It was the summer of 1998 and I was standing along the first baseline at a Wilton baseball game. I was about to enter my sophomore year in high school and my freshman English teacher, Steve Sands, approached and stood along side me.
He began talking with me about Wilton’s school newspaper — the Beaver Tale. He asked if I’d ever thought about becoming a staffer and writing for my school paper.
No, I told him. He then explained the two journalism classes he taught at Wilton, Journalism I and Journalism II. You had to get a high “B” at least in JI, if I remember correctly, to even be considered for JII. Upon entering JII, you got to write for the school paper and help contribute to the yearbook.
Again, I told him no.
As a freshman English teacher, Sands was in the perfect position. He got to grade the writing of every student in Wilton High School, both figuratively and literally, while cherry-picking his next Beaver Tale staffers, as he was tasked each year with advising the school paper.
Sands told me he thought I was a good writer and I'd be responsible. I thanked him but told him I hadn’t ever thought about writing for the school paper. What I didn’t tell him is that, at the time, I wasn’t interested in “extra” writing outside normal school work.
He then said he knew I was an avid sports fan and that if I took JI and made it through to JII, I could be the sports editor of the Beaver Tale my senior year.
Sold! That was the day that Mr. Sands hooked me into writing for the Beaver Tale. He kept his word. I got my first story published in the Beaver Tale in 1999 and was the co-sports editor with classmate Trent Allmandinger my senior year (2000-2001).
In those two years I developed a passion for news and news writing. My favorite part of the gig was interviewing people — coaches and players alike. When our girls’ basketball team made the state tournament in 2001, I was on court in Des Moines, taking photos for the Beaver Tale.
The Beaver Tale provided numerous experiences and memories I’ll never forget.
The only thing I didn’t know at the time was that the conversation with Sands along that baseline on a summer day was step No. 1 on a career path that is ongoing for me today. He was the first mentor I had while embarking on this journey.
A few years after I graduated from Wilton, Sands became a family man and stepped away from teaching for a while. Upon coming back to the profession, he landed at Durant as an English teacher.
When I came back to the Advocate News as editor in early 2009, the roles reversed. Every once in awhile, it was I who would corner Sands at an event, talking with him about reviving Durant’s student newspaper. I would tell him and the school’s administrators that they’d all be foolish to not have him lead a school paper.
For years he wasn’t interested. Then in 2018, when I learned that the Wilton Beaver Tale would be no more, I knew it was time to step up my game.
I needed to pull a Sands on Sands. I set up a meeting with him at his Durant classroom near the end of last school year. I told him (in confidence) that the Beaver Tale was soon to stop production. My original vision was to explore a combined school paper that could incorporate both Wilton and Durant. He would oversee it since he had the journalism endorsement, but the Beaver Tale staff and adviser at Wilton could contribute their "half." It would be another step in the world of sharing between the districts.
He wasn’t interested. Sands is hands-on. If he were to lead a school paper once again, he didn’t feel he’d do it justice if he wasn’t able to interact constantly with the Wilton students. If he were to do it, it would be Durant only. It took a conversation or two, but eventually we began talking further about it and, shortly thereafter, the Durant Chronicles was born.
Beginning in September, Sands and a group of eager students in Durant embarked on a 9-issue commitment of once again printing a school newspaper. The agreement, amount of pages and frequency is the same we had in Wilton.
As of last week, we printed the second issue of the Durant Chronicles (DC). He’s got a focused group of around a dozen students in his daily seminar class who make up the staff. They’ve come out of the gate running, tackling important issues head-on as only a Sands team knows how.
We went over programming and layout a bit in the summer and they’re pages blend right in with our newspaper each week. They’re filling every inch with timely photos, stories and sponsors, much like we did 20 years ago when I was a Sands disciple. The main difference — when I was in high school we rolled our own film and had a dark room. Today, digital cameras work wonders and everyone else has a camera in their pocket (aka a cellphone).
I’ve met with some of the DC staffers. They’re excited and are taking their work seriously. Sands is challenging them along the way I’m sure. He believes in them. I do too.
Upon delivering the September and October issues to the school, staffers are excited, proud and grab them out of my hands as quickly as I sit them down. Our readers are excited. I’ve been quite impressed with what I’ve seen thus far. I had no doubt. We too are excited to have revived this relationship and are looking forward to many issues in years to come.