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The Good, Bad And Bizarre of High School Photos

  • Mascoma's Kyle Wilson<br/>Valley News - Tris Wykes
  • Windsor's Rebecca Rumrill<br/>Valley News - Tris Wykjes
  • Woodstock High field hockey player Clancy Farrand<br/>Valley News - Tris Wykes
  • Woodstock High football player Bill Wood<br/>Valley News - Tris Wykes
  • Lebanon High football player Tavian Tobin<br/>Valley News - Tris Wykes
  • Lebanon High's GW Wells-Bogue<br/>Valley News - Tris Wykes

When I arrived at the Valley News in 2009, I was mildly surprised to discover we didn’t have a data base of head shot photos for high school athletes.

It’s a sports department staple for some newspapers, but resources can only stretch so far and such images are a luxury, not a necessity.

From my days at Hanover High, however, I recalled the excitement having one’s picture exhibited in ink could generate. As a senior, my football teammate Derek Rozycki was the Valley News defensive player of the week and got his mug included with the article, his grin seeming to stretch from Etna to Norwich. Sure, Zyk got some good-nature ribbing, but he was a celebrity after the clipping was tacked to the bulletin board outside the principal’s office.

What if we could replicate that experience for more kids more often? I visit our local schools fairly regularly, reporting stories and taking action photos. A polite approach, a little begging, a few quick snaps of the shutter and it would all come together over time. As with anything involving teenagers, however, it wasn’t quite that simple.

Because we had never done this on a large scale before, the kids were vaguely suspicious. Who are you and why are you taking a picture of me from what seems like six inches away? Can’t you see that I’m suffering an acne breakout and my hair is stuck to my sweaty forehead and my braces look like an Erector set parked between my lips? Go away.

The boys try to look tough and razz any of their teammates who dare to smile. The girls all complain loudly that they hate having their pictures taken, never mind that some take Facebook “selfies” seemingly every 15 minutes. Some athletes radiate charisma, almost sending it into the camera along with the light. Others, their confidence and self-esteem still building, seem to shrink before the lens.

I was initially more accustomed to college and pro athletes, who have had their photos taken so often that it becomes second nature. Wriggle into the team jersey. Crank up a smile or an intimidating stare. Click. Next.

Not so with high school students.

I distinctly remember having it out with Lebanon High freshman soccer player GW Wells-Bogue in 2010. I was tired and uptight and he was gawky and angling for the title of junior varsity class clown. Each time I went to take his photo, he’d cross his eyes or twist his lips or tilt his head at a crazy angle.

Slowly and gradually, we’ve built up our head shot collection. Coaches call us after their teams’ games to report the score, any notable plot twists and to let us know who had goals, assists or other big plays. Usually there’s room on the page to toss in a few faces, and we try to spread the exposure. A Whitcomb boys soccer player and a Windsor field hockey competitor one day. A Hanover girls hockey skater and a Stevens boys trackster the next.

“You wanna get mugged?” I’ll ask night sports editor Dave Bailey partway through our office shift, and although it’s more work for him, he’s nearly always up for inserting a few small photos into the text.

Because neither Dave nor myself were exactly high school sports stars, we have a soft spot for unsung heroes and try to include their head shots whenever we can.

Sure, the scoring stars are going to get their press, but we try to also toss in a football lineman or a valiant goaltender.

As the years have passed, I’ve noticed changes in the reception my camera and I receive. Athletes now realize the head shots may actually wind up in the paper and they’re more eager to have their pictures taken. Coaches appreciate the recognition their programs receive and are kind enough to carve five or 10 minutes out of their valuable practice time.

At Hartford High last spring, I overheard a girls lacrosse player telling a teammate that she didn’t see why she had to have her picture taken, as it would never be used anyway. “Be careful,” her friend warned, “I thought that last year and one day there I was in the paper.”

What’s also changed is my attitude, which is more relaxed. For heaven’s sakes, this is high school sports and it’s supposed to be fun. Sure, we need a basic photo, but if you want me to take a shot with your tongue stuck out so your friends will laugh, then go for it. I always warn the jokesters, however, that their funny photos might end up in the paper. Today, some of them have.

GW Wells-Bogue is included among this story’s illustrations, now a senior and engaging in a more subtle brand of humor. Not until I got back to the office from taking photographing his team earlier this month did I realize he’d scrunched up his forehead and pursed his lips as if blowing me a kiss.

Well played, my friend. Well played.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.