Heights Sports


oston College football has another week to prepare for the Holy War, a rivalry that looks vastly different today than it did in 1975. BC has defeated the Fighting Irish nine times in program history, none more memorable than the then-No. 12 Eagles’ 41-39 victory on Nov. 21, 1993. Notre Dame orchestrated a 22-point comeback in the final 11 minutes of regulation to take the lead before BC kicker David Gordon drilled a game-winning 41-yard field goal as time expired to beat the top-ranked Irish. 

The Eagles were featured on the Nov. 29, 1993 cover of Sports Illustrated. But before that, they were on the front page of The Heights. BC’s upset win was the centerpiece of the Heights sports section on Nov. 22, with the headline “THERE IS A GOD! AND HE’S WEARING MAROON AND GOLD…” Twenty-six years later, the section remains the source of record for all of BC’s major varsity sports, equipped with informative and entertaining content and, of course, headlines with wordplay—week after week. 

Heights Sports has produced some of the organization’s most notable alumni. Bob Ryan, BC ’68, went on to become The Boston Globe’s Celtics beat writer one year after graduating before ultimately establishing himself as one of the more renowned columnists in sports journalism. Then there’s Mike Lupica, BC ’74, who ended up working as a columnist at the New York Daily News for four decades, all while publishing a number of sports and young adult books. And, of course, Lesley Visser, BC ’75, became both the first female NFL beat writer and the first female NFL television analyst, in addition to covering events broadcasted worldwide, such as the Olympics, World Series, NBA Finals, and Super Bowl.

Since then, a handful of other Heights Sports alums have made a name for themselves in media, each motivated by the last. Interested in pursuing a career in journalism or not, Heights Sports editors have all shared a passion for BC sports, as well as a drive to tell the stories of the University’s finest athletes. They’ve continually reflected on the paper’s past work and used it as a source of inspiration for new ideas. And that’s more true in 2019 than ever before.

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This decade, Heights Sports has incorporated many of the same print components from year to year. For instance, sections like “Editor’s Picks,” “Sports in Short,” “Scoreboard”—a significant part of the section’s makeup in the 2010s—existed up until the past two years. The scoreboard boxes, notebook-gamer splits, and point-counterpoint graphics are all either identical in design or very similar.

That said, with improving technology and an ever-evolving board structure, the section has placed a larger emphasis on design, leading to enhanced cover pages and much-improved layout. But the coverage—which mostly consists of news stories, gamers, notebooks, features, and columns—remains just as objective and engaging as ever.

Amid this 10-year span, however, Heights Sports has transformed dramatically online—both on bcheights.com and on social media. Each year, the section has increased its web content, shifting to more of an online focus and even experimenting with multimedia, while still keeping an eye out for print every week. 

During the past three years in particular, Heights Sports has started churning out daily content that strays from typical print coverage. Whether it’s publishing ACC Power Rankings for football and basketball, previews for high-profile games on campus, season reviews for all of the major varsity sports, or graphic-based analytical breakdowns, the section is constantly finding new ways to draw readers in online. After all, that’s where most of our readers are, especially after The Heights returned to a once-a-week printing schedule in 2017.

Today, managing social media is one of the most important jobs that a Heights Sports editor has, and that part of the job has existed for only a handful of years. With the rise of Facebook and Twitter, it has become imperative for the section—more so than others on the paper—to extend beyond the confines of the website and our normal on-campus print circulation. 

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All stories are written, edited, and uploaded to the site with a sense of urgency, knowing that it’s somewhat of a race to beat the other outlets covering BC Athletics, even the popular aggregate-based blogs. After publishing articles online, the section posts all its stories to Twitter and those that are most newsworthy on Facebook, hoping to draw engagement from our following. This involves a sect of journalism that was previously untapped by The Heights—teaser writing, Facebook debugging, and Twitter card validating.

Although the print product is important, and the section’s editors remain in the office until Sunday night every week perfecting headlines, captions, and spacing, what is published online—and how it is presented—is what defines Heights Sports in 2019. The incorporation of GIFs, photo galleries, videos, and graphics has made stories more visually appealing than ever before. Not to mention that the section’s social media presence increases by the day.

The Heights Sports Twitter account is verified and, at the moment, has close to 3,600 followers. Each year, it’s up to the section to modify the look and brand of the account to reflect the changing times. When I was in charge of the section in 2018, we changed the Heights Sports logo and cover photo, displaying a handful of the section’s most recent print designs. For the better half of the decade, the section’s editors have created and constantly updated their own individual Twitter accounts, becoming insiders among the BC community for in-game and post-game coverage, not to mention injury and team roster updates. Twitter followers expect daily Heights Sports content, in addition to the voices behind the articles.

Providing commentary on Twitter every day can be taxing, but it’s the direction journalism is going—other college papers function the same exact way. What’s interesting, though, is how each sports section, Heights Sports included, has integrated its print content online. Tweeting out screenshots of the print design and promoting the issue is common, as is converting print-specific content to the website. So even though the section’s focus is online, its attachment to print has hardly disappeared.

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here’s no denying that Heights Sports is drastically different than it was 100, 50, and even 10 years ago. If you look at the print product, you’ll notice enhancements in just about every regard. But if you turn to social media and bcheights.com, you’ll find a completely different section—one that competes on a day-to-day basis with The Boston Globe and The Boston Herald to curate the best BC sports content in the area. 

Heights Sports still covers every major varsity sporting event on and off-campus, features the University’s best and brightest athletes, and opines about BC’s athletic programs that demand both praise and criticism. In the past six years alone, the section has reported on some of the more monumental moments in BC Athletics history. 

Football recorded its inaugural Red Bandana victory over a top-10 USC team and made its second-ever appearance on College GameDay. Baseball stitched together a run to the NCAA Super Regional. Women’s hockey started 40-0 before suffering a brutal National Championship loss. Lacrosse made three straight ill-fated trips to the national title game. Men’s basketball produced two NBA guards in Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman. And BC hired its first black Director of Athletics, Martin Jarmond. Heights Sports has been there to cover it all.

The section goes above and beyond to provide the most accurate and comprehensive coverage, even traveling to road games when the budget is tighter than ever. While logistically difficult, driving 10-plus hours to Charlottesville and Blacksburg, Va., spending nights in a Summer Camp cabin and Sorority House, publishing stories in Burger Kings and a random Boston Market off the Mass Turnpike, and aimlessly wandering around to find various press boxes and media suites across the country is what makes this job so memorable. We do it all to the tune of a 24-hour news cycle. 

Two years ago, Heights Sports covered another upset of a No. 1 team. When BC men’s basketball took down undefeated Duke on Dec. 9, 2017, The Heights delivered—but unlike 1993, the content didn’t have to wait till press time. Live tweeting the game, posting footage of the court storming, and filing the first version of the gamer as soon as the buzzer sounded, was an expectation, not a novelty. 

Nevertheless, the section has stuck to its roots during this digital shift. Each section head passes down the style guide, templates, and traditions from years prior, ensuring a consistency that makes Heights Sports special. No one editor is redesigning the section—they’re building on what was created before them. And that’s something that will never change.

Featured Image by Richard Shiro / AP Photo

Andy Backstrom

Andy served as the sports editor and managing editor of The Heights, wrote over 450 articles, covered hundreds of Boston College sporting events, and made lifelong friends in McElroy 113. Like what you see? Follow him on Twitter @andybackstrom.

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