Legendary local sports writer pays it forward with instructional camp

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It may not be basketball season, but Providence College players Alpha Diallo and Tom Planek were on-campus for a press conference with dozens of media members last Thursday.

Former Providence Journal sports writer and current Director of Multimedia Content for the Rhode Island Interscholastic League Carolyn Thornton led the presser, and in the gallery were several middle school students ready to offer up their inquiries.

It was just another day at Steve Krasner’s Rhode Island Write on Sports camp, now in its fourth year, as students entering seventh and eighth grade learn writing, revision and research skills over a two-week span. It is a division of Write on Sports Inc., which was started by former AP sports editor Byron Yake in 2005.

Krasner, an author of sports and children’s books, said the mission of the camp is two-fold: To give kids a passion for writing and to show them that they could be writing sports at the very same campus in just a few years.

It was his love of writing that helped the once-hopeful professional baseball player cultivate a career that included more than 20 years on the Boston Red Sox beat.

“It’s really rewarding to see, you want to plant a seed that writing can be fun,” Krasner, a Cranston West graduate and sports writer for more than 30 years, said. “Because I could write, I spent 33 years getting paid to watch games. I got to go to World Series and Super Bowls. We’re planting seeds in a couple different ways.”

Thornton, Diallo and Planek were a few guests of the program, helping the participants emulate the realistic feeling of a press conference. All of them crafted questions to ask the players, ranging from their favorite pizza topping to their favorite basketball players. Thornton conducted a mock interview with the two for the students to study.

Along with making a two-three-minute video and taking a field trip to McCoy Stadium, each student has to research and write a sports feature of their own. They navigate the entire process from picking a topic to revising the story to its best form.

Krasner said the final day is perhaps the most fulfilling. At the conclusion of the camp, once students have left the classroom littered with lists and charts to aid the writing process, there is a family pizza day.

There, Krasner and his staff hand out booklets containing all of the students’ features. That’s when they get to see their very own byline in print.

“When they open up and see their stories, even if it’s some kid you struggled to get two paragraphs out of, it’s important for the staff to make sure it’s their story and not ours,” Krasner, the former Providence Journal and ESPN Boston writer, said. “We guide them. What questions do you think you need to ask? How do you find the answers to these questions? What’s a credible website? But when they see those stories, their name on a story, it’s like, ‘whoa.’ That’s extremely rewarding.”

There are certainly some nerves involved in the course, but Krasner said practice is key to helping the students overcome any anxiety. He has dealt with plenty of high-pressure situations in his career, from covering Boston’s 2004 title run to sitting in the Candlestick Park press box during the 1989 World Series earthquake in San Francisco. His writing workshops website, nudgingtheimagination.com, details the numerous events he’s been able to cover.

If there’s anyone who can help with nerves, it’s Steve.

“We’re practicing,” he said. “Sometimes it depends on the personality of the kids. Some of these kids, some of them are shy at first, but one of the things we introduced this year was a SportsCenter anchor desk. It’s something to lighten the mood but it’s also productive. It’s asking questions.”

Krasner said one of the earlier challenges in starting the camp back in 2014 was letting parents and students know that it is a sports writing program. He noted that some would sign up and arrive on the first day expecting to grab a basketball and get playing.

While changes to the application process have helped eliminate most of those misconceptions, he said he does understand that it’s summer and sometimes the students get a chance to go outside anyway.

“It’s summer. It’s school, but it’s summer,” Krasner said. “So we have to have kind of a different atmosphere. We will take them out at times and run around with soccer balls and Frisbees. There’s team-building games where we’ll say they’ve done a lot of work today and they’re just fried.”

Now the camp has grown from single-digits to more than 60 kids signed up. Krasner has even started a second installment at Bryant University, which began this past Monday.

Talking with Cranston students at the P.C. program, it’s no wonder the program has grown so quickly.

“Here I’ve learned a lot about writing,” Jaylen Reed, 12, said. “I’m really interested in writing because I want to do stuff with basketball and other sports, so as a backup I could be a journalist. I think I’m really good at writing so I think this is just going to take me to the next level.”

Alexis Cayard, 13, wants to be a chemical technician later in life, but she said picking up some more writing skills has certainly opened her up to the reporting field.

“I like writing, and if I could be something second other than what else I wanted to do, I would choose something maybe in writing and reporting. I learned more about basketball since my report is on basketball.”

Learning more about research has resonated most so far with Alex Chao, 13, while 12-year-old Cameron Lind has taken home a few new pointers.

“I’ve actually learned a lot more about sports, especially because there’s kids that have done javelin toss and other sports like that and I’ve learned more writing technique and more along the lines or reporting and journalism.”

For more information on the camp, head to Rhode Island Write on Sports’ Facebook page or nudgingtheimagination.com.

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