Kat Hasenauer Cornetta

Writer. Communications assistant. Coffee drinker.

Why I pursue sports journalism (even with everything else going on in my life.)

This week, I was interviewed for a piece that may run on public radio in the next few months about why I pursued a side hustle on top of my full-time job. For the first time, I think I was able to best clarify exactly why I have, even though the odds are stacked against me.

To me, turning away from a sports writing career – even if it is part-time – is dishonoring every thing that got me to where I am today. Before I wanted to become a sports writer, my career goal was to teach dance at my neighborhood dance studio or be a daycare teacher at the daycare two streets down. Before the age of 11, I never aspired to more than that. I never thought I would get anything more than a high school degree. Despite being a good student and in gifted and talented classrooms, I never thought I could do more than that.

When I discovered that people wrote about sports for a living and got paid for it, I was amazed. I loved to write and I loved sports. There was a job that involved both things?! I was obsessed with finding the details. I soon realized to pursue it, I would have to go to college and I would probably have to move away from home.

Ooof. Not only had no one in my immediate family gone to college (and I only had one cousin out of my 20+ who had at that point in time), no one – and I mean, no one – moved away from Rochester.

Even though those two facts gave me pause, it stuck in my head that it was something I might want to do. Two things happened: I became obsessed with the Sports Illustrated coverage of Super Bowl XXIX (Steve Young’s Super Bowl MVP campaign) and the release of Christine Brennan’s Inside Edge. They happened almost exactly a year apart, but those two items moved sports journalism into a career I might want to pursue, to one I had to pursue. Those two chronicles pushed me over the edge. I was completely envious of all the writers involved, and I needed to find the chance to join them.

So I fought my way to college, took out horrendous loans to do so, and started towards that career – only to allow myself freshman year to be convinced that I didn’t belong in sports journalism. But I was already in college, a place I fought so hard to get to, and I wasn’t going to leave. I got a degree in history, then moved to Boston to earn a graduate degree in education, and then ended up working in one of the largest student life offices in the U.S.

The dream of a sports journalism career got me to places I never, ever thought I would go.

So when the opportunities arise to pursue that dream, I take them. Even if it is just freelance or part-time. Because I love it and because if it hadn’t been for that dream, I wouldn’t be where I am today. 12 year old me was inspired to find more out of her life, and I need to honor that girl’s dream in whatever way I can.

There’s a kid from Vermont at the P&G Championships! (Plus more men’s gymnastics notes.)

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In traditional media coverage of gymnastics, men’s gymnastics doesn’t get a ton of love. So I figured I would offer some notes on stories I’m watching on the men’s side of this weekend’s P&G National Gymnastics Championships taking place in Anaheim, California.

From the “Kingdom” to Championships

St. Johnsbury, VT. A town of a little less than 8,000 people a few miles from the New Hampshire border. A town best known for building the Fairbanks scale and maple syrup packing. This is not a town a hop, skip and jump away from bustling Burlington. No. This is the county seat and economic center of the region of Vermont known as the “Northeast Kingdom.”

In this small Vermont town trains a two-time Junior Olympic National all-around men’s gymnastics champion.

Nikita Bolotsky of the appropriately named Kingdom Gymnastics will make his first trip to the P&G National Gymnastics Championships this week. He will compete on the Junior 15-16 competition Thursday and Saturday. The two-time Level 9 all-around national champion qualified for his first elite Nationals by finishing sixth in the Junior Elite Level 10 category at this year’s Junior Olympic Nationals.* (See primer below this section for a quick explanation on what that sentance means.)

Sadly, despite him being a two-time national champion on Level 9, there aren’t too many videos of Bolotsky on YouTube. However, recent scores from J.O. Nationals are solid enough to make him someone to watch.

His floor exercise is well-executed. One video that caught my eye was his high bar set, which is not only fun to watch, but showcases solid form (and what can I say, I’m a sucker for release moves.)

Bolotsky also trains at Vitaly Scherbo School of Gymnastics in Las Vegas, which pretty much the exact opposite of St. Johnsbury, Vermont. I’m eager to see how he does this weekend during his first foray on the elite level.

