Stephens said it was also nice to be able to cover one of his high school friends again. Vinny Zollo is a freshman forward for the Hilltoppers this year, and Stephens said having someone from Winchester on the team made his job even more interesting.
“I covered Vinny for Smoke Signals and we had classes together and became pretty good friends. I thought our working relationship was over, but then he came to Western and it’s been nice to have a hometown connection again,” Stephens said.
While his first NCAA game was special, Stephens said it paled in comparison to what followed when the Hilltoppers advanced to the second round to play the University of Kentucky, his favorite team when he was growing up.
“Living in Winchester so close to Lexington, I grew up a Kentucky fan and went to games in Rupp Arena and always rooted for the Wildcats, so I couldn’t believe I was going to get to see them play in the tournament and to be playing Western, was just amazing,” Stephens said. “Seeing how special this Kentucky team is, to be able to say 20 years from now that I covered some of the tournament games is pretty cool.”
Following Kentucky’s win over Western, Stephens said it wasn’t as hard as he thought it might be to be objective during the game.
“I though it would be difficult to be objective with Kentucky playing a team I cover, but it wasn’t because you get so focused on covering the game it doesn’t even enter your head,” Stephens said. “We always prided ourselves at the paper for not pulling for Western and always being objective. Once you actually sit down and the game starts, it’s not really hard because you’re focused on the job.”
Stephens credited some of his focus and his decision to become a sports writer to the training he received while still at GRC, from teacher Shanda Crosby, and writing for Smoke Signals, the monthly student newspaper.
He went from a contributing writer his first semester to sports editor his senior year, and said the experience prepared him well for working for the College Heights Herald.
“GRC gave me a great foundation. Mrs. Crosby taught us a lot fo the basic techniques and things and how to put a story together,” Stephens said. “She gave us a lot of freedom as far as what we wanted to write, so writing features and advance stories along with game stories prepared me well for where I’m at now.”
Working on Smoke Signals made him realize that he could combine his two loves, sports and writing, as a profession, Stephens said.
“I really like sports. It’s always been my passion and I’ve always enjoyed writing and it’s something I’ve been told I’m good at,” Stephens said. “I decided when I went to school I would major in journalism, and I really love it.”
Stephens said he still checks in with Crosby every time he comes home to watch his brothers, Brent and Brice play football for the Cardinals.
Now a junior at Western, Stephens said he doesn’t really care where he goes to work after he graduates as long as it involves sports.
“I haven’t really thought about where I want to work, I’ll just try to see where it takes me,” Stephens said. “Sports is what I love covering, so anywhere that I can cover sports is where I’ll be looking.”
Contact Bob Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.