By Brad Spencer
I'm writing to concede defeat ... well, not exactly ... at least to admit what we've all known for quite some time. Tim Stablein, the former longtime sports reporter at Pioneer Press' Oak Leaves, our direct competitor, was great at his job.
Week after week over the last 10 years, Stablein's abundant coverage of the local sports scene trumped Wednesday Journal's. Whether OPRF's badminton team finished ninth in a tournament or the baseball team finished second at state, Stablein was on top of it all, writing full-length stories on both, not a story and a brief. He was, in that sense, persistent, consistent and ubiquitous in his reporting.
While the inflated coverage on occasion lacked substance (an area in which I humbly submit Wednesday Journal has always held an edge), Stablein built quite the rapport with coaches, athletes, parents and fans over the nearly 30 years he spent covering the local scene. In that span, he's seen high school athletes grow into fine adults, even teachers and coaches at the very schools where they once competed. For this I have always been envious.
I've only spoken with Stablein two or three times over the decade I've been covering sports in the area (neither of us, apparently, are ones for idle chit-chat). Many years ago, I asked him how long he'd been on the job and nearly fell out of the press box high atop the football bleachers at Oak Park Stadium when he gave me the answer. That was about eight years ago, before my four children were born and before Facebook existed — if you can believe that!
A few weeks ago, Stablein, 55, along with several other sports reporters, was let go by Pioneer Press, a chain of newspapers owned by the Sun-Times. An article in the Chicago Reader on Nov. 25 revealed that he is undergoing treatment for recurring skin cancer.
This is disheartening news to say the least, even to a former competitor who hardly knew him on a personal level. I hope he overcomes his health issues and that he'll soon be back on the sidelines covering a game somewhere, preferably in or around Oak Park and River Forest.
Good competition inspires us to keep striving. Our sports coverage here at Wednesday Journal won't change. It's been solid for a decade now in spite of salary and budget cuts, pay freezes and swine flu (that last one was a joke). We will continue to provide the community with local sports news, and we will continue to engage public discussion regarding athletics through our columns and/or our blogs at www.oakpark.com. While Stablein and the Oak Leaves were good at putting scores and highlights on paper, over the years, we've added to that traditional concept with interesting and amusing columns and intriguing features. When the competition falters, mediocrity can set in. But we plan to stay on course despite the fact that our competition has been substantially downgraded.
Competition in this business is good and Stablein was beyond good at what he did. My hat is off to him, and my heart goes out to him.