My pledge to you: Telling stories of the people who make Oklahoma sports great

My pledge to you: Telling stories of the people who make Oklahoma sports great

Joining Sellout Crowd opens lots of new doors. But whatever I do, whatever format it comes to you in, the heart will be the same — people.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Aug 31, 2023, 5:47pm CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Aug 31, 2023, 5:47pm CDT

Just last week, I found myself driving across a less-than-pristine high school football practice field, my presence there totally legit and my car kicking up dirt as it went.

A few minutes later, I was sitting in a coaches’ office no bigger than a couple closets. The desks and chairs were ancient. There were flies everywhere. It was not particularly cool on a hot summer afternoon. 

I loved it.

Chasing sports stories, sometimes in unexpected places, gives me a charge. I relish when I uncover a story no one has told, when I find a yarn that ties together an entire tapestry.

That is my passion because I know what it brings to you, the fans and the readers. It connects you more deeply with your team.

Yes, you love the name on the front of the jersey, but when you feel like you know a bit more about the names on the back, it stokes a more intense passion.

Such stories have been my bread and butter for nearly a quarter of a century in Oklahoma, and they will continue to be so as I move to Sellout Crowd.

Joining this new network of creators covering sports in Oklahoma opens lots of new doors. Video shows. Regular podcasts. Social video shorts. Who knows? We may end up doing things we haven’t even dreamed of yet.

But whatever I do, whatever format it comes to you in, the heart will be the same — people.

I decided I wanted to be a sports writer when I was in high school, but I knew it’s what I was called to do my first year in college. Within the first few weeks of being on campus at the University of Kansas, I joined the yearbook staff. Soon thereafter, a green but enthusiastic freshman who grew up on a farm found herself assigned a profile on Jayhawks basketball coach Roy Williams.

Everybody on campus knew Roy Williams, but I wanted to tell a story about what made him one of college basketball’s most successful coaches. Why was he driven. What was his why.

When I went to his office to interview him, we ended up talking all about his childhood. His parents’ separation. His mother raising him on her own. His high school basketball coach in Asheville, N.C., becoming a father figure.

He decided he wanted to be a coach because of his high school coach, and he worked hard to get where he was at Kansas because working hard is what he saw his mother do every single day.

Now, I’m absolutely positive that the story I wrote was nowhere as good as the interview, but that experience was so energizing that I knew sports writing was my calling.

That hasn’t changed, and it won’t change with Sellout Crowd.

This is my pledge to you: I will always strive to tell the stories of the people who make sports great in Oklahoma. Some of the characters, you’ll be very familiar with. Some, you’ll never have heard of at all.

But all of them will have a story worth reading.

Sure, there will be times when the X’s and O’s are the story. Yes, there will be instances when the numbers and the stats take precedence. But even in those times, it will always be my goal to find and tell the stories of the people behind those facts and figures.

The other day, someone brought up the OU-Kansas football game when Samaje Perine set the NCAA single-game rushing record. I covered that game, but last year, I learned an untold story about that day.

Kevin Kloesel is a meteorologist who is part of OU’s game-day operations team, and in 2014, weather data before the Kansas game told him thunderstorms were likely during the first half. Play would likely be suspended.

Kloesel suggested kickoff be pushed back, something unconventional at the time. But OU officials and TV executives agreed with his suggestion.

Sure enough, big storms rolled through Norman late morning. They would’ve meant a long in-game delay, but as it was, the game was played without delay. And early in the second half, Perine set the record.

“Had we played a half and then gone into a lightning delay with a 35-7 lead at halftime, Samaje doesn’t play in the second half,” Kloesel told me.

But …

“He got to play all the way through, and he ended up with a bazillion yards.”

Actually, 427 yards, but the point stands.

I love that sort of story. Something unexpected. Something beyond the headlines. 

That’s what I am always going to strive to give you.

By the way, that dusty drive across a high school football practice field? It led me to a great story about an unexpected person in an out-of-the-way place. I’m so excited to share it in the coming days. 

Here’s to lots more adventures like it.

I can’t wait to take you along.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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