December 20, 2009 in Sports

Young athletes have had ally in Vlahovich for four decades

By The Spokesman-Review
 

You know that guy in the office who has been around forever and seems to know everyone?

That guy who loves his job so much he rarely looks at the clock or adds up his hours?

That guy who wants to please everyone even though he knows it’s not possible?

That guy who is irreplaceable?

The sports department just lost “that guy.”

Mike Vlahovich officially retires at the end of the week and takes with him 41 years of experience covering high school sports in our area. You simply cannot lose someone like Mike and not feel the loss.

Over the years Mike provided a ton of content and that production goes away when he walks out the door. He will not be replaced. That’s a bad deal for the newspaper. That’s a bad deal for the readers.

Mike got his start in this business in 1968, working for his father, who owned the Valley Herald. It was a great hire by Dad. Mike averaged about 800 stories a week and put more names in print than most phone books.

When Mike’s dad got out of the business, The Spokesman-Review sports editor Jeff Jordan swooped in and hired Mike. For the past 17 years he has worked tirelessly writing about area athletes in the main sports section and in the Voices.

Mike had several years in which he topped 450 bylines when he was doing the Voices and stories for the daily. That has to be an unofficial record. He “sloughed” off one year and only collected 350 bylines, which would be a phenomenal year for most writers.

When editor Chris Peck interviewed Mike for the newly created Voice sports position, he asked if Mike could handle seven stories a week “at his age.” Seventeen years later he’s still going strong.

We hate to see Mike go, but he deserves this retirement. He can now relax and enjoy some downtime. He doesn’t have to worry about me tossing another story on his lap at the last minute or the fans crying about lack of coverage.

Still, I expect it will be a tough transition. At 65 he’s still sturdier than most 30-year-olds and has just as much energy. He has already offered his services as a correspondent, which means you will still see his byline from time to time.

In my seat you hear a lot about what readers think of the writers. Most of the feedback is positive, but the high school scene is dicey. There are the parents who don’t think their kids get enough attention, coaches who don’t think their sport gets enough attention and fans who don’t think their school gets enough attention. The expectations are impossible to meet and the bloggers can amplify that, focusing on one team or one athlete and not having the responsibility of seeing the big picture.

Sometimes the criticism is over the top. But I never felt Mike needed defending. His work was his defense. He worked long hours because he cared and because he liked it. There was always one more game he could go to, always one more kid with a story to tell. His motivation was always the same. He just wanted to write stories about young athletes. And he did. A lot.

That’s a career worth writing about.

Sports editor Joe Palmquist can be reached by phone at 459-5503 or by e-mail at joep@spokesman.com.


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