My first day as a sports journalist was almost my last.
In September of my first year at Penn, I was given my first ever assignment: a men’s soccer recap. I had never really been a soccer fan, and my lack of expertise had been eating away at me in the weeks leading up to the game.
I bombarded my soccer-playing roommate with questions, Googled furiously, and committed statistics from the Penn Athletics website to memory. I even dragged my friends to Rhodes Field the week before my assigned game so I could practice watching soccer. You might consider this an insane level of preparation for a midweek, non-conference Penn soccer match, and it totally was. But I just wanted everything to go perfectly.
I had joined the sports department on a whim after accepting a Daily Pennsylvanian flyer handed to me on Locust Walk just to be polite. I thought I would write about baseball. I thought it could be a way to stay involved with the sport that had consumed so much of my life before college, now that I had decided I would no longer play it. But I had to wait until the spring for baseball games.
In the meantime, I was shivering on the bleachers at Drexel’s soccer field on 42nd Street, in the middle of a rainstorm.
It was raining so hard that night I could barely see the players, apart from the occasional flash of neon from a brightly colored cleat. The umbrella balanced between my knees did almost nothing to keep me dry, and my phone screen didn’t respond to my wet fingers when I periodically tried to jot down notes. The pit in my stomach only grew as the clock ticked down and the score remained 0-0.
It was the one outcome I hadn’t considered. I had a million metaphors for the ball hitting the back of the net ready to go. I had already crafted two sets of questions for my postgame interviews with the captain or the coach, one for a victory and one for a loss. But not a scoreless tie. What would I even say? “How did it feel when nothing happened today?”
I didn’t even have time to dwell on it, though. I had to get home — I’d arranged for the interviews to be held over the phone later that night, and it was a 25-minute walk back to the Quad. I bolted out of there as soon as the final buzzer sounded, and the rain continued to pour the whole way home.
I was standing across from the Wawa on Spruce Street, waiting for the light to turn, when my phone lit up. It was a text from a friend on the soccer team who had known I would be at the game that night.
“Please tell me that it wasn’t you who left early,” he said.
I remember scoffing. No, I was not a soccer expert, but I was pretty sure I could read a scoreboard. “Of course not!”
“Oh thank god. So you saw overtime?”
So that’s the story of how I found out that college soccer has overtime. (For the record, the NCAA has since changed this rule, and there is no longer overtime in regular-season soccer games. So, really, I was just ahead of my time.)
All of my preparations, my time spent combing through stats and annoying my friends meant nothing because I’d made the stupidest mistake possible. There are plenty of rules in sports journalism, but there is one so obvious it shouldn’t even need to be said: A journalist needs to watch the game they’re writing about. AND YES, THE ENTIRE THING.
My friend saved my article. He described what I’d missed over text. Penn had won, and I suddenly had a narrative for my recap and questions to ask in my interview. But I was humiliated. I’ve never wanted to quit anything so badly in my life. “I am not cut out for this,” I thought. “This is supposed to be for fun, and all it has brought me is stress and misery.”
The words “I quit” were right there on my tongue as I wielded my umbrella and trekked back to the DP office to go over what I’d written with the sports editors. I sat next to Danny at the editor’s desk in the sports office, which within two years would become mine. He went through every paragraph of the story with me. I didn’t tell anyone the truth of what I’d done, and no one picked up on the fact that I had not witnessed the most crucial moment of the game. Danny even seemed impressed when I told him that I’d never written an article before.
The next day, I couldn’t stop staring at my article online. My words were right there, published, for anyone to see, for the first time ever. That Thursday, I picked up a print edition and almost dropped it when I saw my name on the back page. I carefully cut out the story and taped it on the wall above my bed.
By the end of the semester, I had wallpapered my entire half of the dorm room with yellowing newspaper clippings. Of my own words.
Oh, right. I never did get around to quitting.
I have thought about that night a lot over the past four years. I thought about it the first time I saw the title sports editor after my name in the paper, the first time I interviewed a professional athlete, the first time I traveled across the country to chase a story, the first time I saw my byline in a copy of Sports Illustrated I had bought at the airport. It had all started on that terrible night in the rain.
Learning to accept failure is the most important lesson I’ll take from all those hours I spent in the DP’s windowless office. I entered that building as a perfectionist to the point where it was crippling, where the tiniest mistake, faux pas, or piece of criticism could send me into a spiral. But from day one, the DP was exposure therapy to the max.
Don’t get me wrong, I still hate to fail and avoid it at all costs. And I still over-prepare. But if something goes wrong, I don’t let it derail me anymore. I can laugh at my mistakes now, knowing that I won’t repeat them.
As hard as I’ve tried, I know I cannot prepare for every outcome. In a lot of ways, that’s the beauty of it. Every day in the DP brought a new challenge, a new hurdle. But it also brought new experiences, new places to travel, new people to meet. And when I mess up — because I still do sometimes — I face it head on, I own up to what I’ve done, and then I move on.
As I write my last words for the DP, four years later than I’d expected to, so many thanks are due. I have made so many friendships I will cherish forever at 4015 Walnut St. To my former editor, mentor, and dear friend Will DiGrande, who essentially coerced me into running for sports editor my sophomore year: I am so glad you did. Without your support and encouragement, there’s no way I would be where I am today.
Thank you, too, to every woman in the sports department who came before me and helped pave my way. I have been so incredibly proud to see the talented women that have come after me as well. I was so lucky to be able to work with all of you.
And to my family, who dutifully reads every word I write, no matter the topic. Love you guys. On to the next ones.
LOCHLAHN MARCH is a College senior studying classical studies and political science from Toronto. She served as a sports editor on the 137th Board of The Daily Pennsylvanian. Her email is email@example.com.