The task is to lack emotion in an emotionally charged setting. There is no cheering in the press box, or at the press table, or wherever you are positioned as a sportswriter.
Duty requires that you stay cool amid heated competition, be neutral as passion rages around you.
Do it for a few years, and you master the poker face, reacting to every play with a workmanlike stroke of the pen. A television ad once suggested, "Never let them see you sweat," and while it was not directed at sportswriters, it could have been.
Never let players, coaches or fans see you smile, grimace, squirm or twitch. Report what you see, suppress what you feel.
That emotional detachment is essential to sitting in the madness of a triple-overtime basketball game, or the frenzy of fourth-and-goal at the 1, and calmly gathering facts. It facilitates clear thinking under tight deadlines, when a story must be written in 15 minutes, or 10, or less.
What happens, then, when there is no story to write? What does a sportswriter do when suddenly it is OK to cheer, wince, agonize and applaud?
Up and down the sideline, he wrestles with what he does versus who he is, like a caged animal bound by a chain-link fence and a nagging sense of duty.
He walks until the sportswriter goes away, and he can simply be a dad.
It is far more difficult than being the reporter on the scene, chronicling an area team's pursuit of a state championship. That has become routine in nearly three decades on the job.
Fatherhood is different. It is a melting pot of emotion, driven by the heart and in no way neutral. It attaches life experiences to every play, making it impossible to separate the senior first baseman from the newborn you cradled in your arms.
So while Normal Community High School was winning the Class AA state softball title Saturday night at East Peoria, memories flooded back as new ones were made.
You think of all sorts of things when life provides an unforeseen and unimaginable high. Like the time NCHS' No. 12 was 6 years old and participating in the Normal Parks and Recreation T-Ball program.
"They won't tell me the score," she complained after the first game.
"They don't keep score," her mother explained.
"But if they don't keep score, it's not a game," she replied.
The competitive juices had begun to flow.
The next summer, Mom fudged a bit on the date of birth, and No. 12 was on a Bloomington-Normal Girls Softball Association team.
It was the start of an imperfect journey with a perfect ending. There were as many lows as highs, a lot of bumps in the road to and from Schaumburg, Moline, Rockford … wherever the summer tournament du jour was being played.
Everyone on the EastSide Centre field Saturday night had a similar story, yet no two were exactly alike. That's what makes writing about sports, and experiencing the joys they provide, so special.
No. 12 wore No. 12 because her older sister had done so as a senior on NCHS' 2004 Elite Eight team. She grew up hoping to be worthy of that jersey, the kind of thing only parents know.
The first non-teammate she hugged Saturday night was the former No. 12, tears streaming down their faces. You can't script a moment like that, or keep a dry eye watching it.
Granted, tearful embraces are the backdrop for any state championship postgame. Sportswriters see them all the time, without so much as a blink.
But if you're a dad?
The lip begins to quiver and the eyes well up, until finally there is no holding back. Banging out a story on deadline can be a challenge, but it doesn't turn you into a sobbing, sniffling mess.
Fatherhood can do it in a heartbeat.
It's the best job of all.