All the familiar rhythms and signs that we’re closing the book on another long and fruitful year of high school sports in the Capital Region are in place.
There’s the increasing urgency from the players and coaches, knowing that, because it’s championship time, the next game or meet could be the last. Check the school scoreboard and schedule on B3 of today’s Daily Gazette — it’s getting smaller every day, isn’t it? It always does.
For those athletes and coaches — but especially Gazette readers — this annual process has been ushered onto the pages of our newspaper and website by long-time high school sportswriter Jim Schiltz since 1987 (1987!). Jim’s New York Mets ballcap as he roams all the sidelines has been as much a signature of his dedicated coverage as the bylines on top of his stories.
This time, as the season is winding down, Jim’s career at the Gazette will be, too.
Jim will be retiring at the age of 58 at the end of July, taking a treasure chest of memories with him, but leaving a legacy that those who care about high school sports around here will appreciate for a long time.
“I need to step away. It’s time for me. My run was great,” Jim said on Friday. “My intention, as a kid, was I want to write sports. I always loved sports, I loved playing everything, and I got into it through reading the paper. The box scores, the Celtics were a big thing, Mets … when I was a kid, I cut out all the Mets stories and glued them in my folder. The lean years, this was when the Mets really stunk. But I did it religiously. I still have them. They’re buried somewhere.
“I just talked to a coach last night, and I let him know that I’m going to be moving on, and I just said, ‘You’re one of the guys [I’ll miss.]’ This was an older coach who I’ve known. I’m going to miss the kids and the coaches … a lot. I love talking to the kids. That’s the big kick.”
“I have him in all my articles that I have saved,” said Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake field hockey coach Kelly Vrooman, whom Jim covered all the way back to when she starred as a player on the Spartans’ 1987 state championship team.
“He could remember every little detail of my high school career better than I could. He would come up with games and situations and I would be like, ‘How does he remember all of this stuff?’ I’m just one person, one team and he just always knows his facts.”
“[Fort Plain baseball coach] Craig Phillips is retiring, Schiltz’s retiring … man, we’re losing a lot of great ones,” Shenendehowa baseball coach Greg Christodulu said. “He’s given so much of himself, long hours, great stories and introspective. He really delved into the inner workings of a story. His articles are always great to read.”
Jim started at the Gazette as a sports clerk in 1985 and became the high school beat writer in 1987, just in time to cover the 1988 boys’ basketball state championship won by Jon Mueller-led Stillwater, which still remains one of his fondest moments.
A lifelong Capital Region resident who grew up in Altamont and played football and lacrosse at Guilderland High, Jim quickly attached himself to his profession, armed with an affinity for the local scene through his roots, but also a desire to report on all aspects of that scene. That included schools big and small, but also sports farther afield from the mainstream, what he calls providing those sports “a seat at the table.”
It’s no coincidence that he can remember Vrooman’s exploits in field hockey as vividly as he can the perfect game that Keith Lansley pitched for Shenendehowa’s baseball team to win the 1994 Section II championship over Schenectady.
“Jimmy can’t walk into a Section II gym or onto a Section II playing field without immediately being recognized by the coaches and players and many of the fans,” Gazette Vice President and Editor Miles Reed said. “He’s genuinely liked and appreciated throughout the area.”
“He put us on the map, no one else would care about field hockey like he does and he truly seemed over the years to truly admire the sport,” Vrooman said.
“He always found those jewels,” Schenectady athletic director Steve Boynton said, referring to the lesser-known sports and athletes.
Although football supplied Jim with some of his favorite moments, he said basketball holds a special position for him.
That’s natural, when you’ve had a front-row seat to Scott Cherry’s last-second shot to beat Watervliet in 1989 (followed by Watervliet’s Andre Cook shaking off the pain of that loss to hit the championship-winning shot the following year), and Joseph Girard III’s game-winner to give Glens Falls a state title in 2019.
“JG3, the game-winning shot … I mean, he’s the star, of course, this is like movie stuff, he gets the bounce pass, drops in the layup. Game. They’re state champions,” Jim said. “Of course, he scores 50 points in the game, too.”
Sandwiched between the Cherry shot and the JG3 shot were Class A state championships by Schenectady High, in 1998 while coached by Gary DiNola, and in 2001 under Mark Sausville, and the back-to-back Scotia-Glenville state titles, led by Joe Cremo, in 2014 and 2015.
“Some of them [memories] are specific, and some of them are the bigger picture,” Jim said. “Just watching Schenectady, their whole sports program evolve from Linton and Mont Pleasant to the merger. I was here for the merger, and watching the whole program grow. It’s been decades now. Really neat, from day one to today.
“The evolution of lacrosse in our area. There was no girls’ lacrosse, and I was here from day one, wrote the story about Section II beginning girls’ lacrosse. Look at it now, it’s great.”
“He’s always been good to us. Fair to us,” Boynton said. “He reported the bad and the good — but mostly the good.
“He knows it all. He knows the coaches. He knows the athletes. He could give you almost as good a history of Schenectady athletics as [city school district hall of fame chairman] Bob Pezzano could.”
Jim said among the achievements he’s most proud of is being inducted into the Capital Region Football Hall of Fame in 2019 in the Service to Football category, and his coverage of the Empire State Games 15 times during the summer, when the schools were off-season.
“I went on trips to everywhere. It was not easy,” he said. “You’re there for five or six days, and it’s 8 in the morning to midnight. Unbelievably difficult. My car broke down on Long Island, when I first got there. My muffler fell off. I did the whole week with a patched-up muffler. I kid you not. Not pleasant. But we got it done.”
He also thanked former sports editor Butch Walker for hiring him in 1985 — “I was just some guy” — and counts Rick Stellrecht, Tom Boggie and Mike Kane as important early influences, while Mark Landolfo showed him the ropes on the daily grind of clerk work at the start.
Speaking of the grind, he said he won’t miss deadlines or overnight road trips.
One natural question is to estimate how many live games he’s covered since 1987, which number well into the thousands, probably between 400-500 for football alone.
At some point this spring, it’ll be the last one, but Jim said he doesn’t expect to get sentimental, knowing that this is it.
“Jimmy’s departure will really hit home on opening night of football season in September,” Reed said. “That’s where he really shined over the decades — on game nights, when the stands were filled with parents and fans and the players were out there playing their hearts out. Jimmy was always there to chronicle the action for Gazette readers.”
“I feel good about my move,” Jim said. “I’m sad to leave because of the people. I’ve been treated great here. Wonderful. It’s just the job has become rather taxing. You do it for 35 years or whatever as the high school guy, and day in and day out, over the years, I just need to step away from it. It’s the pressure of it never leaves your mind. The work never leaves, even if you’re off for a couple days, you’re always thinking about what you did or what’s coming up.
“The neat thing — and I’ve been around long enough to know — some kids will never get interviewed again. I love it when it’s the first time, also, they’ve never been interviewed, and it’s so great for them. We’ve done it a million times. It’s just a routine part of the job, but you never forget, for some of these kids, this never happened, and it’ll never happen again.
“In that same vein, the reason I enjoy writing the stories is that family and that boy or girl, the next day they’re going to read that story, and it’s going to make their day. It’s going to make their parents’ day. It’s going to make their grandparents’ day. It’s going to make them feel good. All stories aren’t feel-good, but a lot of them are. It’s high school sports, and I want people to feel good about that.”