More than a game
Story by Chris Graham
Sacco has left the building.
Never thought I’d write those words. I thought we had him for life.
Got him settled in Greenville, where the city boy from Chicago who used to take the subway to school could count the stars at night.
Got him hitched to a local girl. You know how hard that one was – getting a good one to answer his historically pathetic attempt at finding a soulmate in the personal ads?
Sacco, aka Jim Sacco, according to his byline, but we just called him Sacco, the staccato rhythm to the name suiting the short but intense bursts of energy that his columns provided to coverage of the local sports scene, is moving on from seven years at The News Virginian to greener pastures at The Herald-Courier in Bristol. There he’ll be reunited, sort of, with former NV editor Todd Foster and former NV staff writer Michael Owens.
He’ll get to cover some NASCAR and some college sports there. Can’t blame him for wanting a taste of the big time. ‘Course, you ask him, and he was already in the big time here in the Valley.
“Like the house ad we ran last year said, It’s their Super Bowl,” Sacco said of the routine in-depth coverage the NV has given to local high-school teams making runs at state championships in their sports.
“If it’s a state championship, to me that’s a Super Bowl, just less egos,” Sacco told me over beers at Stone Soup Books and Cafe in Downtown Waynesboro before his departure.
“That Buffalo Gap state-championship football team, Chris, if I ever cover NFL, if I ever cover Division I college football, I’ll still remember that experience,” Sacco said.
“After that football game, after everyone was crying, after everyone was hugging, the players came up and thanked us. Thank me? Thank you. You know? This is when it’s fun. This is when it all matters. You put all your resources into one team for three weeks. That’s when you feel like a major metro.”
Sacco brought the major metro feel to local sports in another way – asking the hard questions and demanding answers from local school administrators regarding the dismissals of beloved high-school coaches like former Fort Defiance wrestling coach Terry Waters and former R.E. Lee baseball coach Bobby Humphrey.
“I get people who say, You don’t know the whole story. That’s the point,” Sacco said, his Chicago manner coming through in the way he stood out of his chair to emphasize the point.
“That’s what I’m saying here, man. These are kids,” Sacco said. “I know the kids at Fort. They would have stood in front of a bullet for Terry Waters. I know what the other side of what they’re saying. They’re worried about lawsuits. To blazes with lawsuits. Tell me what happened. Tell these kids. If they’d told the kids, and the kids had said, Yeah, they told us, Mr. Sacco, and I’d rather not talk about it, but yeah, I think it’s a good idea they fired him, then, hey.
“You can’t tell kids what they told them. ‘Different direction.’ ‘Different direction’? Same thing with Dale Spitzer. Same thing with Bobby Humphrey at R.E. Lee. I’m talking to kids on his baseball team who want to know the story, and they’re afraid to talk to me because they’re afraid of politics. Seriously? They’re afraid of repercussions from the administration. Are you insane? That’s fair?”
I told Sacco that I credited him with bringing that approach to sports journalism to the Greater Augusta media market.
He shrugged me off on that point, muttered something to the effect that, Well, if that’s true, that’s pretty sad, to which I offered my agreement.
“Sports journalism is getting to the meat of the story. It’s having a columnist take a position. That’s what I grew up on. I’m just doing what you’re supposed to do,” he said.
Yeah, maybe so, I tell him, on my second Yuengling, but it wasn’t done that way before you got here.
Another big one that got away.