A trip to Clay-Chalkville High School’s journalism class

I have spent a lot of time at Clay-Chalkville High School. 

I spent one morning reminiscing with a theater teacher about his nearly twenty years at the school. I spent a frigid morning when school was canceled due to icy roads snapping photos and a video of a vandalized front lawn. I spent National Signing Days in the auditorium, trying to keep up with all the student-athletes who were moving on to the next level of their respective sports.

I spent afternoons writing in my truck just outside the school, my white laptop resting against the steering wheel. I wrote about criminals who forced the school into lockdown, about a career technical center to be constructed in the back parking lot, about artificial turf for the football field. Every time, I wondered why this school was turquoise and tan, a beachy-colored building near the mountains.

I spent evenings after football practice shooting the breeze with the coaches in the athletic facility, watching the sun set over the green field. I spent fall Friday evenings in my truck in the parking lot before I entered Cougar Stadium to see another victory, eating a snack from Dairy Queen while listening to Paul Finebuam preview the weekend’s games. 

I wrote a lot of positive things about this school, its city. I wrote a lot of things people did not like.

Today, I got to talk about it all with a dozen students in the broadcast journalism class there, students who have likely never read my stories, students who were born after the Major League Baseball home run record chase of 1998, students who do not know a world without unlimited text messages. 

Today, I did not spend time at Clay-Chalkville High School. I invested it. There is a difference.

I talked about my background and experiences as a journalist, about the six basic questions every journalist aims to answer. I ran off a list of eight news values that are important at any journalistic entity, print or broadcast. I discussed the development of story ideas and how important relationships are in creating a successful future. I talked about “Show me, don’t tell me,” writing books and setting yourself apart by going the extra mile. I talked about the prisoner in Mississippi who identified me through a jail cell my first week in town, and the path to trust with the people I covered. 

The students in class were attentive the entire hour I spent in their mint-green room, stumbling my way through my notes. They asked me when I knew I would choose journalism as my career path, about my favorite school subjects, about my process for recording interviews. They also asked me to come with them to explore Old Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa, to which I frighteningly replied, “No, thanks.” 

When my spiel was over, and the students’ questions were exhausted, I thanked them for having me. One student said that I was cool, and informational. They said that I should come back in the future. 

On Thursday, Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh was at Clay-Chalkville High School, making his final recruiting pitch to one of the top wide receiver prospects around. I was the school’s visitor the next day, an impossible act to follow. I have always thought of Harbaugh as a rather zany person. Some of the things he says and does are just bizarre, like that rap video he appeared in last year.

But the catchphrase from that video stood out to me after speaking to this class. I could see their curiosity, their eagerness to go record something, anything. I have often wondered lately about the future of journalism, what with “fake news” and copy editors being let go left and right. I have thought, at times, that all hope is now lost. This class’ ambition was apparent, and it was refreshing, energizing. It reminded me about the thrill of a new story idea, of my name in black ink just below a headline. 

Then Harbaugh’s famous catchphrase hit me: “Who’s got it better than us?”

1.1 miles

It is hidden in the heart of town, in plain sight. It is never overcrowded, so we go when it is not too warm, not frigid. Those weather requirements vary from day to day in an Alabama January. 

Today was a perfect day to go. We went in a hurry, to beat the forecasted rain. It was cloudy, but the breeze was pleasant. The 1.1-mile walk is not very tiring.

I loaded Sonny in the back of the truck, and we listened to Kane Brown on the five-minute drive over, arriving at 2:40 p.m. We made our way around the soccer and football fields on the paved walking path, reaching the monument on the right that honors the victims of the April 27, 2011 tornado. 

Just to the left is a slow creek, which separates the ballfields from an open green lawn, where people hold picnics, where a local church hosts a trunk-or-treat event in October, at which enough Tootsie Rolls and Skittles are handed out to give a toothless man a cavity. There are picnic tables under a metal blue awning, and nearby is a basketball court with two hoops, both with wooden backboards. Old school, like it used to be. There is also a small playground, where moms push their babies on the swings, making them smile. 

