American-Tribune (copy)

A few years ago, I spoke at Career Day at a Broken Arrow middle school and was asked: “What is the toughest part of your job?”

I think some expected me to say, the “writing” or “deadlines” or even the “long hours.”

No, the answer I gave was access to and from events.

I got a few puzzled looks with that answer, but it is true.

Most newspaper reporters will get to a game, event, meeting or out of town assignment way in advance. That way if there is an issue it can be resolved with still time to do the job and the story.

Here are two examples of what I’m talking about.

• The Wagoner basketball teams have played the last three years in the Chesapeake Arena where the Oklahoma City Thunder calls home.

The first year, I had to fill out paperwork upon arrival to state why I was there, whom I represent and that I would not sue them if I got hurt while covering the Bulldogs.

When I arrived, I also had to let someone look at my camera closely and proceed through a metal detector. Most fans had the same experience except I had more hurdles to clear.

As I made my way down to press seating near the floor, I was stopped and asked where I was going.

When I said I was covering the Wagoner basketball teams, I was told I was not allowed to sit there. I was told to go back up the long stairs and ask someone else what to do.

When I got back to the entrance, a Thunder representative escorted me to another level. She said to just walk around the arena, and then down the steps to the press tables and things would be fine.

A different security person stopped me again and asked why I was going to that side of the arena? I said what newspaper I represented and why I was there.

This person had a two-way radio and found out I was legit and allowed me to continue to the table.

The whole process took almost 45 minutes from the time I arrived to when I was able sit down and get ready for the game.

• My first strange access encounter as a reporter came in 1971. This time, however, my problem wasn’t upon arrival, but when I wanted to leave.

My job was to cover the Bixby boys and girls basketball games. Former legendary girls coach, Whitey Ford, was now the Athletic Director there. Ford was my contact when I arrived.

Ford greeted me before the game and could not have been more hospitable.

The games were played and I found a pay phone just outside the gym to call in my story and results.

The phone was located just around a blind corner of the gym entrance. I thought nothing of it and finished about 10 p.m.

As I left the building, I soon realized I was the last one to leave.

I got in my car and drove to the school entrance/exit.

Back in 1971, Bixby had a chain link fence circling the campus. This was no short fence, either. It was 14-foot high at least and was locked at the only exit I could take.

I blasted my car horn for about 15 minutes, but no one came to help.

I decided my only option back was to climb the fence and seek help. This was back in the days before cell phones. Going back into the gym and calling for help was also no good. The gym door had locked me out as I left.

I managed to slowly climb up the tall fence and back down without too much damage. Now, I turned to the nearby neighborhood to find help.

The first lighted house I saw, I knocked on the screen door. Now, keep in mind, it is about 10:35 p.m. on a school night.

The next sound I heard about floored me.

The voice from somewhere in the house, said, “Come in!”

I didn’t, but yelled back my situation at the high school parking lot across the street.

A woman finally came to the door and offered to help. “Oh, I will call Whitey and he will come help you,” she said.

I thanked her and waited by the padlocked fence for Ford’s return.

Ford was apologetic and said he had forgotten I was there calling in the story. I got out and went back home a little later than I had anticpated.

Little did I know then that 49 years later I would still be struggling to enter or exit some sports venues, but now I understand security issues are a high priority these days.