By: Karuga Koinange, Sports Editor
Photo by Karuga Koinange/ The Towerlight
Mike Preston, a Baltimore Sun Columnist and Towson University alumni, spoke about the necessity of perseverance, as he shared his journey from a football player to journalist at Hawkins Hall Nov. 30.
Professor Richard Vatz organized the event for his writing and communication skills course, and said that he has Preston speak to one of his classes each school term.
“Mike Preston is one of my favorite University speakers,” Vatz said. “He has some strong life philosophies, including the notion that one has to regard all problems as challenges, not impossible-to-overcome difficulties.”
Preston began by talking about his early failures in life when he was trying to find a career path.
He was an offensive lineman at Towson, and received a number of accolades in his playing days. He started for three years and served as a captain of the team.
At the time of his graduation, his team held the best winning percentage of any graduating class in the school’s history.
Following a successful college career, Preston looked to play professional football in the NFL. He was scouted by the then San Diego Chargers, but once a scout for the team took measurements and realized Preston’s small stature, his dreams were dashed.
“Back then we all had the big afro with platform shoes, so [I thought] that would boost me up to 6’3” or 6’4” and maybe I could fool him,” Preston said. “He goes ‘Take off your shoes,’ and at that point I said ‘I’m quitting,’ because I refused to cope.”
Preston went on to discuss his uncertainty when he decided to pursue becoming a member of the media after his failure as an athlete.
He submitted a demo tape for a large sportscasting organization his senior year, and received feedback from his mentor.
“He told me I was not very good, [he] actually told me I was terrible,” Preston said. “When you start in any business you really aren’t that good. You have to work at it. He did say ‘You were a good writer.’”
The words of encouragement about his writing ability propelled him to commit to journalism. He started his writing career as a staff writer for The Towerlight, covering the tennis team.
“I had never played tennis in my life, but I didn’t care,” Preston said. “I just wanted to get my start.”
Coming out of school he worked for the the Essex Times, where he got experience in several positions. In his time there he worked as the sports editor, assistant editor, photographer, headline writer and even covered the police beat.
“That was great training,” Preston said. “All that [experience] comes in handy as you get a bit older because you’ve done so much.”
Preston eventually joined the Baltimore Sun and, even though he was getting experience at different roles, he talked about how his position as a clerk proved to be quite unglamorous.
“I’ve made more chicken runs for people to feed them lunch than anybody in the history of the Baltimore Sun,” Preston said.
Preston talked about how he tried to find a different job, but struggled to land one.
“I got turned down by everybody,” Preston said. “I couldn’t get a job, but I was determined. I just kept working. A setback is just the setup for a comeback.”
With a recent marriage and a child on the horizon, Preston demanded a better job at the Sun, but was turned down because they didn’t think he was good enough to be a writer and questioned his work ethic. Preston took the failure as a sign to improve.
“When people tell you what you can’t do and that doesn’t fire you up, you need to check your pulse,” Preston said. “You need to check your heart, because that’s about passion. That’s personal.”
He got an opportunity to showcase his talent during the 1987 college football season, when Bowie State and McDaniel University were two of the most losingest teams in the nation.
The Sun wanted coverage of the losing streaks, but no one would volunteer for the story until Preston decided to step up.
After that story, Preston was given the opportunity to be a full-time writer for the paper and felt that his hard work and patience had finally paid off.
He concluded his lecture by encouraging the audience to pursue their dreams and to be passionate about what they want to do.
“You hear people all the time telling you what you can and can’t do,” Preston said. “Do not let them program you into thinking what they want because if they can, they will. And if they will, you lose. If you don’t have a plan A, get one then set up fallback plans.”
Dustin Rhodes, a student in the class who attended the event, was encouraged by Preston’s message.
“Coming from absolutely nothing, and making himself into what he is today took hard work and sacrifice,” Rhodes said. “He is definitely a figure to look up to, not only in those interested in mass communication, but for everyone to emulate.”