Note: A public reception for retiring sports editor Ron Preston will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday, June 15 at the Abilene Reflector-Chronicle office, 305 N. Cedar.
Award-winning sports journalist Ron Preston, sports editor of the Abilene Reflector-Chronicle, will layout his final sports page Thursday afternoon and then move on to his next adventure in life — retirement.
Preston will retire this week after spending nine-plus years as the Reflector-Chronicle’s sports editor, joining the RC team in 2012. He also wrote sports earlier for several publications, including the Dodge City Daily Globe, the Kansas City Star, Hutchinson News and Wichita Eagle.
Preston is a life-long sports fan, having loved them since his childhood in Dodge City. Unfortunately, he couldn’t play because he was born with infantile paralysis, a form of polio.
However, he learned another way to enjoy the game.
“The only way I could be a part of a team or enjoy sports was to write,” Preston said. “I started keeping stats and then fell in love with writing about the games.”
Preston started writing for his high school newspaper and later would write for his college newspaper. He attended Dodge City Community College and later St. Mary of the Plains College in Dodge City. In college, he had a double major in English and education with a double minor in journalism and history. He even taught journalism classes, English and American history at the high school level for 10 years while earning a Master’s Degree from Kansas State University.
He later moved from the classroom to the business world. Preston spent 32 years with Duckwall-Alco Stores, moving to Abilene in 1989 to work in the general office after spending his first 10 years managing stores in the field.
Tools of the trade
At the start of his journalism career, Preston’s only equipment while covering a game was a pencil and notepad.
“First thing I would pick up, whether it was a pencil or whatever, I had to have something to write with and depending on what sport, I had to have a system of keeping track of the action. My system was to use uniform numbers, it was all uniform numbers,” Preston said. “I wrote down everything associated with numbers. The uniform numbers, points scored and the time on the clock.
“A couple of things I wasn’t prepared for right off the bat when I first started was probably interviewing coaches and trying to capture their quotes correctly. I found a digital recorder to use and now you have apps on your phone to record,” Preston continued. “But to start with, I didn’t have one, I tried to write down as much as I could and not knowing shorthand it was a challenge.”
Soon he had to add a new piece of equipment to his list, a camera. Preston learned that photographing sports would be a new challenge to his sports reporting.
“At small newspapers we have to do all of that stuff. It’s not that I don’t enjoy taking pictures, I probably miss some very good shots when I get caught up in the flow of the game.” Preston said.
“My problem is having that camera around my neck and watching the game, I would think ‘Dang that would have been a good photo,” Preston continued.
In his eyes, the most challenging sport to photograph is wrestling.
“You could take a whole roll of butt shots and that is not good for a newspaper, so you have to try to get faces because they don’t have uniform numbers,” he said. “There are a lot of kids that look alike wearing the same type orange uniform and head protection. I appreciated the gyms that actually put the weight class on the score board. Abilene did for each match and that was a big help.”
In his years, Preston created his own personal system for keeping score and stats during games. It was especially challenging in basketball, because with each score he had to make sure to get the time on the game clock.
“You have to build a system that works for you,” Preston said.
But stats and photos are not the most important part of sports reporting. Preston notes how the relationships a reporter makes will always be the most important focus.
“I think sports reporting is based a lot on relationships, especially on the high school level,” Preston said. “I believe it is important to have a relationship where you can understand the kids. It is all about the kids. I know it is my job to report the outcome, but I always keep in mind to never embarrass the kid, whether he shots an air ball or he misses the shot at the buzzer and the basketball team lost their game. That is a part of the story, but it is not the focus.”
From middle school to
During his years at the Reflector-Chronicle, Preston has had the opportunity to see kids play each year of school, from middle school through graduation.
“I’ve seen some of these kids that have graduated in my years, I’ve seen them since they played in middle school in seventh or eighth grade,” Preston said. “I’ve really enjoyed watching the improvement they have made personally.”
“I also tell kids that I apologize to them if I call them by their brothers’ or sisters’ name because they came before and they were just as good or just as athletic,” Preston continued. “So, I try to remember all these kids’ names and connections.”
In his time at the Abilene RC, he received an Award of Excellence from the Kansas Press Association in 2016 and 2017, the Kansas Interscholastic Athletics Association Sportswriter of the Year in 2017 and the Oscar Stauffer Award by the Kansas State High School Activities Association in 2019.
