A couple summers ago, I thought I'd score some big points with my step son, Dakota. I promised him I'd build him and the neighborhood kids a fort in our back yard. I slaved for literally hours. I sat down and drew out plans. I used a T square and a triangle and designed a mansion that looked like it came from Newport, RI.
Unfortunately for Dakota and the rest of the kids, my design skills are far superior to my carpentry skills. The poor little guys ended up with a dilapidated shack that looked like it had been built by Spanky and the crew from Our Gang. My wife, Kate, wouldn't even let the kids venture inside.
I later found out that the kids used to pee in the fort when they were locked out of the house and nature called.
When the guy next door, who happened to double as a carpenter came over laughing but with hammer and saw in hand, was I relieved?
So, I assume that when Mike Winn's kids, Michael, Ryan, and Samantha asked him to build them a sports journalism Web site instead of a fort, Mike was equally relieved. Unless, of course, he happens to be blessed with that G.D. carpenter gene that some how eluded my gene pool (Thanks, Dad!).
In December of 2008, Winn, who is the general manager at Absolute Broadcasting and WGAM Radio in Manchester, NH, used his knowledge of sports and the Internet to create Boston Sports U18, a sportswriting and reporting web site for aspiring writers under the age of 18. Much like Bleacher Report, but for the Hanna Montana crowd, the site allows both Winn's kids and others to report sports from a kids perspective.
"During my career I have met many very talented kids that really want to get into sports journalism," said Winn, who also coaches baseball, football and basketball in his free time. "I thought this would be a great way to give them practice. I just kind of put my love of sports and the need for a journalism site together."
Much the opposite to my kid's fort, Winn's project seems to be built on a sturdy foundation. "Right now, we have 7-10 bloggers between the ages of 9 and 18. It fluctuates as kids get busy or they go and get girl friends" laughed Winn.
The well designed site, which can be found at www.bostonsportsu18.com, has articles about the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins and Celtics, as well as many of the minor league sports. "The kids can pretty much write about anything they want to, as long as it is Boston or New England sports related. It's their site."
Winn, who playfully taunted me when he told of he and his kids had dinner with Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek last fall, sees the site as a way to give opportunities to his kids and any child who participates.
"I've been in the radio business for 15 years or so," Winn says. "It has given me the opportunity to do things I never imagined I would be able to do and meet people who were my heroes growing up. It has also allowed me to offer perks to my own kids."
Being slightly over the age of 18, Winn doesn't write for the site, but he too gets excited when he gets to meet sports legends.
"I got to have lunch with Red Auerbach about five or six years ago as part of a promotion," he says. "For a kid who grew up bleeding green, you can't get much better than that."
I asked if he shared a victory cigar with Red and he said, "He gave me a cigar that I will probably never smoke."
Boston Sports U 18 currently has promotions running with the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Lowell Spinners, where youth bloggers are actually able to go to the games and interview budding major league ball players.
"I am thrilled to be working with an organization like the Pawtucket Red Sox” explained Winn. “The PawSox are the Red Sox of tomorrow and will be a great partner for Boston Sports U18.”
Though I, too, am about three decades beyond the 18-year-old age limit, I visited the site and was amazed at all the bells and whistles it offers. Articles about kids nutrition, videos about how to break in a baseball glove and how to shoot a slap shot, as well as photos, games, and even a story about Ryan and Mike Winn's sky diving experience.
"I was only an average athlete growing up but I've been involved in sports through coaching and through my job," Winn says. "I love the lessons of life that sports can teach kids and I think involvement in sports has helped me to deal better in business situations as well."
I asked Winn if any of the parents ever get involved. "I make all parents sign a consent form because we publish the kids names and in same cases a bio on the kids. All of the parents have been very appreciative of the opportunity that the kids have been given.
"I also hear from the parents of readers who like that the site is a 'positive site' and doesn't get into many of the 'off the field issues' that some of the athletes run into."
I concluded my day with the "Winn"er of the Father of the Year Competition by asking what he'd like to see the site become. "I would really like to expand into radio and TV with a weekly show," Winn says. "I think the goal is to provide interesting information to sports minded kids and also develop some good sports journalists.
"My wife and kids have been very supportive to put up with Daddy being on the computer a lot at night posting blogs, emailing out marketing ideas and reaching out to total strangers and asking for help." (Like some writer from the Bleacher Report).
I left Mike's office and drove home thinking what I could do to give to my kids and their friends in the same way Mike has. And then it hit me. I got home, strapped on my tool belt and headed into the backyard to try to shore up that fort I built.