Shelton: Game on

11/8/2018 | Column | By Keith Shelton
Keith.Shelton@TheUpbeatSports.com

M any of my childhood memories revolve around the breakfast table.

In our house in West Bloomfield, MI that overlooked a pond, which froze over perfectly in the winter for ice hockey, my dad would sit down for his coffee and open up the newspaper. He would often hand me the comics section and I’d have my cereal while looking over the Calvin and Hobbes strips. If it was Saturday we’d take care of some chores, then sit together and watch Michigan football. As a child, I didn’t understand the nuances of the game, or much at all really, except I wanted Michigan to win because my dad wanted Michigan to win. My dad liked the newspaper. My dad liked Michigan football, and that was what I wanted as well.

Keith Shelton

As I grew up, I came to enjoy those Michigan games and anticipated them each fall. It got to the point where the game wasn’t enough and I wanted more, so I asked for a football that Christmas. I quickly discovered my small frame and lack of athletic ability made me a poor candidate for football. These days, I can throw it well enough, but an athlete I am not.

In the winters that came, we would play hockey all day, every day on that frozen pond. Our neighbors had five kids, and there were four of us. We all had skates and the neighbors had a Zamboni. They put up lights so we could play at night. As I’m sure most kids did in Michigan, I pretended I was Steve Yzerman in Game 7 in double overtime against the St. Louis Blues (still one of the all-time great goals). The truth was, I was terrible. OK, I was mediocre at best. I could score now and then. I could skate well enough. I even tried out for my Class A high school team and made it. My position was pine rider. I think I made it into one or two games, got knocked around a bit and didn’t go out the following season.

If I went to a Class D school, I have no doubt I would have been directly involved in athletics. At a Class A, Division I school with 2,000 students, I didn’t have a chance. So, I searched for other ways to get my fix. Going back to that newspaper, I soon discovered that people wrote about the Red Wings and the Michigan Wolverines. They had jobs doing this! And I found my calling.

I became engrossed reading about my teams and then began distinguishing between the styles of Mitch Albom and Drew Sharp. Albom had a very humanistic view of the games, while Sharp was critical. My sportswriting is inspired by both of those writers. Albom was able to bring the athletes to light as people. Darren McCarty wasn’t just a brutal enforcer for the Red Wings, he was a kind-hearted but very troubled man with gambling problems and addictions. Ndamukong Suh isn’t just a thug who stomped on players’ ankles. He has a huge heart and donates large amounts of money to his community.

Sometimes, however, Albom had a tendency to paint too rosy a picture when fan sentiment demanded something with more vitriol. Cue Drew Sharp. Sharp would rip the Lions apart on a regular basis with wit and dry humor. I think the right approach is to No. 1 – know your audience, No. 2 – take the proper tone and No. 3 – stay unbiased.

It’s served me well to this point, anyway.

Newspapers have been a big part of my life. I delivered the Observer & Eccentric as a child, the youngest carrier on the staff. I went door to door in my spare time trying to gain new subscriptions, and I got them. I was even named carrier of the year and made good money for a fifth grader. In college, I used some of my spare time to write for a new internet startup called BleacherReport.com. You may have heard of it. In its beginnings, you could write about whatever team you wanted to, and you were judged by your peers and visitors to the site. I was one of the early top writers for the Detroit Lions and my stories were a click away on the main page. I didn’t get paid as this was before the site became what it is today, but I had fun doing it. Turned out, those stories helped me land my first real job out of college at the Escanaba Daily Press.

I graduated from Northern Michigan University with a specialized public relations degree in entertainment & sports promotion. I was going to be a sports agent and represent NMU hockey players who turned pro. It was a plan I didn’t think all the way through. I didn’t know anyone in the business, and I had no experience outside of college doing that sort of thing. I saw the ad for a sportswriter at the Daily Press, and I thought it would be a good spot to get my feet wet while I came up with a new plan. I came in thinking I knew it all. Working for Denny Grall, I soon learned I didn’t know much. My writing instincts were sound, but I had never written about high school athletics. I knew professional and college sports, and I had to adjust.

What started out as just a job changed quickly. I was amazed at the zealous following of Class D athletics. The first time I saw a gym packed to the gills, including the upper bleachers for a Bark River-Harris vs. North Central basketball game, I knew high school athletics were something special up here. There was a fervor that just didn’t exist back home in West Bloomfield. And when there’s that kind of energy attached to something, you can’t help but be excited as well.

Having grown to love the area I covered, when Denny Grall retired, I put in for the job and got it.

Running a sports section, with a team of writers and a photographer fueled my passion to the fullest. I put everything I had into the position. I worked 70-80 hour weeks on a regular basis, drove great distances, assembled massive sections, came in early and stayed late and revitalized the section to fit my vision. I hired and trained four sportswriters who all went on to better positions. I covered some outstanding events, including state championships by the North Central Jets and Gladstone Braves. Even with a young family at home, I followed those teams everywhere they went in the postseason, getting little sleep and loving every bit of it.

It was a bittersweet day when I eventually left the Daily Press. Part of growing up is realizing that sometimes dreams have to be put aside for the betterment of your family. There is no doubt my life is improved with my new career, but that itch never went away.

Now, with Upbeat, I’m getting the opportunity to practice my passion once again. It’s 2018 and newspapers are a thing of the past. We’re going all digital and giving the Upper Peninsula something it’s been missing: peninsula-wide coverage, ready to read upon publication to the website. This is something the newspapers don’t do. RRN does it, the TV stations do it, but they aren’t print journalists and never will be. We have the team with the experience in journalism and the drive to become the top presence for sports journalism in the Upper Peninsula. That’s why I’m joining Upbeat, and I look forward to continuing my lifelong passion as a writer. Game on.

Keith Shelton

Staff Writer
Keith is a staff writer for Upbeat. He served as the sports editor of the Escanaba Daily Press from 2012-16 and worked as a sports reporter from 2010-12. During his time at the Press, he covered multiple state title runs.