Chelel: The life and times of a Villanovan columnist

Dan Warn

Wow, how did this happen? At the risk of sounding like a stereotypical senior, “Where in God’s name did the time go?” For most of you it must seem like I have been writing in this publication forever, but in reality it’s been three very short years made up of a lot of late nights wondering what my topic would be (kinda like right now) and waiting for some divine inspiration. Sometimes it came, and sometimes it didn’t, but hey, they can’t all be winners.

For the most part, though, I think I have learned a lot about some characteristics a successful columnist should have and since the next Dan Chelel could be reading this right now, who am I to deny him my vast wealth of knowledge?

1-Always be on the lookout for inspiration–You never know when you’re going to find it, that’s the thing. Yeah, looking at never hurts and God knows I’ve used that website countless times. Fortunately, when I started I was given pretty free rein in terms of topics, whether they be college, professional or even intramural (did I write about them?).

So for me, a potential topic could come from anywhere. The problem is that our columns have to be submitted Wednesdays, so we often miss out on the real “latest” news. And as easy as it might seem to think of a topic, there were some weeks when it was slow to say the least. (I think at one point I wrote about how regular students can’t be seen by trainers for the school teams–I still haven’t received my Pulitzer for that one).

These were the weeks that every sports website out there was investigated in an attempt to find some sort of sports story. Sometimes these sports websites led to other kinds of websites and then I was really screwed. But when in doubt I always had Steve Lappas as my go-to guy.

There’s not an easier way on campus to win the love and admiration of the student body then rip into that guy. When he left, a part of me left with him. But there is such a thing as “going to the well” too often. I learned early on that I always needed to be on the lookout for a potential story. This includes using class time.

2-Be prepared to back up your convictions–If there’s one thing that students on this campus like to do, it’s complain.

I tried to stay away from that as much as possible. I like to think of the content of some of my columns as “attacking” rather than “complaining.” But you had better have a solid argument to back up your claims.

You know it’s a bad sign when your friends start rattling off stats that disprove your theory. This also made me learn a valuable lesson early on–research is a good thing.

I don’t mind doing research for my column since it’s related to sports. Do I do it for every column? No, this is not my full-time job but rather a hobby. I am a full-time student. But I do feel that I presented sound arguments in all of my columns. I had to since people I call my friends would often find faults.

I guess you could loosely call it “constructive criticism.” Recently, a family member even laid into me for one of my columns. We simply agreed to disagree, at least I think we did. But I have had to defend myself against others, even members of the athletic department and alumni. I felt it was a good thing and I still think it is. At least it showed that people were reading my column.

But in the end, your argument is all you have as a columnist. Sometimes there may even be stats that go against it, but if you feel strong enough about the subject, defend it anyway. Things are not always black and white and a gut feeling can go a long way.

3-Try to create your own unique style–This can be pretty difficult, I won’t sugarcoat it for you. Even now, I’m not sure what my “style” is characterized by.

But I think the biggest part about style is that if my name and picture weren’t at the top, people who consistently read this column could still tell it was me writing.

I think a lot of the columnists in The Villanovan have their own style, since I could probably identify most of them without seeing the picture, at least the ones I read. Now whether or not this style makes people want to read your column is another story altogether. You have to figure that out for yourself (let me know when you do).

4-Write about what you know–Don’t feel that since you are a sports columnist that you have to write about every sport, because this is simply not the case.

For instance, I know virtually nothing about hockey. What sense would it make for me to write about it then? I don’t really care too much about it, so my heart wouldn’t be in it. Chances are, it wouldn’t be very well written.

But, after all, it’s just hockey. I never did get around to writing that Islanders column (you know who you are). I might as well write about table tennis or boche ball or something. Did I mention this was the last The Villanovan for the year? You know what that means, no more angry letters to the editor. In all seriousness, I respect every sport, but I don’t like every sport or know about every sport. Stick to what you like and know and you will be better off.

5-Save your columns–I have tried to do this, but who knows how many I have actually saved. I thought it was dumb at first when my parents told me to do it, but it was probably a good idea.

You never know when you are going to want to look at them 30 years down the road and prove to your kids you actually knew what you were talking about at one point in time.

You can also prove to your friends from college that you did mention them that one time, sophomore year, in the paper. Speaking of which, once you become a columnist, everyone you know all of a sudden has the greatest ideas for a column. Usually they consist of talking about the person who came up with the idea, a team that person plays on or a team that person roots for. The vast majority of the time these are bad ideas, but once in a while one turns out to be a keeper.

Keep in mind that no one besides your group of friends is going to get the obscure references, although sometimes that does make it worthwhile.

So that about sums it up for my reign here at The Villanovan, the best paper on campus. (I am so tired of hearing about the Villanova Times, which is actually more of a pamphlet.)

I really think I have been lucky to have the opportunity to write for this newspaper and I’ve been lucky to be able to work with a great bunch of people.

If you have a passion for sports, I think you should give writing a try too; you won’t regret it.

But just let it be known that The Villanovan is lucky too, since I’ve been writing for free for all these years.

My next stop won’t be so fortunate.