*A quick primer: The Junior Olympics Nationals for men are for Levels 8, 9 and 10. If you wish to compete at the next level – elite – you compete in the Junior Elite division there. You have two days of competition: one where you compete your full-fledged skill filled routines, and another where you compete “technical sequences.” You do well at both and finish in the top 20? Hi P&Gs Championships. If you don’t, you have one last shot: the Elite Qualifier in July.

The New England contingent

New England might not have anyone on the women’s side of the P&G Championships, but as always, the region can be counted on bringing the men.

From Massachusetts, we have Liam Doherty-Herwitz from Bedford competing at the Junior level in the 17-18 age group, and Yan Inhaber-Courchesne of Westborough on the Junior level in the 15-16 age group. Doherty-Herwitz, who trains at Brestyan’s Gymnastics (home of Aly Raisman) was one of the very last gymnasts to earn their spot at Championships, earning sixth place at last month’s National Qualifier. He did finish first after the first day of competition there, which bodes well for what he may be capable of.  Doherty-Herwitz is a standout on floor exercise, with some very powerful tumbling.

Inaber-Courchesne has flown under my radar, so, unfortunately, I don’t know much about him. The New England Academy of Gymnastics product has competed at Junior Olympic Nationals twice, finishing ninth in the all-around this past May.

In seniors, Penn State’s Stephen Nedoroscik, originally from Worcester will compete. He captured the NCAA championship on pommel horse this past spring as just a freshman, making him only the third rookie to win a NCAA event title in the last five years. Pommel horse is not exactly every gymnast’s favorite event, so if you can find success in it, there’s opportunity for you on the national level. Nedoroscik is a graduate of Worcester Tech, and during his club career, he trained at Sterling Academy of Gymnastics.

(Sadly, there is no video of Nedoroscik’s NCAA win, so here’s some of his pommels from 2015.)

New Hampshire has a competitor in juniors, Nashua’s Michael Fletcher, also of New England Academy of Gymnastics. And as mentioned previously, Vermont has their first competitor in a while in Bolotsky.

It’s the first P&G Championships in three years without Addison Chung (Medfield, Mass.), who is just back up to full training this summer after a series of injuries. As he told me for his hometown newspaper, he and his University of Iowa coaches hope that he can make a return to the elite level in 2018. His new Hawkeyes teammate is the Junior All-Around favorite, Bennet Huang.

Is This the Year for Eddie?

I was on the bus ride home Monday and read a popular gymnastics website’s men’s P&G Championships preview, and nearly threw my iPhone across the seat.

How do you preview this year’s senior men’s event by not mentioning a gymnast who won a World Cup gold medal on floor exercise this season? Yes, the frustrating preview skipped over Eddie Penev, who may be the U.S.’s best medal hope for this year’s World Championships. (This year’s World Championships are an individual championships, meaning team medals are not at stake, but individual all-around and event medals are.)

It is Penev’s best chance to finally make a Worlds team for the U.S. (he previously represented Bulgaria twice at Worlds, making the floor finals both times.) Penev is not an all-arounder, and still rings, pommel horse and high bar aren’t exactly his cup of tea. But he will even show the occasional high bar update on social media. And in a rebuilding year – where a good portion of last year’s Olympic team has now retired and the National Team is under new leadership – Penev may be exactly what the U.S. needs to have a solid medal showing at Worlds.

“Looking at the results from the (Olympic) Games I can see that I had great medal chances on floor in particular – even gold medal chances by the looks of it – by the scores I’ve gotten over the years in international competitions,” said Penev in an interview last fall.

To me, after an epic Yul Moldauer – Akash Modi duel, fan-favorite Penev doing well could be one of the main men’s stories of these championships.

A Shout-Out to Kiwan

One of my favorites from my years attending P&G Champs, Kiwan Watts, is back after finishing 30th last year in his senior debut. Watts, who is headed to compete for Arizona State (a high level college club team) in the fall, finished first all-around at on the junior level in 2015.

I can’t put my exact finger why he became one of my favorites – I think it might have been because he sometimes has a female coach, somewhat a rarity in men’s gymnastics. But his long lines and great effort kept me paying attention. The years I covered Championships, I always made sure to catch him on high bar, but he is fun to watch on every event.


