October 28, 2009 / Copywriting / Coverage / Whitt and Wisdom

Improve your sports copy in three steps

Written by Anne G. Whitt, MJE

You can fine-tune the writing on your sports pages with some easy tips on word usage and coverage.

1. Avoid the term varsity.
The flagship entity, whether organization or position, does not need modification. Only lesser entities need clarification.

Varsity compares to the single word president. It means the person who is the main executive officer. This person’s responsibility is not limited. Vice presidents need further identification. A title such as vice president for environmental resources announces the limitations of this position. The first vice president for marketing has different responsibilities. The titles explain the limitations. The president does not share these restrictions.

The editor bears responsibility for the whole book. The sports editor or the academics editor knows the limits by the modifying term used with editor.

The football team means the varsity team. JV and freshman teams need modification to identify their restrictions. To modify the team reduces its prestige. Modifying implies the entity can be distinguished only by defining its limitations, whether the limitations come from stage or function.

The team is varsity. Under the team, we may have A team, B team, C team or D team. Varsity is none of these. Varsity is the team.

Sports with flagship teams divided by gender are considered on equal footing and would need that much clarification. But it is girls’ basketball, not girls’ varsity basketball.

(Also note, some words in the previous paragraphs were italicized because when we talk about a word as a word, we italicize it.)

2. Bring readers a face.
Study every team all season. Notice who draws your attention, who makes you interested in attending the next game or walking to the other end of the field to keep up. Talk to that player. Ask other people (coaches, players, fans) about that player until you find a story different from any sports story you have ever heard. Every team has such stories. Somebody has to find each one. Sometimes the story unfolds before your eyes as you watch the team through the season. Bring the face in this story to the attention of readers.

3. Capitalize JV team but not freshmen.
We do not capitalize generic names such as high school and freshmen, but we capitalize letters used in place of words. We capitalize TV, but not television. We capitalize CD, I and T-shirt. As we use the initials JV to stand for the words, junior varsity, we capitalize JV.

We might take this one more step and say when we make plurals of single letters used for words, we add an apostrophe and an S. We say, Cross all the T’s.  or  Mind your P’s and Q’s.  We refer to two JV teams by saying JVs, not JV’s because JV has two letters, not one.

Remember this was about making plurals, not showing possession. Usually the apostrophe plus S on nouns shows possession. I cannot think of any other occasion for using apostrophe plus S to show plural. Usually the ‘S is omitted from inanimate nouns. We do not say table’s leg. We say table leg, school flag or school spirit.

May you and your team win, and you keep all of this straight.

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Anne G. Whitt, MJE

Anne Whitt, MJE, is a retired yearbook adviser who taught at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla., and at the community college level. She was named a JEA Distinguished Adviser in 2000, and the yearbook earned state and national honors throughout the decades that she taught.