If you’ve been to any local high school sporting events over the past 32 years, the chances are pretty good that you may have seen Gazette sportswriter Jim Schiltz roaming the sideline or watching the action from press row.
Jim has covered high schools for the newspaper almost exclusively since 1987. Over that span of time, he’s covered thousands of games/events (his tally is somewhere around 6,000 at last estimate) and he’s interviewed a similar number of athletes, coaches, athletic directors.
In his trademark Mets ball cap, Jim is a familiar figure at Section II events, everywhere from Schoharie to Saratoga and Mechanicville to Fort Plain.
Over the years, he’s covered all the great athletes, all the best teams. But he’s also written his fair share of offbeat stories about athletes who’ve overcome great physical challenges and mediocre teams that defied the odds to win championships.
Jim, after all, is in it for the stories. He appreciates greatness, no doubt. But he mostly just loves a good story.
One of Jim’s most memorable assignments involved a real nail-biter of a football game between crosstown rivals Schalmont and Mohonasen. The action was back and forth, back and forth. Scoring, however, was at a premium on this day. Schalmont eventually broke the stalemate, but not with a touchdown or field goal. It was a safety. The game’s final score: 2-0.
Then there was the time when a sectional basketball game between Guilderland and Columbia went to five overtimes. Jim was there for the epic battle, pen and pad in hand. He still made deadline. It was a night he’ll never forget.
Stories like these are part of the history of Capital Region sports, as they are part of the history of Jim’s career. After all these years on the beat, Jim is part of the the local sports landscape, not merely an observer.
Last week, Jim’s contributions to the local sports scene, especially his reportage on high school football, were recognized with the announcement that he’ll be inducted into the Capital Region Football Hall of Fame this summer.
It’s a wonderful honor for him, but it came as no surprise to Jim’s peers in local sports media.
“With his encyclopedic knowledge, first-hand experience and unbridled passion, Jim in many ways embodies the sport in the Capital Region,” one former local sports scribe wrote to me in an email.
Similar sentiments were expressed by colleagues around the region, including competitors at other outlets.
“Having covered high school sports with him for years, I know a number of coaches and former players who think very highly of him,” wrote another longtime local sports writer. “He is passionate about what he does, and they all appreciate that.”
Jim came to the Gazette in 1985, just a month out of college. For two years, he worked as a clerk in the sports department, staffing the desk at night to do local bowling roundups, horse-racing agate and other tasks. Within two years, Jim took over as the high school guy and, as he’s proud of saying, he never left that position.
The sports beat was a natural fit for Jim. At Guilderland High School, he played receiver and safety on the football team. On the lacrosse squad, he played midfield and also was named a team captain.
For college, Jim went to SUNY Morrisville, where he studied journalism technology, and then SUNY Oswego, where he was a communications major.
As a full-fledged member of the Gazette’s sports staff, Jim became known for his evenhanded approach to story selection, both in terms of the sports that he elected to cover and which games he chose to cover in those disciplines.
“Jim would look at a Friday night high school schedule and closely examine it before finally deciding where he should go,” one former colleague recalled. “He wanted to make sure he covered the game that meant the most to the most people.”
“And he gave each sport its due,” the colleague added. “Jim was a high school football player at Guilderland, but he didn't try to minimize other minor sports. He even became an avid field hockey fan.”
Beyond his egalitarian approach to coverage, Jim has made a name for himself as one of the good guys. His amiable demeanor and easygoing style are traits that have served him well in his dealings with players, parents, coaches. They’ve also made him a well-liked member of the entire Gazette staff.
For years, he was a key player on the newspaper’s softball team, where he played shortstop and was a key hitter in the batting lineup. He was a nifty fielder and the team’s spark plug.
“He was always up” for the games, remembers Jim’s longtime colleague Jeff Wilkin.
"Jim was great for morale, great for the game,” said Wilkin, the softball team’s captain. “We used to kid around that he 'made the hard plays look easy .... and the easy plays look hard!'”
Jim’s passion on the softball field was right in line with his commitment to his job.
“Covering high school sports isn't just a job for Jim Schiltz,” one longtime colleague said of him. “It's a calling.”
Miles Reed is the editor of The Daily Gazette. He can be reached by calling 518-395-3106 or emailing [email protected]