Fanfare for the Common Stud

by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & bout a month ago, while Gonzaga was squeaking its way to what should have been a routine win over an underachieving Stanford squad, a young Spokane athlete was making history. Not the history making that happens when ESPN College GameDay visits your campus for the first time. No, what Mount Spokane's Megan O'Reilly did was actually significant. In Seattle, at the Husky Classic, she lined up against some of the country's best collegiate athletes -- that's right, a high school girl against college athletes -- and she set a new national 5000-meter prep record. Destroyed the old record. Obliterated it. The old record stood at 16:43. O'Reilly finished in 16:26, some 17 seconds ahead of the pace.

For her work, she was awarded about 60 words in the Spokesman's Area Roundup. Page C5, back behind the article about the Zags game, behind the Blanchette piece about the media circus surrounding the Zags game, behind the picture of the Rolling Stones' Super Bowl performance, behind the NBA action, the NHL roundup, behind even Whitworth's easy win over the Pacific Lutheran Lutes.

The Lutes, for God's sake, got more press than the new -- and local -- possessor of the 5000m prep record.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's not just the Spokesman. No one in town covers track or cross-country. Steve Kiesel, former cross-country and track coach at Rogers, recalls that, through Becca Noble's phenomenal senior year -- in which she posted the fastest 800m time since 1982 -- "only KXLY gave us any [television] coverage, and then only for a few seconds."

Why? Mike Hadway, cross-country coach and track assistant coach at Ferris, says he was told by the Spokesman that people are disinterested in cross-country because they expect success. Mead's men's team, for example, is expected win state every year. They've won 11 times since 1988. Those years when Mead hasn't won (1997 through 1999 and 2003 through 2005), it was won by a different GSL school (University '97-'99 and Hadway's Ferris Saxons from '03 to now). So not only do we have a highly dominant dynasty in Spokane, we have two or three equally jawdropping comers to the throne. This breeds reader apathy?

That's odd, though, because Gonzaga's Men's Basketball team just locked up its 7th WCC Tournament in eight tries, and has gone undefeated in conference play twice during that span. Eight years, seven championships. In college hoops that's dominance. So why don't we have a similar apathy for the Zags?

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & H & lt;/span & ere's my theory: People understand basketball because it's shoved down our throats. Between the NBA, NCAA and local high school coverage, we get it. We understand what it takes to achieve at the various levels of play. We know what it means to be a champion. Without understanding the competition, we'd have no idea how significant it is that Gonzaga wins the WCC every year, the level of play that takes. Absent similar knowledge of cross-country, we expect Mead to win. They always win. Why would they stop now?

We praise the lesser victories of better-known clubs while ignoring the greater accomplishments of lesser-known sports. We even mourn their hard fought losses. When was the last time you mourned a state track loss? Probably never. We don't care about local prep track or collegiate track or professional track, but is that because track is less intriguing a sport? A lot of people seem to believe so. Yet, every four years, a huge number of Americans -- more than ever follow a pro or college track season -- go nuts for the Olympics.

Why is track at the Olympic level so much more compelling than at others? Olympic events don't yield more records; the human stories aren't any more poignant. No, we love the Olympics because we understand the skill it requires to compete at that level; we've been given access to that stage. Without that access, we don't understand. And if we don't get it, why the hell should we care?

It makes sense, then, that people would get mad if their Seahawks coverage was usurped by girls cross-country. This would then lead Seahawks fans to send in angry letters. This backlash understandably makes sports editors unwilling (or unable) to continue covering these smaller sports. Which only, you know, perpetuates our ignorance. It's a classic chicken/egg problem, seemingly unsolvable, except for one factor: Sport is news.

The bold there is for emphasis. Sport is news, and news shouldn't pander to the public opinion. It should comment on those things that are newsworthy. We as readers should hold the sports media accountable for the way they pander to football and basketball to the injury of track and cross-country -- and wrestling, tennis, swimming and all the other "small" sports. News shouldn't appease people, and neither should sports reporting. Unless, of course, sports reporting is entertainment, too.

Sportscasters and writers will bristle at that. They believe themselves to be newsmen -- trained journalists. Cool. Good. Be news outlets and not mere entertainment brokers. Report what is newsworthy, not just what people want. Help steep us in the significance of these sports.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen you pause to think about O'Reilly's record, the achievement is mind-boggling. O'Reilly was playing up a level, running against college kids while still in high school, and racing against some of the nation's best. That's like Michelle Wie not simply making the cut at a PGA event, but finishing in the top 10. More pointedly, it's like Adam Morrison playing in the NBA All Star Game and still scoring 30. The Spokesman would certainly give that the front page. Hell, Greg Heister would have to invest in a thesaurus. Simply calling Morrison an "All-American" (as he does roughly 30 times per Zags broadcast) would no longer adequately speak to that kind of accomplishment. We as fans, too, would appreciate the feat because we get how huge that is. We understand the difficulties of basketball in a way we do not understand smaller sports.

Becca Noble's season-long battle with Bellarmine Prep's reigning state champion Brie Felnagle in 2004, says Kiesel, was exactly the kind of titan clash Morrison/Reddick has turned out to be, but we, understanding neither the scope of the rivalry nor the drama and mythos of running, didn't get it. And for fear of readers' wrath, local media did nothing to help us understand.

It's a vicious cycle, and one that shows no sign of abating. We've spent so much time and energy this winter opining on whether or not Adam Morrison might be the best college basketball player in the nation this year (and did we mention he has a moustache?), we let eclipse the unassailable fact that O'Reilly is, as of that GameDay Saturday, the fastest 5000m high school runner the nation has ever known.

For that accomplishment, she got a small picture and an inch of text.