But when asked about the highlight reel of his career those moments don’t come to mind. Preston listed his top four sports moments in his career.
1. Watching Taylor Briggs from Chapman High School become a 4 time state champion in cross country and 3 time state champion in track and field.
“Taylor is a once in a lifetime type of God-given talented athlete that 90% of sports writers never get to cover. She is such a phenomenal runner and I can’t wait to see what is next for her at Iowa State.”
2. Covering the State Championship Wrestling team from Abilene High School.
“One of the only state championship teams that I’ve covered and they were a great group of guys. Abilene has a tremendous wrestling program and working with James Stout and those kids was a great memory.”
3. Writing about Cody Whitehair, an Abilene High School graduate who played for Kansas State Football and got drafted by the Chicago Bears.
“Just seeing some kids work really hard and keep progressing doing better day-in and day out. Cody was a prime example. I didn’t cover him in high school but I got to follow his successes at Kansas State and now in the NFL.”
4. The relationships and friendships he built with coaches and athletes in Abilene and other schools.
“Having a great working relationship with the athletic director and the coaching staffs has been key for me. Not only for my job but for me personally. Those relationships will last a lifetime. Will Burton and his coaching staffs at AHS have been great to work with on a daily basis.”
One of Preston’s first loves is baseball. While in college in Dodge City, he worked with a group of people to form a semi-pro baseball team that played games across the Midwest. He went on to become the general manager of that team. He would help recruit college baseball players to come to Kansas to play summer baseball. The league would play in Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Nebraska in a full summer schedule.
“I helped recruit them. I watched and I wrote about them for the Dodge City Daily Globe. The players wanted to play in the major leagues and because of that they could get drafted. They would sign with a major league team and a few of them had nice careers in major league baseball and that’s pretty darn cool. That is something that I’ll always remember,” he said.
Keep ‘em laughing
Besides the positive relationships Preston made with the student athletes, parents and coaches, his hearty laugh and sense of humor has been greatly appreciated by his Reflector-Chronicle colleagues.
“The best thing about working with Ron has been getting to enjoy his great sense of humor,” Editor Kathy Hageman said. “We are both trivia buffs, especially when it comes to TV shows, movies and music, so we had a lot of fun with that.”
“I’ve also enjoyed his one-liners,” Hageman continued. “At one point, I had the rim tap sound effect on my computer so when he’d zing off a great line I’d play that ‘ba dum tss’ sound. Being able to joke around like that makes the stressful times much easier. I’m really going to miss him.”
“Ron is one of the best sports writers I have ever met or had the pleasure of working with. He loved working with the kids and enjoyed all the sports,” General Manager and Advertising Director Kim Maguire said. “He really liked his job and it showed in his work. He will be very hard to replace.”
With the shift from reporting to retirement, Preston recalls how work has always been a part of his life since the beginning.
“It is going to be a big adjustment for me because I grew up on a dairy farm as a kid,” Preston said. “People know what kind of life that they have to have to live out in the county and what it means on a day-to-day basis. So, I did that and I’ve worked ever since we left the farm.”
“It’s going to be an adjustment for me not to go into work every day and I’m looking forward to being able to do what I want to do, when I want to do it and not having to worry about ‘Oh my gosh, I have a ballgame that starts at 4:30’,” Preston added.
However, he still plans on attending as many Abilene games as he can. The only change this time is he will be cheering from the seats not the sidelines.
“I’m still looking forward to going to those ballgames, but as a fan, finally,” Preston said. “So, I can stand and cheer those kids on without having to think I really shouldn’t be doing this because as a professional sports writer, you shouldn’t be cheering about those you write about.”
“I never had a family, so I don’t have any kids,” Preston continues. “I have told the Abilene parents I get to borrow your kids for whatever season of sports they are playing and I will brag about them for you.”
Preston does admit during the colder months, he will be listening to the game, so he can enjoy his nice warm apartment.
In addition to attending Abilene games, he plans in his retirement to enjoy the productions held by Great Plains Theatre, travel more for his enjoyment and go watch the Abilene graduates play at the collegiate level.
“Those kids are no longer playing sports in Abilene or Chapman High School or whatever, but now they’re playing in college and I didn’t get to see that because there was always a scheduling conflict, but now I’ll have the opportunity.”
Ron’s final personal sports column can be read on today’s sports page.