It's been a long six weeks at the sports desk at The Aspen Times. Worse, it's been a fairly vacant six weeks in that department.
In December, after seven years at the Times, writer Jon Maletz left for a sports-editor job in Bozeman, Mont. We conducted a national job search for someone to take his place, whittling a list of some 60 to 70 applicants down to three before making the final pick.
The sports news, however, did not stop while we conducted our search.
There was the Winter X Games, and thanks to the hard work of Michael Appelgate, an intern from DePauw University, and the photographs from Basalt shooter Jim Ryan, we were there to cover a majority of the event's flips, falls and finishes.
But other sports stories did not get the coverage they deserved, and we heard about it.
One night, while watching an Aspen City Council meeting on GrassRoots TV, I heard Aspen parent Mike Maple bemoan to council members that it's hard to tell Aspen's a ski town by the lack of the sport's coverage by the two newspapers. Maple was lamenting the fact that his son Wiley's Jan. 23 downhill victory in the Europa Cup in France went unrecognized by the local press.
Less than two weeks earlier, on Jan. 12, Glenwood Springs' Alice McKennis became the first Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard product to win a World Cup event, when she claimed top honors in the downhill in Austria. There wasn't a mention of this monumental feat in the local newspapers, until her former coach, Casey Puckett and his wife Yolanda, dropped by the newspaper's office in an effort to drum up some press.
Puckett also helped us by writing a guest column on McKennis' accomplishments, and Appelgate had a front-page story on the feat. It was few days late, but better than nothing.
Well, help is on the way.
Dale Strode is our new sports editor, and his first official day on the job was Monday. But because Strode is a sports journalist at heart, he couldn't help himself and decided to start early. On Saturday, he covered Aspen High School hockey team's 4-2 victory over the No. 1-ranked Regis Jesuit.
Strode comes from the Durango Herald, where he worked eight years. Many locals already are familiar with him, as he worked at The Aspen Times from 1988-98. He understands that newspapers don't have the fat staffs they once boasted because of the economic crisis and the industry's implosion - we all must do more with less. I remember when I joined the Times six years ago. Then, we had a two-person sports department. Today, it's just a one-person desk and most likely that way for the foreseeable future.
But reporters can't be everywhere at once, and oftentimes we have to rely on readers to provide us information to compensate for our absence. That's definitely the case with our sports coverage in this sports-crazy town.
"With a one-man operation (in the sports department), the key is going to be developing contacts in these various sports who can help me by providing me information and actual stories that can be re-edited and used," Strode says. "I'm going to have to rely on the expertise of people in these other areas. If they can get the information to me, I can turn it around."
Reader submissions and feedback are always critical to getting coverage. Even during this six-week hole, I took the criticism as a good thing. It meant that readers have expectations from us to deliver sports news on a consistent basis. When they don't see that, they speak up. And they should.
Already this ski season, we have relied on weekly contributions from the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. Their submissions have helped prop up our sports page when there wasn't a person exclusively overseeing the section.
Having been raised in the Roaring Fork Valley, Strode, 62, understands the demands of our readers and realizes that skiing and snowboarding are the straw that stirs the drink in Aspen.
"Aspen is a ski town and a snowboard town first," he said. "There's still that thread that spins the bulk of the identity of Aspen. I have missed that. I've missed that energy of people rising up to get to the lift first thing in the morning."
If you have a sports tip or just want to welcome Dale back to Aspen, you can reach him at 970-429-9149. Six weeks without a sports editor is indeed a long time, but we're all thrilled here to report it has been worth the wait.
Rick Carroll is managing editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-429-9141.