A Trip to the Tournament: My Favorite Day as a Daily Sports Writer

Thursday, July 2, 2020 - 9:41pm

Daily Sports Writer Teddy Gutkin had a dream come true traveling to cover the NCAA Tournament.

Daily Sports Writer Teddy Gutkin had a dream come true traveling to cover the NCAA Tournament. Buy this photo
Photo Courtesy Teddy Gutkin

Inspired by an article from the Boston Globe, the Sports section presents this series on our favorite memories as Daily sportswriters. We continue with this article from Daily Sports Writer Teddy Gutkin.

While sitting in Adam Rich and Theo Mackie’s dorm room watching the Michigan men’s basketball team take on Montana in the Round of 64 of the 2018 NCAA Basketball Tournament, I noticed Mike Persak and Mark Calcagno sitting courtside covering the game for The Daily’s men’s basketball beat. With each trip down the floor, I saw them diligently watching the game and taking notes on their computers. I was just a freshman — receiving the title of Daily Sports Writer only a few weeks earlier — but instantly, I knew I wanted the opportunity to be in their shoes one day.

A year later, I started covering Michigan women’s basketball. After an injury to star freshman point guard Amy Dilk, a berth in the NCAA Tournament seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream. The Wolverines, though, went 8-2 in February and advanced to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, securing a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

I went to The Daily on Monday night to watch the Selection Show with one of my beat-mates, Connor Brennan. With Michigan slated to be traveling to the Louisville regional as a nine seed, one question immediately popped into both of our minds: Could we make the trip?

Luckily, the answer was yes. Hockey, one of the other winter beats, experienced a premature ending to their season, so we had enough room in our budget to make the trip work. After getting the OK from our MSEs Ethan Sears and Max Marcovitch, we sent in requests for press passes and made plans to depart for Louisville that Thursday morning. Neither of us had cars (and being a city kid, I didn’t even have a license), so Ethan generously loaned us his Honda Civic — faded Michigan Daily bumper sticker and all — for the weekend.

I walked out of my house at about 7:00 a.m. on Thursday morning, sleepy but giddy with anticipation.

The drive took about six hours, but we didn’t notice. We shared our favorite memories from the season up to that point, brainstormed potential story ideas for the weekend, reminisced about late nights spent at the Daily watching NBA on TNT doubleheaders, playing Heads Up and Euchre, and singing along to Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel.

We reached Louisville at around 1:30 and, after a 10-minute search for parking, we received a text from the team’s SID — the afternoon’s press conferences had begun. We jogged over to the media entrance and began to officially kick off our coverage.

We walked past a media table where a man presented us with press passes. Normally, I would stop to admire the laminated passes, but we had quotes to get and stories to write. Connor and I made our way to the press room, where Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico began making her opening remarks.

As we settled into our seats, Barnes Arico spoke about how proud she was to see the support from Michigan students in the lead up to their first tournament game. As she was speaking, she turned towards us and gestured in our direction: 

“Two boys just walked in from our school paper, from The Michigan Daily, and they’re here.”

That was enough to make us instantly know our trip was worth it.

After the press conference ended, Barnes Arico approached us and asked about the drive up. We both admitted it was a bit of an early start, but the trip itself wasn’t too bad. She told us that she was looking forward to reading our coverage before thanking us for coming out as she walked off to begin that day’s practice.

To me, that was the greatest compliment of my writing I’d ever had. When I first signed on to cover the women’s basketball team, I made it my mission to cover the team as fairly as possible while still being someone the players and coaches would want to speak to. 

To hear from Barnes Arico that she was not only excited and grateful that we had made the trip, but also excited to read our content for the weekend put everything into perspective for me: For the past five months, I had devoted a significant amount of my time to helping to tell this team’s story, and whatever happened over the course of the weekend would add yet another key chapter to the narrative. I felt more determined than ever to make sure that I told the team’s stories as best I could — this was the biggest moment of their careers, and I wanted my writing and work to reflect that.

That night, Connor and I each wrote up our stories for the day and watched that night’s tournament games on TV. When it was time to go to bed, I set an alarm for the next morning.

As I leaned over to the nightstand next to my bed, I glanced at my press pass. To me, this was the moment where it really hit me. From the second I saw Mike and Mark courtside nearly one year to the date, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. Hours of work, preparation, plenty of laughs and great times along the way had led to this moment.

Tomorrow, what I’d strived towards for a year wouldn’t be something I’d have to dream about.

Instead, I’d be living it.