Travis Long brings out identity of Sandhills Community College basketball

In 2013, Travis Long, a journalist for The News and Observer, a media outlet in North Carolina, outdid anything a pad and pen reporter could do with only a camera.

The North Carolina Press Photographers Association recognized his story on the Sandhills Community College men’s basketball team with first place in the sports photo story category of the agency’s annual awards.

In short, community college basketball is the lowest tier in college hoops, lacking the excitement of a team with steady support surrounded by thousands of dedicated fans on an every-game basis. Community college student-athletes compete for their own enjoyment, or hopes of catching the attention of a bigger program.

A writer can do in-depth reporting to find some interesting details, but as they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and Long used 10 of them.

The opening picture of Long's story may seem ordinary, but its caption makes it extraordinary
The opening picture of Long’s story may seem ordinary, but its caption makes it extraordinary. (NC PRESS PHOTOGRAPHERS ASSOCIATION/ TRAVIS LONG)

It is easy to dismiss the first picture that Long took, as every basketball team runs en masse out to the court, almost always cheered on by their coach. However, the captioning, shown above, makes this an interesting start.

Learning that the team’s coach is a high school teacher says a lot of things about the entire basketball program. More than likely, the school’s athletic department has few resources, as most college basketball teams pay their coaches a sizable chunk of change to lead a team as a full-time profession.

The fact that it is a community college team says this as well, but it is more than likely that a high school teacher will not be leading the most talented group of kids in the world.

Those “talented” student-athletes entertain thousands in an arena, yet a picture in Long’s story shows just how small attendance is for this team/

All the viewer needs to see is that in a bleacher section that could probably hold 20 to 30 fans, there are three. That shows that not too many people are chomping at the bit to watch or support this team.

Again, this story is about a basketball team, yet only one picture shows any on-court action at all. Even then, the image is focused on the coach rather than the actual game itself, which brings up a positive about this photo story.

Long manages to give the audience more about a team with 10 pictures and captions than a writer could with a feature story, in a method far easier on the eyes.

A negative, however, if it could even be called that, is that the photo story does in a way leave an inquisitive taste. Why are these players at a community college? How did they end up at the school? What are their aspirations?

Theoretically, the individual story of each player could be told through images, but that would far exceed the length of one piece.

This, however, does not utilize social media. There are no tweets, accompanying videos, or anything of the sort. But, on the bright side for Long, he proved that he could do a strong job of reporting.

Looking at the make-up of the team, he could have taken a variety of angles. Yet, he seemingly focused on the coach, as it is odd that a high school teacher would have a job in college athletics. It shows a lot about the character of the team when Long captures him infuriated with calls by the referee, and looking as if he has his heart and soul entrenched in the game.

Keep in mind, that this is his side gig, not his actual job.

Sandhills Community College may not have top-tier athletes of a “big name” school, but Long’s pictures show that they are top-tier competitors nonetheless.

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