Back over to the right side, a dad underhands pitches to one of his two sons. The boy manages to make contact with every swing, despite the lime-green bat being almost as tall as him. He will be a good player, someday. His brother chases foul balls, waiting for his turn at the plate.

We pass a middle-aged woman power-walking, and she says hello. The two teenagers we come to also say hi. So does the old man who has to be sweltering in those blue jeans. 

We continue our walk, and there is a Little Free Library behind the batting cages, a barn-shaped red mailbox, essentially, where people can place a book they think others may enjoy. You bring a book, you take a book. It is empty for now, but it is new. I think maybe I’ll bring a couple of my books next time. 

Over to the left there is a baseball field designed specifically for individuals with mental and/or physical challenges. It is popular here. Beyond its right field fence is a Veterans Memorial Wall, covered in names.

We get past the baseball fields, and there is another open green space. An old man has jabbed a white pole in the soft ground, a light orange flag attached to its top. It appears the flag was likely once red, decades ago. The man is set up about 65 yards away, maybe a dozen golf balls at his feet. He winds up, swings and hits one right on line, just short of the flag. His next shot lands even closer, maybe five feet. I holler that it was a heck of a shot.

“I get one every now and then,” the man cracks.

We pass him, and I turn around to see one more shot. He does the same thing. He is modest.

Now, our walk is almost over. We pass park and recreation workers in a green John Deere 6×4, riding field to field, turning the damp dirt. Both workers wave at me. So does the lady driving away in her SUV. 

It takes just 25 minutes for this walk, from start to finish. We left the house at 2:35, back by 3:10. Sonny is tired for now, thank goodness. There were no ringing cellphones on this quick trip, no need to know who just Tweeted what, no Facebook debates about marching women or inauguration populations.

Yeah, I think we will do this again tomorrow.

Books available at Dec. 10 Christmas event in Chelsea

A great event was recently brought to my attention, and I’m excited to be a part of it.

I’ll be attending the Christmas Open House & Local Author Expo on Saturday, Dec. 10 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Chelsea General Store. The address is 14555 Highway 280, Chelsea, AL 35043.

Here is a link to the event on Facebook.

I’ll be on hand with my three books: Trussville, Alabama: A Brief History, Deep Green and Heart of the Plate.

This event includes several local authors. They are Stephanie Rodda, Cabot Barden, Trailon Johnson, Ellen Sallas, Betty Smith, William Thornton, Marian Powell, Rita Moritz, Karen Allen, Shirley Aaron, Audrey Pitt and Urainah Glidewell.

The event is also combined with the store’s annual Open House, which includes snacks and sampling. There will also be door prizes.

So, come on out, get some good books, and eat some great food. It’s sure to be a good time.

First 2017 book event scheduled

My first book event of 2017 is scheduled. 

I’ll be toting books and heading north to Guntersville, Alabama, on Saturday, June 17, 2017 for the Authors on the Lake event. It is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

There will be around 50 authors on hand with their books.

The physical address of the event is 1120 Sunset Drive, Guntersville, AL 35976.

I’ll bring copies of Trussville, Alabama: A Brief History, Deep Green and Heart of the Plate.

Who knows, maybe there will be another book out by then.

Hope to see you there.

Calling all high school coaches, players for new book

I’m calling all high school coaches and former student-athletes for potential inclusion in a new book that I’m working on.

I’m interviewing any and all high school coaches and former student-athletes who have great stories to tell that transcend wins and losses, 40-yard dash times and recruiting. This book will focus on the other side of coaching, the relationship side.

This is not just football. If you’re a baseball coach, I want to hear from you. Same if you’re a basketball, soccer, volleyball, cross country, bowling or hockey coach. Anything.

It could be a coach’s story of helping a kid out in various ways. Maybe the coach toted the kid to and from practice. Maybe he helped with homework. Maybe he floated a player a few bucks here and there for food. Maybe the coach has a specific way of motivating his players that is unique. Anything. Nothing is uninteresting.

So if you are a coach, or know a coach with great stories to tell, have them contact me at garylloydbooks@gmail.com. 


