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SAP Open High School Writers Day Draws 20 Aspiring Journalists

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks
On Feb. 15, students from high schools throughout Santa Clara County were invited to HP Pavilion at San Jose to participate in the 2006 SAP Open High School Writers Day. Twenty writers and photographers were given the rare opportunity to experience a day in the life of a sports journalist at the SAP Open, one of the premier men’s professional tennis tournaments on the ATP circuit.

After a tour of the tournament setup and facility to start the morning, students were allowed to watch the featured morning tennis match between Kristof Vliegen and Rainer Schuettler from the on-court press box. Students prepared questions for the press conference, where they interviewed Vliegen, the winner of the match. Following the press conference, students participated in a panel discussion with Bill Rapp (SAP Open Tournament Director), Jim Sparaco (Public Relations Manager for the tournament), Greg Sharko (Director of Communications for the ATP) and Luke and Murphy Jensen (Professional Tennis Players).

To complete the experience, the student journalists were asked to write a 500-800 word article summarizing their experiences at the event. Tournament staff judged the essays and selected Ben Kung from Leland High School as the winning author. In addition, student photographers sent in their best photo, with Nema Ashjaee taking the best photo.

SAP Open High School Writers Day
By Ben Kung
Leland High School, Grade 12

In an article I wrote earlier this school year for the San Jose Sharks’ High School Sports Writers Day, I posed a question asking what it would be like to fuse the worlds of sports and journalism together and live the life of a professional sports writer. Back then, I concluded that it would be both exhilarating and fulfilling, and after having attended the SAP Open High School Writers Day, that answer has only been affirmed in my mind.

My experiences on the job began, ironically, before I even arrived at the HP Pavilion. My photographer, Daniel Chang, and I were both running late that morning because we hit heavy traffic while driving on the highway. After finally making it downtown, we sprinted all the way to the media gate to try to catch up with the rest of the writers and journalists.

Already, we had received a very real lesson about journalism – always allocate more time than you expect to need to perform a job, because you never know what is going to happen in the frantic and busy life of a professional journalist.
Once we arrived, Daniel and I were escorted to the concourse level of the building where we finally met up with Jeff Cafuir and the rest of the high school writers. Apparently, before Daniel and I had arrived, the group had been given a tour of the media room, press box, and penthouse; thankfully, these were all areas I had seen before during my first visit to the HP Pavilion back in November as a participant in the San Jose Sharks’ High School Sports Writers’ Day. Jeff immediately recognized me when I arrived and joked that as the experienced member of the squad, I “should [have] known better” than to arrive late. Indeed, he was right – had it been an arena that I was not familiar with, I would have missed out on some invaluable parts of the tour.

After circling around the arena on the concourse level, we were taken to the lower level of the building, where we saw the five-star restaurant, known as The Grill, and the offices where staff from both the HP Pavilion and Silicon Valley Sports and Entertainment (SVS&E) worked. The twenty of us were then escorted to the media room, as real journalists would be, to pick up game-notes, flyers, and other informative handouts that would aid us in our work.

We then proceeded excitedly to our courtside seats to watch the featured tennis match between the young Kristof Vliegen and veteran Rainer Schuettler. As the writers scribbled away on their notepads and the photographers took snapshot after snapshot, the players were exerting a tremendous amount of energy on the court. Every grunt, shoe screech, and hit could be heard from where we were sitting, which only heightened our own enthusiasm. At the onset of the match, it looked as though Vliegen would dominate the entire game, as he concluded with a 6-1 victory in the first set, and though Schuettler made a strong run at the beginning of the second set, Vliegen was able to do just that and went on to win the match 2-0.

Following the game, the twenty of us were given the opportunity to conduct an interview with Vliegen, where the young Belgian discussed the events in his life leading up to his rapid ascent to #72 in the ATP since turning pro in 2001. After our interview with Vliegen, we were then able to conduct our highly-anticipated panel discussion, first with Bill Rapp, the Tournament Director, and then with the legendary Jensen brothers, Greg Sharko, the Director of Communications for ATP, and Jim Sparaco, the Public Relations Manager for SVS&E. All of them discussed their unique perspectives on the sport of tennis and also provided us with some general advice about life: to focus our careers on areas that we were passionate about.

After all, Both Bill Rapp, who had to have three of his fingers reattached after a nasty accident in college, and the Jensen brothers, who had to retire because of the effects of age on their bodies, found career alternatives that helped them continue to stay with the sport of tennis even when they could no longer play. Mr. Rapp is now a huge success in the business and managerial side of the sport, and both Luke and Murphy Jensen have continued to express their love for tennis by working through the media. All three now reap the immeasurable benefits of success, happiness, and self-fulfillment, and it’s because they were passionate about the sport itself.

Just as Jim Sparaco had told us as we were leaving, “Passion is the key.” It’s this same key that will allow us high school writers and photographers to one day also achieve our dreams, aspirations, and goals.
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