Tour­neys cov­ered like Jag­ger

Daily Racing Form National Digital Edition - - News - FORNATALE

We take all kinds of pills To give us all kind of thrills, But the thrill we’ve never known Is the thrill that’ll getcha When you get your pic­ture On the cover of the Rolling Stone – Dr. Hook

Hand­i­cap­ping con­tests weren’t ex­actly on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine this week, but they did man­age to grace the pages therein.

I grew up in a me­dia mi­lieu. My fa­ther, in ad­di­tion to be­ing a disc jockey and rock ‘n’ roll his­to­rian, was an avid col­lec­tor of books and mag­a­zines. Among his prized pos­ses­sions was a com­plete col­lec­tion of the first 10 years of Rolling Stone magazine, in­clud­ing the de­but is­sue with John Len­non in fa­tigues. To have my cur­rent beat men­tioned in Rolling Stone seems like a sure sign that hand­i­cap­ping con­tests are ready for prime time. The piece has cre­ated a pos­i­tive buzz since it was tweeted by Rolling Stone to its more than 5.5 mil­lion fol­low­ers.

The piece cov­ered the 2017 Na­tional Hand­i­cap­ping Cham­pi­onship. Writer Alex Scordelis did an ad­mirable job hemmed in by a tight word count. He took what you might call a “fish bowl” ap­proach: He was on the out­side look­ing in at a num­ber of the char­ac­ters in the con­test world, in­clud­ing skull wor­ship­per Den­nis John­son, dancer-turned­horse­player Linda Ro­driguez, the fa­ther-son combo of Basil and Alex DeVito, and two-time fi­nal ta­ble con­tes­tant Danny Ko­valesky. In the end, he pre­sented an ap­peal­ing cross sec­tion of play­ers that de­fied com­mon stereo­types about horse­play­ers.

For sev­eral years, the NTRA’s Jim Mul­vi­hill has been tasked with find­ing ways to garner main­stream me­dia in­ter­est in the NHC. It’s been a pet pro­ject of his to find a main­stream pub­li­ca­tion to do a piece about the per­son­al­i­ties and cul­ture of the con­test world.

Mul­vi­hill has known Scordelis and jour­nal­ist Jason Di­a­mond for sev­eral years, think­ing in the back of his mind that both men would un­der­stand what was spe­cial about the con­test scene. When Di­a­mond was hired as the first-ever sports ed­i­tor for Rolling Stone, Mul­vi­hill saw the op­por­tu­nity to make his pitch, with Scordelis in mind for the as­sign­ment.

“The NHC is a hard thing to vi­su­al­ize if you’ve never been,” Mul­vi­hill said, “but if you’ve ever seen th­ese fan­tas­tic doc­u­men­taries about spell­ing bees or scrab­ble tour­na­ments, there are par­al­lels – th­ese are bril­liant and ob­ses­sive peo­ple who are also in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters.”

The piece hasn’t been with­out a lit­tle crit­i­cism. One wag on Twit­ter com­mented, “treat­ing horse­play­ers like zoo an­i­mals is not a good take.” I must ad­mit that my knee-jerk re­ac­tion was to be a lit­tle crit­i­cal as well – be­fore ad­mit­ting to my­self that my quib­bles had more to do with envy than any­thing else. I wished I had writ­ten it.

There’s only so much you can do in a short piece and the fact is that for many, this type of de­tached per­spec­tive is ex­actly what the larger au­di­ence needs. Be­fore you can get too into the de­tails about the in­ner work­ings of a hand­i­cap­ping con­test, you have to know what a hand­i­cap­ping con­test is. Scordelis’s piece ex­plains con­tests, presents the char­ac­ters, and cap­tures the ca­ma­raderie that make in-per­son events great (he also gets ex­tra credit for pop cul­ture ref­er­ences to Kat­niss Everdeen and “The So­pra­nos”).

I’m al­ways amazed at how many of the younger play­ers I in­ter­view in the pages of Daily Rac­ing Form cite the TV show “Horse­play­ers” as the main rea­son they got in­volved in con­test play. Per­haps in a few months I’ll hear a new line about why a cer­tain player chose to get in­volved in tour­na­ments: “I read about it in Rolling Stone.”

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