University of Alabama, writers group visits a success

The last two days have flown by, and they have been awesome.

I spent much of Tuesday and Wednesday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., speaking to a couple reporting classes at the College of Communication & Information Sciences, as well as at the Tuscaloosa Public Library to the Tuscaloosa Christian Writers Group.

I appreciate Dr. George Daniels, the assistant dean of the college, inviting me to Tuscaloosa for the opportunity. 

On Tuesday, I spoke with the JN-315 Advanced Reporting class, taught by Scott Parrott. The students were attentive and asked great questions about researching, reporting and book writing.

Later Tuesday night, I spoke to the Tuscaloosa Christian Writers Group about the three books I’ve written, and the books to hopefully come in the future.

On Wednesday, I spoke with the JN-311 Reporting class, taught by Kenon Brown. These students, much like the ones in the JN-315 class, paid close attention and took notes while I spoke about reporting strategies and writing books. 

I also toured the state-of-the-art Digital Media Center, located inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. It is an amazing place, where students gain significant real-world experience. It is very impressive.

My two-day trip wrapped up Wednesday with a studio interview with Dr. Daniels at the Faculty Resource Center inside Gordon Palmer Hall. Dr. Daniels interviewed me about my life as a journalist, editor and author. The interview will soon be available on the college’s website and on iTunes by searching “Journalism On The Go.” 

What a fun two-day trip it was. I can’t wait for the next one.

I’ll end this blog post the same way I ended the studio interview: Roll Tide.

‘Heart of the Plate’ earns regional news coverage

What a week it has been.

My newest fiction book, Heart of the Plate, has earned news coverage from several regional publications. I’ve listed them below. Click the links to read the stories.

The Northport Gazette also covered the release of the book in its July 27, 2016 edition.

I hope you all order a copy of the book, and please let me know what you think!

‘Heart of the Plate’ now available

I’m excited to announce that my third book, Heart of the Plate, is now available.

You can get it on Amazon.com here.

This work of fiction focuses on Jeff Wright, a Major League Baseball All-Star whose career abruptly ends due to a gruesome leg injury. He ventures down a path of self-destruction and becomes addicted to painkillers. He is arrested for drug possession and completes a stint in a rehabilitation center before moving back to his hometown of Lewis Rock, Georgia.

Once home, Jeff discovers that Reynolds Manufacturing, the small town’s largest job source, is being sold off and will leave hundreds without jobs. Jeff also attempts to rekindle a love that he lost years ago.

What begins as mandatory community service for his arrest quickly becomes Jeff’s saving grace. Jeff helps his hometown through its most turbulent time the only way he knows how — through baseball.

The book earned praise from three professional baseball players and one former college softball head coach:

  • Wes Helms: former third baseman, first baseman and outfielder for the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, Florida Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies
  • Matt Guerrier: former pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs
  • Jason Standridge: former first-round MLB draft pick who played for the Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds and Kansas City Royals before moving to play professionally in Japan
  • Karen Johns: former U.S. Junior National Softball Team head coach, who also served as the head softball coach at the University of Florida and University of Virginia

Copies of Heart of the Plate are $15 each and are available at Amazon.com.

For more information, follow @GaryALloyd on Twitter or email garylloydbooks@gmail.com.

Tuscaloosa, UA speaking engagements soon

An incredible opportunity has presented itself, and I couldn’t be more excited.

On July 26-27, I will be in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for two reasons:

  1. I’ll be speaking to the Tuscaloosa Christian Writers Group at the Tuscaloosa Public Library on Tuesday, July 26 at 6:30 p.m.
  2. I’ll also be speaking about news reporting and book writing to the Reporting and Advanced Reporting classes at the University of Alabama’s College of Communication and Information Sciences both days.

I have Dr. George Daniels, the assistant dean of the college, to thank for the invitation and opportunity. 

I will also be recording a studio interview about my books and work as a journalist for future use in journalism classes at UA.

How cool is that?

I’m ecstatic about this opportunity to talk about my reporting days, as well as Trussville, Alabama: A Brief History, Deep Green and the books to come.

Roll Tide.