The sports section of The Ball State Daily News has never been measured by the number of reporters. It’s not about who gets what beat or who writes which stories. The foundations of the section were built on covering Ball State Sports and working together toward a universal goal: telling the stories of sports.
A sports editor and editor-in-chief of The Daily News, then-freshman Michael Smith, class of 1973, arrived at a house known as the Center for Journalism in 1969 on Ball State’s campus as the university had rented neighboring houses to allow for extracurriculars. Smith worked for The Daily News when pasting and placing by hand were the cutting–edge forms of design. At the same time, Ball State Sports were entering a new era.
With Ball State Sports transitioning from what was then known as the College Division to the University Division, or Division I AA to Division I A, Smith said “it was a great time to be there.”
Smith’s first beat was men’s soccer, a sport he said he knew little about but took to get his foot in the door.
“The interesting thing is that we were pretty good, but I didn't know much about soccer,” Smith said. “The coach at the time was a guy named Arno Wittig. I went to him and I said, ‘I'm from The Daily News. My beat is soccer, and I’m gonna be covering it. Could you help me figure out, you know, the types of things that are going on so I could do a better job?’ He would be very patient with me and help me out. I got into soccer because he was able to explain the intricacies of it.”
During his time at The Daily News, Smith said his adviser, Earl Conn, would leave a scathing critique of each paper on a bulletin board for everyone to see. It was always in the mind of the staff members to be putting out their best work knowing that it would be held to the highest standards.
“You learned very quickly that you needed to be careful of how you presented information — make sure it was fair, accurate and complete,” Smith said. “Those skills serve you whether you're in sports or in any aspect of journalism.”
With the publication printing daily, organization and strategy were skills to acquire while working, but Smith said the staff often found itself at the forefront of the same debate: who was it all for? Was it students, the university community or a larger community such as Muncie and its residents?
“Those questions are relevant even today,” he said. “Like, when you're doing the story, who am I writing for? What does that person mean? What are they interested in? How can we compel them to read the story? Those types of things are still really relevant today.”
To Smith, the job of a journalist was to find the truth and share it accordingly.
“I think everybody in my generation saw that their responsibility was to rock the boat,” Smith said. “If you're not rocking the boat, then you're not doing your job … It gave me an attitude that journalists need to press people on issues and need to surface those issues.”
Less than a decade after Smith had left Ball State, Mike Beas, class of 1984, transferred to Ball State as a junior in 1982. After serving as the sports editor of his junior college newspaper, he fit into his new environment immediately, and his first beat was men’s volleyball.
“I thought, ‘OK, I don't know if I've seen a volleyball match in my life,’” Beas said. “Don Shondell, the Ball State coach, pulled me into his office one day and he started explaining volleyball to me and then I kind of got into it.”
Immersing himself in the sport by covering matches while getting to know Shondell and his players, Beas traveled with the Cardinals for a road trip.
“I still tell people about going to watch them play,” Beas said. “I think I was at Penn State, like [for] three days, and watched them play Penn State and Ohio State and some really good teams from around the Midwest.”
While with The Daily News for two years, Beas diversified his portfolio, covering men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball and football while serving as the sports editor for his final year and a half.
“The thing that stood out, looking back, was just the camaraderie,” Beas said. “We were all sort of in the same boat because, in those days, you weren’t filing stories from home. You weren't filing them from some other location. You had to be up there.”
Today, Beas can regularly see campus through his daughter, who is currently a student, and always finds his way back to the West Quad Building. Beas and his fellow staffers thought it was the best place on campus but not because of the building itself.
“You just kind of looked around and thought, ‘Gosh, isn't this great?’” Beas said. “In hindsight, you’re thinking, ‘Why did I think that?’ You thought that because of the people. You thought that because you were friends with everybody. So even though the building wasn’t one-tenth of the building you may work in now, it's still special to all of us who worked in it back then.”
For Beas, everything happened in that building.
“We had classes there,” Beas said. “We had labs there. We all got to know each other there. We worked a lot of late hours some nights, pasting the paper up when things wouldn’t go right or some machine might’ve been broken … I can still picture it like it was yesterday.”
After serving as editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, Brian Spiess, class of 1994, joined the Daily News’ sports section in January 1991 and picked up the men’s tennis beat his freshman year. Roughly 10 years after Beas, he also found the newsroom in the West Quad Building.