A Different Vibe at Championships

It will be interesting to hear and read reports about this year’s championships because of the grave issue hanging over USA Gymnastics like a dense fog. With news breaking on the eve of the championships that a California-based victim may have received a settlement from the organization, which may be against California law, it won’t be business as usual in Anaheim.

The actual competition will march forward, and USA Gymnastics will encourage media to focus on the gymnasts competing as much as possible. Where I think this fog might be most felt is at the National Congress and Trade Show held adjacent to the competition. (Side note: Besides watching hours and hours of gymnastics, the Trade Show was always my favorite part of the three Nationals I got to cover.) Coaches come from all over the country to attend Congress, where you can take seminars and classes from some of gymnastics’ best and brightest. There will be discussion there of course of USA Gymnastics’ new SafeSport initiatives and policies, as well as how to prevent dangerous situations from occurring at gyms across the country. I am sure there will be a much different vibe and a few hard discussions taking place in sessions at the Congress, and they are definitely conversations that need to be had if the sport wants to continue forward.

 

The YouTube Vault: Peggy Fleming Meets the Los Angeles Kings

Sometimes the videos YouTube suggests for you hold great surprises.

That’s exactly what happened late one evening while I was catching up on work, and had YouTube streaming on the television. I let a suggested video pop up, and it turned out to be Here’s Peggy Fleming, the Olympic gold medalist’s 1968 award-winning NBC special.

I had never seen the special – it aired 14 years before I was born and had no way to see it before it was uploaded to YouTube. I wish this wasn’t my first introduction to it, because it includes a fun mash-up of two of my favorite sports – hockey and figure skating.

Filmed at The Forum in Inglewood, California, the segment includes the Southern California-bred Fleming having to share the ice with the then very new Los Angeles Kings, and the chaos it creates. The embedded video below goes exactly to the segment’s starting point.

 

It’s beautifully shot and impeccably directed. The whole special ended up winning a bunch of awards, and this quick scene shows why. Anyone who likes retro hockey or figure skating will find this a treat.

Coaching, Pre-Olympic Power and More: The Many Layers of the US Women’s Hockey Team’s Protest

I don’t have a ton of time, but I needed to get some thoughts out about the dispute between USA Hockey and the US Women’s National Team. My unfinished take below is based on covering the sport here and there since 2011. I will try to finish it and edit it better eventually, but for now, I just wanted to get it out there. 

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Although it is not an Olympic year, the U.S. Women’s National team has harnessed the weight of Olympic competition in their World Championships holdout against USA Hockey.

An Olympic hopeful in any sport can tell you about the importance of the pre-Olympic year. Major competitions are often held in Olympic venues (although they aren’t in women’s hockey), teams start to gel in a certain way that will influence selection in the Olympic year and individuals try to put the final flourish on credentials that will earn them an Olympic spot.

For national organizing bodies like USA Hockey, pre-Olympic years are key for evaluation and marketing purposes. They are looking at an athlete’s recent competition performances with a magnifying glass, seeing how they meet the pressure to perform and how they fare against the world’s best. It’s also a key year to getting faces out in front of the American public, giving mainstream fans a taste of who they will be rooting for next February.

Holding out of a U.S. hosted World Championships during a pre-Olympic year, exactly what the U.S. Women’s National Team is doing, disrupts that finely tuned machine, making it the most effective form of protest. The pre-Olympic machine has ground to a halt for U.S. women’s hockey.

While the Women’s National Team has been clear in all of what they are fighting for – proper compensation for devoting themselves to the sport for a four-year span, equal recognition by USA Hockey properties, equipment equality, and a better development system for women’s hockey – USA Hockey is taking an interesting PR turn. Their statements in response to the National Team’s coordinated protest only address the compensation piece of the complaint, and do so in great detail. They’re trying to turn public opinion by making the protest all about money, repeating endlessly that they are not in the “business of paying athletes.”

But the Women’s National Team consider compensation a small part of the protest. Building a development program structure would make great strides in checking off the rest of the National Team’s wants. Marketing opportunities would grow from having a group of athletes “in-house” and representing USA Hockey from an early age. It works on the men’s side, where we have heard about Auston Matthews from way before his NHL Draft Date. His residency within the US Under 18 Team wasn’t the only reason he was so visible, but it sure helped USA Hockey promote his abilities better.

