Dan Jenkins headshotBy DAN JENKINS, Staff Columnist

When I first started writing for the Michigan Journal in the fall of 2012, I had absolutely zero writing experience. Sure, I wrote some mock articles for a class here and there, but nothing really substantial.

I really wanted to learn to write about sports because the sports world had always fascinated me. I loved everything about it and was an avid fan. However, my view on sports writing took a turn when I began working on my first feature article about one of the University of Michigan-Dearborn men’s basketball players.

I didn’t really have an angle to start – he was the best player on the team, but I needed something more than that. As I interviewed him, he told me about a coach he had when he first entered the UM-Dearborn program and had died just a few months later.

I traveled with the team to a road game in Grand Rapids the next weekend to talk with the only other senior player on the team who played for the late coach four years previous. The team was facing one of the toughest teams in the conference – you know, one of the programs from a school that spends money on athletics and had an arena with a 3,000 person capacity.

The team got blown out, as sadly expected. I have to say, I found myself truly rooting for the team almost every time I covered them, not because it makes for a better story, but because of the bond that I built with the team over time.

I waited outside the locker room after the game and knew that the moral of the players coming out a few minutes later would be less than ideal for an interview about a coach dying a few years previous.

To my surprise, my interviewee gladly spoke with me about the subject, smiling and laughing when he recalled the personality that the coach had displayed. The thought of remembering a lost loved one had completely changed his focus and the game played minutes ago had meant nothing.

At that point, I realized that sports meant something different to him than it did to me. It wasn’t about final scores and boxscores, or even the standings (which were never in their favor). It was about relationships and people – things that trumped all of the heartbreak of constantly losing games.

From that point on, I’ve seen the things that I’ve written about in a different light. Many people, like the subhuman trolls in the comment section on unnamed websites, see athletes as a means to an end; a millionaire playing a child’s game for our amusement, rather than the people who they really are.
I started writing about sports because I loved them. After two seasons of writing for the Michigan Journal, I now write about sports because of what they do for people. Sports are one of the most unifying and empowering activities that someone can take part in, and I have been honored to take a small part around some really great student-athletes at my time with the Michigan Journal and the university.

Dan Jenkins will be working as a freelance writer covering high school sports for MLive.com following graduation. You can follow his journey on Twitter at @DJMichJournal.