backstop and dugout. Seems everyone and their brother knew that was the only decent spot.
A couple TV crews, the Erie-Times guy, about 27 moms with cameras and tall Dave from the Linesville weekly were already there.
Instead of trying to fight my way in and get in someone else's way I tried other spots. At one point I walk way out past first base. This was a terrible spot, but Linesville had a runner on first. Knowing this was a Rick Chesko team and they needed to make something happen, I knew this girl was running on the next pitch. She did. I got a play at second where the ball wasn't handled. At least I felt I did, remember…film.
The bright orange shirted Lady Lions then plated four runners to take the lead.
I got next to nothing that showed this from my spot out in right field.
As Iroquois went to bat I knew I needed to get somewhere else to get the end of the game. At this point i thought there were 27 moms and tall Dave all with better pictures than me.
"They were supposed to lose," I remember thinking.
The pitcher was one of the Blood girls who were known for being cool under pressure and fierce. I remember she snarled when she pitched.
I decided I really need to assert myself and work my way into the good spot. By now the ranks had grown, there must've been 35 moms with cameras now, all very excited to be where they were.
I walked around to the other side and found a spot among the Iroquois bench. It wasn't a good spot and I knew it, I was frustrated I just wasn't going to get a good photo of the celebration or even the dejection if they didn't win. But it was what it was.
Then, the third out came and the orange shirts erupted. They swarmed the now smiling pitcher, her snarl softened.The 35 moms with cameras erupted, the bench erupted, I think even tall Dave erupted.
I started snapping what I figured were mediocre shots. I did see the Iroquois final batter being consoled by the first base coach and thought, OK, that tells a story when paired with the celebration. I did notice, at one point, a player land from out of nowhere while shooting.
There is an old saying in photography "if you saw it, you missed it." Remember that as you keep reading.
After things calmed down I made some more obligatory frames of celebration and trophy presentations. Now there seemed to be 50 moms with cameras, tall Dave was there, the Erie-Times guy was looking like he knew way more than I did about being a photographer and the TV crews, all on the field trying to make pictures of this happy team.
I resigned myself to the fact that I probably had what I need, but nothing special.
Back at the paper, about an hour later, after processing my film I was looking at the negatives. The play at second looked pretty cool and would work for that vertical picture.
But then, a few frames later, I stopped dead.
Remember "if you see it, you missed it?" Well in this frame there was a player in mid-air, there was a glove in mid-air, there was a frozen moment in time. It had everything, a unique moment, a celebration, the agony of defeat, it was sharp….. but, it wasn't vertical.
I hurried to get a print out to take to the editor to discuss. He was busy writing the story and said he really needed a vertical. I said something snotty about it being only about 6 o'clock and our deadline is 11:30. He passed me off to the assistant sports editor Dom Dirienzo who was laying out that night.
What Dom did next is why he will continue to be a hero of mine for life. He said "wow, yeah I can change the layout."
It ran as a big 4 column photo the next day.
To this day it could very well be the best image I've ever made. And I thought I wasn't going to get a good photo at all.