Sports Column | Les Winkeler: Cardinal rule of sports writing: avoid lists

As someone who struggles with authority issues, even I understand that rules are important.

And last week, I broke one of my basic sports writing rules — avoid lists at all costs.

Granted, circumstances called for a list.

Scrolling through my Twitter account, I learned that Marion’s Dylon Nalley had just won the Class 2A Cross Country State Championship. “Someone from southern Illinois who won the state title?” I thought to myself. “It doesn’t happen often.”

The thought should have stopped there. But no, that didn’t happen. “I wonder how many cross-country champions have come out of schools south of Interstate 64?” I thought.

My gut feeling was right. There are very few. In fact, the number was so small that it seemed like a perfect opportunity to break my own personal rule and make a list.

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When I searched the Illinois High School Association’s website, I learned that Metropolis’ Gary Bremer had won the state title in 1979, before there was even a Massac County high school. Brent McLain from Benton won in 1982 and Charlie Hatch from Nashville took the Class A title in 2004.

Yes, my instincts and memory were right, Nalley was in exclusive company. The number of state champions was so small that a list seemed a perfect way to illustrate the point.

I changed my mind Thursday night when I was contacted by the Southern Illinoisan editors. “Is there a reason you left out Benton’s Gavin Genisio?” they asked.

Actually, there was a good reason. I had not seen this information before. Genisio won the class 1A race, Nalley the 2A race. It was the first time two Southern Illinois had won state titles in the same year.

The copy shop said they would clean up my mistake. And I breathed a sigh of relief… until I checked my email on Monday morning.

A relative of Alex Partlow sent me a message reminding me that the Carbondale High School runner had won the Class 2A title in 2021.

To be perfectly clear, the message was kind and polite, actually quite flattering, and it was merely pointing out the oversight. Partlow was a senior last year and is now a member of the University of Illinois Cross Country Team.

Apparently my memory was flawed and I just missed Partlow’s name when I searched the Illinois High School Association’s list of past state champions.

Which brings us to the only logical conclusion – no matter what you intend to do, don’t keep lists. Someone is inevitably left out.

But you know, that got me thinking.

It wasn’t right of me to only mention the state champions on the boy’s page of the ledger. I began to wonder how many girls had won the state championship.

So I found myself once again on www.ihsa.org looking for past girls’ state champions from the Deep South.

There I discovered that there were only two individual state champions from the Deep South – Becky Garrett of Sparta in 1990 and Margo Richardson of Mount Vernon in 2008.

For the record, I slowly scanned the list three times. I’ll be keeping a close eye on my email this week though, because lists are always dangerous.

LES WINKELER is the former sports editor of The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at [email protected], on Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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