Sheets breaks sports barrier

Jocelyn Sheets

Jocelyn Sheets marks her 25th year at the Iola Register this week.
Hindsight shows she’s been a pioneer as a female sports editor.
She’s had to “play the game,” to get where she is. Though she had ample experience, she was “overlooked” as either a sportswriter or a photographer while working for K-State’s Collegian newspaper.
“Those were male-dominated territories,” she said of the times. Instead, she was stuck editing copy — perhaps knowing that her day would come.
Today, Sheets has total control of Register sports. Or, depending on the season, the other way around.
Come fall, she and fellow reporter Richard Luken will work into the wee hours of Saturday morning reporting area Friday night football games. That’s in addition to the other high school sports of volleyball, cross country and girls tennis. Then there’s also college soccer, cross country and volleyball.
That means 80-90 hour work weeks.
“You work till the job is done,” she said.
Perhaps she gets that great work ethic from growing up on a farm. 4-H’ers know it. Doing a good job means going above and beyond.
Sheets, 51, grew up in Linwood, east of Lawrence on an 80-acre hog farm. She was one of five children; three were boys.
Seems from the beginning she had a love of sports.
“I watched more football on TV than most boys,” she said of her youth. A favorite memory is talking football with her Uncle Jim when visiting at her grandparents in Burlington.
Still burning is Kansas City’s loss to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl I. That was 1967. She was 8. Her Chiefs were vindcated with the 1970 win in Super Bowl IV.

MUSIC, HOWEVER, was a close second to Jocelyn’s heart. Since fourth grade she has played the trumpet. In college, she played all four years for K-State’s marching and concert bands. For 23 years she played summer nights with Iola’s Municipal Band, quitting two years ago.
“I miss it,” she said of that longtime involvement and rethinking the decision.
As a youth she considered becoming a high school music teacher to follow in the footsteps of Clara Shub, the K-12 music teacher in Linwood schools.
But the journalism bug also bit early and hard. When only a freshman in high school she was a stringer for the Kansas City Kansan reporting on Linwood sports.
“By the time I was a senior, they pretty much printed my stories as is,” she said. “I got paid per line.”
She was sports editor for Linwood High’s student newspaper, the Bulldog Barker.
Of the numerous awards she has earned as a professional, Jocelyn recalls her proudest moment was becoming the first female to receive the Oscar Stauffer award for sports writing in 1987. The award is given each year by the Kansas State High School Activities Association to a professional journalist covering high school sports.
After graduating from Linwood High School in 1975, Jocelyn headed directly for Kansas State University and proceeded through its J-school program in four years.
From there, she went to the weekly Linn County News for five years where she was a general assignment reporter plus taking on sports fulltime the final three years.
She landed in Iola on Aug. 10, 1984.
“After 10 years, I knew this was where I wanted to stay,” she said. “I get to write and take pictures as much as I want. The Friday night deadline waits on sports — not many newspapers are that generous.”
And the perks — are great.
Yes, the free admittance, be it to the local sporting events, the Humboldt Speedway or the Kansas City Chiefs are nice, but it’s the contact with area students that she finds the most rewarding.
“I’m on a first-name basis with the students,” she said. “The parents know me, but I know their kids,” intimating to that special club whose membership is select.
It’s true. She’s out there, win or lose, as faithful as a dog. On the court, out on the field, the course, the track.
She’s devoted to sports, but not at all costs and especially when it comes to academics.
“I understand the situations schools are in today when it comes to funding and the choices that have to be made,” she said. “Sports are great. But I wouldn’t want to see them favored over music and art if cuts have to be made. When it comes to an education, learning should come first.”
Spoken as a true renaissance (wo)man.
Her favorite interview to date is when famed trumpeter Al Hirt came to Iola in 1987 to perform at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. “It didn’t hurt that he could talk football,” she said of his role as part owner of the New Orleans Saints.

Susan Lynn, editor