What would Tom Schwan think? He’d like this ‘Internet thing’

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I wonder what Tom Schwan would think about social media and the explosion of the Internet. Particularly, the Internet as a research tool.

Tom died in January, 1996, and for today’s athletes, his name is associated with an early-season basketball tournament hosted by Norwich, and a “Kids Court” at the annual Gus Macker Tournament that lines the streets of Norwich each July.

Tom wrote freelance for The Evening Sun from the late 1960s until his passing, and during that time, it still meant something to see your name in the paper. Sadly, any athletes who performed after 1996 never got to experience a Tom Schwan-written story.

Tom was an indefatigable researcher, and he made the most of what was available.  The Internet was not an efficient or logical resource of information at the time of his death. Dial-up modems made page navigation painfully slow, and there wasn’t the proliferation of sports sites that there are today.

If you read Tom – and his weekly columns – he was a fountain of news tidbits. In addition to his home paper, Tom took several other daily newspapers in the Central New York region. He had made outreach to countless colleges, and was also a recipient (by mail) of sports information updates.

How did I know this? I spent several afternoons at Tom’s house talking sports over coffee, and I bore witness to the hundreds of files, old newspapers, and stacks of notebooks he had stored. 

Tom also subscribed to the New York State Sports Writers Association weekly mailer where he gleaned more knowledge including the always-popular state rankings.

Nearly all of that work can now be done navigating various Internet sites.

Speaking of those state rankings, Tom liked to occasionally use them in his columns. Not because he was sold on their value, but they made nice conversation starters and drummed up interest in games.

Rankings at the high school level – at least through the first four or five weeks of the season – are a product of reputation, past results, and the historical competitiveness of one’s league or conference. 

Until recent years, Walton football usually had a state ranking in Class C or D; Chenango Forks is a staple in Class B (and previously Class C); and up until last year, Maine-Endwell was a regular in the rankings.

In boys’ basketball, Norwich remains a fixture in the Class B rankings.   But in all these sports, rankings do not equate to seedings in the big tournament, or quantify how good a team really is outside of its local bubble.

Coaches will tell you – on the record, at least – that rankings don’t mean anything.  Yet, I have rubbernecked a few coaches-players team conferences, and rankings have entered the conversation many a time.

Be it to extoll one’s own ranking, or to put the opposing team’s ranking on the billboard for motivational fodder, coaches know when it’s useful to mention state rankings.

The rankings, and the means by which we acquired those rankings, are now obsolete.  Tom was a chemist by trade, and he was recently retired from Procter and Gamble when I met him in August, 1995.

Everything we were doing at the time – and Tom’s research process – now seems woefully out of date by today’s standards. 

Tom suggested I subscribe to that same NYSSWA newsletter, and he also suggested I order a copy of Clell Wade high school directory for public and private New York high schools.

I ordered one for the 1996 year, and it was quite useful. It had addresses, enrollment numbers, phone numbers and fax numbers for athletics departments across the state. It also had the contact person in the AD’s office, and even gave the school’s nickname. 

I used that book faithfully for about five or six years until my copy seemed out of date. So, I ordered an updated copy around 2002.  The Internet was now an entrenched application, and page navigation speed was vastly improved. 

But MaxPreps was not nearly the source of high school information that it is today, so old-school research was still relevant.

None of what we used to do for research is now relevant.

I am no great sage and certainly not the first person to see the writing on the wall. Newspapers were creating online versions of their newspaper, and they were giving away their content for free.

I remember saying to a number of people probably around 2003, 2004, that newspapers would eventually succumb to the Internet.  Again, I wasn’t Nostradamus or any great soothsayer, any veteran journalist saw this coming.

Newspapers will survive, though. It may not be in the form we’re used to, but my next prediction is that someone a heck of a lot smarter than me will develop a business model that will make traditional newspapers profitable on the Internet.

They will adapt, and I’m confident Tom Schwan, if he were alive today, would have adapted nicely to this new technology.

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