Tales from the Beat: Don't laugh too freely. What happens to a colleague could just as easily happen to you.

By Tom Hardesty | Assistant Sports Editor Published:

By Tom Hardesty | Assistant Sports Editor

In our industry, it's common for sportswriters from different newspapers to run into each other often enough while covering various sporting events to become good acquaintances and even friends with one another.

As such, there often is just enough downtime at an event to catch up on some of the more interesting occurrences that have transpired since your last meeting with that person -- and these often take a turn for the humorous. While covering an event in the mid-1990s, I ran into a reporter from a local newspaper whom I had seen often in my travels. As usual, we got to talking and he soon proceeded to relate a story that I will never forget because, quite frankly, it is every reporter's nightmare.

He was a covering a high school football game at Barberton's Rudy Sharkey Stadium, and when the game ended he quickly exited the pressbox and made his way down to the field to conduct the usual postgame interviews with coaches and players. When finished, he returned to the pressbox to write the story on his laptop. Deadline pressure being what it is, he became completely engrossed in the task at hand -- and, at the same time, totally oblivious to his surroundings.

Upon finishing the story, he sent it in to the office, began packing up his things -- and realized he was the only one left in the pressbox. What's more, the stadium lights had been turned off. He was all alone. He managed to make his way through the darkened stadium to the gate where he had entered earlier in the evening -- and it was locked. He went to another gate. Locked.

He walked completely around the inside perimeter of the fence surrounding the stadium in the dark searching desperately for an escape route, but there was none. The stadium was completely closed up and locked for the night.

There was no way out, and there was nobody to get him out -- this being the days before cell phones were standard issue in society. He was trapped. There was just one option left: climb the fence. This would be no small feat, however, since the fence was built high enough to protect an entire football stadium.

What's more, he had his work bag with him -- which, amongst other items, contained his laptop. So he couldn't just throw the bag over the fence first, then climb over. Such a move would obviously risk damage to the computer. Therefore, he would have to climb this tall fence with the bag slung over his shoulder. Plan in place and desperate, he began climbing the fence. When he reached the top, he paused for a moment to collect himself before starting his descent down the other side.

At that moment, perched atop the fence, the darkness of the night was shattered by a blinding light shining directly into his eyes. At the other end of that light were two Barberton police officers, who had received a report that someone was sneaking around inside Sharkey Stadium.

The officers kept the light trained on him as they made him climb down the fence, then quizzed him about just what exactly he was doing scaling the fence of a deserted stadium at that time of night. They were especially interested in the bag, suspicious that it possibly contained stolen items.

Needless to say, he had some 'splaining to do. Shaken, he told the officers that the bag contained work items such as his laptop, notebook, etc. -- which they examined for themselves -- and he detailed how he had become trapped inside the stadium in the first place.

After more explanation and producing some identification, the officers finally were convinced and let him go. Relieved, he quickly made his way to his car and pulled out of the parking lot post haste, quite sure that he had just come dangerously close to being arrested and hauled off to jail for the night.

I laughed at this story -- but it was a nervous laugh. Because the next reporter to get locked in a stadium could be you.

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