“We kind of viewed it as like, if we want jobs when we graduate, we want to be able to show that we can do this,” Spiess said. “We were putting this out every day.”
Rising to sports editor his junior year, Spiess covered Ball State Football on the road when they traveled to Clemson and Kansas in the 1992 season. When reflecting on his time working for the newspaper, he said the hands-on experience he received was one of his most important takeaways.
“It's the difference between seriously putting out a newspaper every day [and] just being in a journalism class where your project is to pretend to make a newspaper once for a semester,” Spiess said. “When you're doing it every day, you're getting a lot of reps. Really, [it’s] muscle memory.”
University Arena, now known as Worthen Arena, had opened during Spiess’ time at Ball State and he said it was exciting to be down on press row in the new facility.
“I can remember Charlie Cardinal one time coming down during a women's basketball game and totally messing with me, like patting me on the head while I was working,” Spiess said. “We sat on press row, covered the game and then after the game, we just booked it back to The Daily News to write up the story.”
Still running a daily print publication, Spiess and the staff would send their pages to Newcastle, Indiana, which is where it printed. Spiess said an older gentleman would come pick up the designs, drive them to Newcastle and deliver it the next morning for distribution.
When Ball State’s Digital Media Repository opened, Spiess and his college friends dug through the archives to find old editions of their work and stumbled upon one of their favorite Daily News memories.
On a particularly cold day when the weather hit 30-below with wind chill, most schools in the Midwest had closed, but Ball State did not. Spiess said then-president John Worthen was quoted “basically saying 'I don't know what people are complaining about. People go to the slopes in this weather all the time.’”
Spiess and the Daily News staff took off with that comment in print.
“We juxtaposed [the quote] with a doctor [saying], ‘Whatever you do, you should not go outside in this weather,” Spiess said. “Then, we wrote basically an opinion piece where we went to his office, and we walked how far it was from his office to his parking spot, which was like 20 feet and we were like, ‘Yeah, it's easy for him to say ‘this is fine to be out here because it's so close.’”
Spiess admitted it might’ve not been Woodward and Bernstein investigative journalism, but the students took the administration to task and they would never forget it.
Michelle Rusk, class of 1994, has been a runner for most of her life and got her start in sportswriting covering women’s track and field after transferring to Ball State in 1991. Her goal was to tell the stories of others.
“It wasn't necessarily that I was going to become a sportswriter,” Rusk said. “I just really wanted to write longer features about people, and I just found it interesting how people find inspiration and motivation [in sports].”
Rusk was named assistant sports editor her junior year, after working with Spiess. She was originally asked to cover women’s basketball, but the beat reporter for men’s basketball dropped out and Rusk took over. The 1992-93 men’s team went 26-8 and won the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Tournament before falling in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Rusk’s generation was one of the first to file stories directly from away games rather than travel back to the newsroom and write the story there.
“We had this almost typewriter-looking Radio Shack thing that we hooked up to a phone line,” Rusk said. “I mean, it sounds so primitive now, and it was a lot of work ... We were at the games in Athens, Ohio, or up at Mount Pleasant, [Michigan], and this was just for the night games. It would just take forever to get these stories to go through it, [but] then we could dateline it ‘ATHENS, Ohio.’”
When Rusk worked for The Daily News, there were only about five sports reporters, but she said it didn’t matter because of the bond they had together.
“We all had a camaraderie, like a unified group for the whole paper,” Rusk said. “I just remember everybody was supportive of each other … We all wanted to put out a good paper, and we wanted to do a good job. I don't know if we were thinking about our future or anything so much as we just wanted to do a good job because that's who we were.”
When Spiess was named editor-in-chief, Rusk was asked to be sports editor and is believed to be the first female sports editor in Daily News history.
“You don't realize it because you're in the thick of it,” Rusk said. “It’s just a really short period of time in your life … and you make the college experience what you want it to be, and if I hadn't joined The Daily News, I wouldn't have had any of these things happen. I wouldn’t be able to do any of these things.”
Being in the newsroom for late-night game coverage or pasting and checking designs over and over again was where they all wanted to be because of each other.
The small, seemingly indifferent moments are cemented in their memories and the legacy of the section.
Huddling together to watch presidential elections, running laps around the track to work through writers' block or hitting golf balls off the roof of the West Quad Building at semester's end, it all happened together.
Smith, Beas, Spiess and Rusk continued to come back to one connection between their memories: covering sports for The Daily News with their friends.
The stories, the memories, the people. The foundations of a section.