Sports column | Les Winkeler: Cardinal rule of sports writing: avoid lists

As someone who struggles with authority issues, I too understand that rules are important.

And, last week, I violated one of my cardinal rules of sports writing: avoid lists at all costs.

Of course, the circumstances called for a list.

While scrolling through my Twitter account I learned that Marion’s Dylon Nalley had just won the Class 2A cross country state championship. “Anyone from Southern Illinois who won the state championship title?” I thought. “It doesn’t happen often.”

That’s where the thought should have stopped. But no, that didn’t happen. “I wonder how many cross country champions have come from schools south of Interstate 64?” I thought.

My gut feeling was correct. There are very few of them. In fact, the number was so small that it seemed like a perfect opportunity to break my personal rule and make a list.

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Scanning the Illinois High School Association website, I learned that Metropolis’ Gary Bremer had won the state title in 1979, before there was even a Massac County High School. Benton’s Brent McLain won in 1982 and Nashville’s Charlie Hatch won the Class A title in 2004.

Yes, my instincts and memory were correct, Nalley was in exclusive company. The number of state champions was so small that a list seemed like a perfect way to illustrate that point.

I had second thoughts Thursday night when I was contacted by the editorial staff of The Southern Illinoisan. “Is there a reason you omitted Benton’s Gavin Genisio?” they asked.

Actually, there was good reason. I hadn’t seen that information yet. Genisio won the Class 1A race, Nalley the 2A. It was the first time two Southern Illinoisans had won state titles in the same year.

The copy shop said they would clean up my oversight. And I breathed a sigh of relief… until I checked my mail on Monday morning.

A relative of Alex Partlow texted me reminding me that the Carbondale High School runner had won the Class 2A title in 2021.

To be perfectly clear, the message was kind and polite, actually quite flattering, and merely pointed out the oversight. Partlow was a senior last year and is now a member of the University of Illinois cross country team.

Obviously, my memory was faulty and I simply overlooked Partlow’s name while looking up the list of past Illinois High School Association state champions.

Which brings us to the only logical conclusion: don’t run lists, regardless of your intentions. Someone is inevitably omitted.

But, you know, that got me thinking.

It wasn’t fair of me to just mention the state champions on the boys’ side. I started wondering how many girls had won the state championship.

That’s how I found myself once again on www.ihsa.org, searching through the Deep South girls’ state champions.

That’s where I discovered that there have only been two individual Deep South state champions: Becky Garrett of Sparta in 1990 and Margo Richardson of Mount Vernon in 2008.

For the record, I slowly searched the list three times. However, I will be keeping an eye on my emails this week as lists are always dangerous.

LES WINKELER is the former sports editor of The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at [email protected], on Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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