A \'Gross\' error in judgement
Sunday September 25, 2011 | By:Dave Ricci, Sports Reporter
In my 14 years as a sports reporter it was the single most ridiculous thing anyone has ever said to me.
But in the blink of an eye ridiculous turned insulting.
I stood in the doorway of the coaches room at Clinton H. Small Stadium as Tonawanda varsity football coach Rob Gross told me I "couldn't just drop by unannounced" and that if I wanted to meet with him I "had to call for an appointment."
On Sept. 22, I stopped by at the end of a Warriors football practice hoping to interview a specific player and coach Gross. Simple enough, right? Guess again gentle reader.
I found the player in question. A young man that I had spoken to several times before, and asked if he was free. The player said let me ask coach Gross if it's ok? The player also asked if I wanted to speak with coach too. I said if he is free.
The player knocked on the office door and told Gross "Mr. Ricci wants to speak with you." Gross said, "Who?"
Atta-boy, marble head. Nice that you are familiar with the reporters in the district. The player said, "Dave" as I walked into view.
Before I could even say sorry if I'm catching you at a bad time, Gross, looked at me as if I had just served him a subpoena and told me he was too busy and I couldn't just drop by unannounced.
Standing there, I was about to ask if Gross would still make the player available, that's when he dropped the "make an appointment" line.
As he made that statement, Gross' left hand was curled with thumb extended and gesturing to the door in the clear-cut motion of "get out." This was done in view and ear-shot of his players.
The fact that he blew me off without so much as an I'm sorry is insulting enough. Disrespecting me in front of the players-that's when Gross made it personal. And that's when Tonawanda football fell off my radar.
This isn't Penn State and you aren't "JoePa." In what world does two wins equal attitude?
Maybe because he is a THS grad, Gross thinks he can do whatever he wants? That's even more reason to work with the media. Because he should know how hard it is for small schools to get good, consistent ink.
This marked the second week in a row Gross blew me off. On Sept. 15, I swung by and asked for a minute of his time.
Gross blew me off with cold, blunt "I have to get to the JV game." Hey, how about some common courtesy that you would grant any person trying to speak with you. Great example for the kids about manners and consideration for others.
Gross never answered my August email requesting a time to meet for a preseason interview. Over a week passed with no word so I went down on my own.
He was friendly and I thought things were ok. I even joked that about his background in journalism and said he understood how tough the job can be. But when I asked for a player he said no. That they hadn't sign waivers yet.
I said ok. Even though I knew there was no such form for interviews.
You may ask, what's the big deal? Set appointments if he wants.
I am always willing to set up a system that works for coaches. If setting an appointment is how Gross wanted to operate, fine.
Then tell me that in August. Don't drop it on me from out of nowhere during Week Four. Gross has a poor rep with the media and has been known to dust reporters off even if they had an appointment.
I have never had an issue with any coach regarding when I can stop by.
They understand that there is no way humanly possible I can make every game, so they are always more than helpful when I come out.
Tonawanda coaches have been among the best that I have worked with. John Frank (baseball) is the epitome of class. Soccer coaches Julie Schork and JJ Gabor have been great to work with. Former bowling coach Jerry Frizzell would go out of his way to make players available.
Lindsay Morris (volleyball) always greets me with a smile and whatever you need. Jay Hall (girls basketball/softball) could run a seminar on how to promote your players through the media. Hank Hughes (basketball), Jim Schraufsetter(wrestling), tennis coaches Phil Prynn and Sarah Yates, Lisa Schroeder (swim), Dave Nedell (track), all fantastic people that go out of their way to work with me because they know it's for the kids.
I also swung by the North Tonawanda football practice on Sept. 22. Same situation. I caught NT head coach Rick Tomm by surprise but he greeted me with a smile and a friendly hello. I asked if I could please have a minute to ask him about a player. Tomm answered my question and offered to email me stats. He then apologized for not having more time to talk. That's class.
It's my understanding that Gross now has a "gag-order" of sorts on players out of fear they might say the wrong thing in print.
If I have to make an appointment, that I can't guarantee Gross will keep, and players are under a gag-order of some kind please tell me how am I supposed to do my job? I have 60-plus teams in seven schools to cover. I don't have time to play games with coaches.
I kill myself for all of my schools and I think everyone in the city knows that I go that extra mile for THS kids.
Am I taking this personal? You bet. Wouldn't you?
Being a varsity coach isn't just about video sessions, weight rooms and game plans. It's about the Kids getting attention.
The thrill of being interviewed. The pride in seeing their name in the paper.
Putting articles in college resumes or simply as keepsakes for parents and grandparents. Gross, denying me access to your players is denying them and their families of those memories. Nice work, coach.