A better women’s hockey development structure would might also create coaching jobs for members of the current National Team, and coaching is an underlying issue and cause of this protest that no one seems to have touched upon. Members of the National Team approached ESPNW and other outlets a few weeks prior to their protest with claims that they currently were coachless, with previous coach Ken Klee ousted quietly after the 2016 Four Nations Cup. USA Hockey swiftly released a statement saying that Robb Stauber who led the US team for a few games against Canada at the start of 2017, would lead the team at the upcoming Worlds. Was the coaching situation the tipping point for the National Team’s protest, or was approaching the media about it a test case for a future protest? 

Also along coaching lines, why hasn’t the National Team addressed the lack of women’s coaches in the current system? They went from an Olympic Team led by Harvard’s Katey Stone in 2014 to only having female coaching on the World Juniors team (where Boston University’s Katie Lachapelle and Boston College’s Courtney Kennedy have received several opportunities over the years as assistants.) Why haven’t Kennedy and Lachapelle gotten more senior team chances? If it is due their college coaching demands, how can we make these national team coaching positions just as enticing as their assistant positions on D1 programs?

 

The Cloffice Makeover: The Before

Contrary to some people’s belief, I am not a full-time sportswriter. I have a master’s degree in educational administration and spend my days (and some nights, and the occasional weekend) working in a Dean of Students’ office.

When I moved into my office nearly 11 years ago, one of my colleagues told me that I couldn’t complain about its size until I had been in it a decade. Last June, I met that milestone.

Not that I’d ever complain about it. I’m blessed just to have four walls. I’m the daughter of a toolmaker and a lunch lady, two positions where you never have an office, so just to have a walls is an accomplishment.

But these four walls have an unusual nickname: the Cloffice. My office doubles as a storage closet for all of the AV and computer equipment my department needs on a regular basis. I have microphones, cameras, video cameras, tripods, batteries, wires…it’s like a mini Radio Shack.

It also doubles as the Yearbook office, since I advise the Yearbook and we lost our office space last summer. Add that I’m a pack-rat who has been at the university 12 years. All of that means that the Cloffice is so packed that I can’t comfortably have meetings in it. This led to a generation of students naming themselves, “Kat’s Doorway Society” a few years back. They had to stand or sit in my doorway to have meetings with me. (It’s a little better now, but still not ideal.)

I kind of feel like if the Magic School Bus’ Ms. Frizzle was actually a sports-writing university administrator, this would be her office.

I need to make a change for so many reasons, but I have zero design and organizational skills and no actual budget. So…we’re going to wing it. I mean, I’m 35 years old and I still pretty much wing everything I do in life, so why stop now? (I realize this is not a good thing, but I also realize if I’ve been this way for three and a half decades, I’m probably not going to change.)

Here’s the before. Please don’t call the Hoarders producers. I swear it’s under control. (That blue Solo cup is a an “I’m sorry” collection cup, not a prop about the horrors of underage drinking.)
My office's bookcase

 

My favorite part of the Cloffice: my giant bulletin board. I’ve made a handy guide to it for you!
My office bulletin board

A: Photos of my son.

B: A very nice note from an athlete I wrote about twice.

C: My dear oldest cat Annie and I

D. My best friend Laurel on the 2008-09 BU winter sports schedule card

E. A meme of Kristy from the Baby Sitters’ Club books that reads, “Oh we’re putting on a parade and you’re all going to like it.” (I have planned several parades and my childhood friends always compared me to the character, so it’s really the perfect meme.)

F. Every office needs a motivational photo of Marv Levy.

G. A photo of Rhett, BU’s mascot, and a fake name and University ID number so I can make “fake” IDs to use in social media posts.

H. One of my handmade campaign posters from when I ran for National Honor Society President back in 1999. (I didn’t have a computer, so I created fake endorsements from celebrities I cut out from People magazine.)

I. I, as in, I don’t know why I still have this depressing thing up. It’s a Deseret News comic from 1999 about Steve Young’s pending retirement.

J. An image of the first time I ever had a story teased on the back cover of the Boston Herald. It was about Aly Raisman’s comeback.

K. A University brand guidelines cheat sheet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My plan is to try to get at least two projects done a week, and I’ll share what I can here. Tips? Ideas? Comment below or tweet me (@KatCornetta.)

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