Mike Bialka, sports editor of the Brainerd Dispatch received the Breaking Barriers Award on Wednesday, Feb. 4, at a ceremony at the state Capitol in St. Paul. The Minnesota Coalition of Women in Athletic Leadership sponsors the event every year on National Girls and Women in Sports Day.
Bialka was nominated for the media award by Shelly Boyum-Breen because he has supported and promoted girls' and women's sports in the Brainerd area for more than 30 years.
I just wanted to show my appreciation for the way Mike and the Dispatch covered me and my teams when I was a student athlete at Brainerd High School. I especially remember that even our girl's golf team got good coverage! Boyum-Breen said.
As a coach of a local women's team I and my team have been beneficiaries of great coverage by various sports reporters at the Dispatch. To show my own appreciation for what Mike does for all of us I asked to interview him for once.
Mike's career began in 1977 as a one-man sports editor/writer/photographer/page layout person at the Crookston Daily Times where he used a typewriter and sometimes some pretty big photographs to fill two or three pages of sports five times a week. He was hired to help Jim Wallace at the Dispatch in 1978 and worked part time in the sports department. With the arrival of girls' sports in the 1970s the workload for the sports pages doubled.
When I was in high school, girls sports were in their infancy at the MSHSL level so I've been used to girls being part of the athletic scene for the last 40 years. In my time here we have always tried to treat girls as equally and fairly as possible. That point may be argued by many Dispatch readers, but ...
Most of us know that Dispatch readers like to scrutinize. Despite his best efforts the Dispatch sports pages are often criticized for not covering more events and activities. As participation has grown both in numbers and number of games the sports staff hasn't. This year for the first time since 1985 the sports department is down to only two full-time sports writers whose jobs right now are to cover 50 winter varsity programs at the 12 high schools they cover and Central Lakes College. They are also asked to cover traveling programs, racing, Northwoods League, local bowling scores, Dolphin swim meet results, etc. While demand for coverage keeps increasing space has been reduced four to five pages per week. One night this week for example there were nine activities competing at BHS alone. The Dispatch often depends upon others to get the information to them. They can only print the information they have.
Since 2008, it has become much more difficult, Bialka said. A year ago we had a full-time sports copy editor who designed pages and a third full-time writer, whose first beat was CLC. Both these people left, have not and probably will not be replaced because of the economy.
Bialka has seen beyond gender lines to put a story out that people are interested in.
I don't specifically remember my first story about girls or women. I could probably find it in a folder somewhere, but it was probably about volleyball at CLC, which was coached by Darlene Palmer at the time.
Palmer, Carol Miller, and Fran Hedner were people who came to mind when asked who he thought had a great influence on girls' and women's sports in Brainerd. Janet Karvonen was an athlete Bialka covered who might have been ahead of her time a bit. He credited Karvonen with putting MSHSL girls athletics on the map.
She was a phenomenal high school basketball player. I covered a game for the old District 24 championship, New York Mills against Wadena. Karvonen scored 8 points in the first half, 23 in the second. That ranks as one of the best individual performances, boys or girls, that I've seen. He showed me a copy of the article he had found in a file somewhere.
In his files somewhere you will also undoubtedly find hundreds of stories about girls and boys, men and women, teams and individuals who for the most part were covered in a positive light. We may be spoiled with what we've gotten in this town out of our sports pages.
Our brand is doing local stuff, Bialka said. We are known as 'hyper-local'.
Bialka is proud of that but struggles with not being able to please everyone all of the time.
It's difficult to cover all sports and to do them all justice, he said.
It's also difficult to do justice in appreciating someone who has worked tirelessly to bring us great local sports coverage for more than 30 years. Congratulations, Mike on a well deserved award.
JANE PETERSON is head volleyball coach at Central Lakes College.
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