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Alumnus James Gen­sterblum cur­rently serves as sports editor for the Hillsdale Daily News. James Gen­sterblum | Courtesy

Before becoming sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News, James Gen­sterblum ’11 began his career taking calls from Michigan high-school football coaches to gather infor­mation for MLive’s weekly roundup in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“It’s not glam­orous,” Gen­sterblum said. “I’m not going to pretend that it was any­thing more than an entry-level job.”

Gen­sterblum said he couldn’t imagine spending the rest of his career doing this type of “grunt work” for sports desks and their papers. Throughout his career, Gen­sterblum worked at several news­papers and waited for the oppor­tunity to work for the Hillsdale Daily News.

Brandon Folsom, who began his career in sports writing at MLive with Gen­sterblum and is cur­rently sports editor at the Gaylord Herald Times, remembers the first time he met Gen­sterblum.

“James was very bois­terous about Brady Hoke and Michigan Football,” Folsom said. “He was  just a really loud and opin­ionated guy, but he knew what he was talking about.”

During his time at MLive, Folsom said he realized early on that Gen­sterblum was dif­ferent from his other coworkers.

“He’s so smart, and he knows every high school mascot in the state,” Folsom said. “If you would quiz him, he would know. That’s how into high school sports he is.”

Prior to MLive, Gen­sterblum attended Hillsdale Academy and began “stringing,” or free­lancing, for the Hillsdale Daily News his senior year. The first game he covered was a football game for North Adams-Jerome High School.

“I had never done an interview before, and that must have been a hor­rible expe­rience for the coach because I was just stum­bling all over myself,” Gen­sterblum said. “But I came back, and I wrote a story.”

Despite a shaky start, Gen­sterblum con­tinued to cover sports for the Daily News before heading to the Uni­versity of Michigan in the fall of 2007.

After attending a meeting for the university’s news­paper, The Michigan Daily, Gen­sterblum said he felt dis­couraged because of the size of the school and the jour­nalism program.

“There were 50 people in a room,” Gen­sterblum said. “It was like, I have maybe two years of sitting here before getting much of any­thing.”

With this real­ization, Gen­sterblum trans­ferred to Hillsdale College as a sophomore and earned a degree in history.

Already a year behind in his core classes, Gen­sterblum wrote a few articles for The Col­legian and later took paid stringing jobs for the Daily News.

As a history major, Gen­sterblum took many classes with Pro­fessor of History Dave Stewart. Stewart said he appre­ciated Gensterblum’s earnest interest in classes, and his enthu­siasm for going beyond the routine.

“Most stu­dents simply accept whatever a department offers,” Gen­sterblum said. “James, however, had me create a one-credit course for him on nine­teenth-century Japanese history.”

Stewart said his favorite memory with Gen­sterblum was when they were enthu­si­as­ti­cally dis­cussing the Japanese Meiji Restoration in his office, and Pro­fessor of History Mark Kalthoff had to come in and tell them to quiet down.

Pro­fessor of History Thomas Conner said he taught Gen­sterblum in a Russian history class.

“He made a very strong A in the class,” Conner said. “He was a very bright kid and very eager.”

Conner said he was not sur­prised to hear Gen­sterblum is a jour­nalist.

“He obvi­ously had excellent writing ability, or he never would have been able to make A’s in my classes or anybody else’s classes in the history department.”

After grad­u­ating from Hillsdale in Dec. 2011, Gen­sterblum headed to Grand Rapids to work for MLive. During his time at MLive, Gen­sterblum said he learned inter­viewing skills and working on deadline. More impor­tantly, he net­worked with more than 25 other aspiring sports writers.

“That’s actually how I got out of that job,” Gen­sterblum said.

Folsom was then working as sports editor for the Gaylord Herald Times. After sending out hun­dreds of resumes, Gen­sterblum said he had not been offered a single interview. So Folsom told his boss to take a look at Gensterblum’s resume.

“I was slamming my fists on the desk and told him, ‘James is the best high school sports­writer in the state, it’s not even close. You will not be dis­ap­pointed,’” Folsom said.  “James went up there and crushed the interview.”

With Folsom’s help, Gen­sterblum received a job offer at the Petoskey News-Review, the sister pub­li­cation to the Gaylord Herald Times, and left MLive in Sep­tember 2014. There, he became a sports­writer and was part of a two-man crew.

While working at Petoskey, Gen­sterblum said he had the oppor­tunity to write one of his most inspiring sports story about a soccer player who received a heart trans­plant.  

“Eight months later, he was back on the soccer field,” Gen­sterblum said. “Because that’s how much he loved the game.”

Folsom said Gen­sterblum was a staple in Petoskey.

“No one would write as well as him,” Folsom said. “He could go any­where and tell you about the bigger picture and why the event he went to was so important and what it meant in the grand scheme of things.”

In addition to the Gaylord Herald Times, Folsom free­lanced for the Detroit Free Press. After the Central Michigan Uni­versity Football Team beat Oklahoma State Uni­versity, the Detroit Free Press asked Folsom to catch the team at the airport and write as many stories as he could. Folsom asked Gen­sterblum to help him with the stories.

“James and I were pulling players left and right to interview them,” Folsom said. “We ended up going to McDonald’s to put out all these stories. James got his first byline in the Detroit Free Press.”

After three years in Petoskey, Gen­sterblum received an offer to become sports editor for the Mon­ti­cello Herald Journal in Mon­ti­cello, Indiana.

Folsom said there was a void that couldn’t be filled once Gen­sterblum left Petoskey.

“So many people miss him and the work he did and the stories he told,” Folsom said. “It’s insane how much pro­duction they lost when he left.”

While in Indiana, Gen­sterblum said it was dif­ficult to bring the history of teams into his stories.

“I didn’t know any of the local history,” Gen­sterblum said. “I spent a couple of weeks in deep dive, just going through past state cham­pions, what the high schools I covered had done.”

A year later, Gen­sterblum jumped again, becoming sports editor of the Hillsdale Daily News, a place where he knew the history.

“This job opened up and I’ve always wanted to be closer to home. Family is very important to me.”

According to Gen­sterblum, he always had the notion he would return to the place where he got his start because he knows the com­munity.

Folsom said people feel Gensterblum’s presence in the com­munity wherever he goes.

“He’s telling stories that would have never been told or never been figured out because he’s so good at devel­oping rela­tion­ships with people,” Folsom said. “I learned from him about how to take a subject seri­ously.”

Today, Gen­sterblum said there isn’t a single sport in Michigan High School Sports that he hasn’t covered. From skiing to water polo to bas­ketball, Gen­sterblum has done it all. His favorite sports event he covered was the 2018 Division 8 State Cham­pi­onship at Ford Field. Gen­sterblum said this was Reading High School’s break­through season.

“It was two teams that had never been to the state finals before,” Gen­sterblum said. “This Division 8 game had more people than I think all the other games besides Division 1 and 2, and it sounded like Sunday.”

Throughout his time as a sports­writer, Gen­sterblum said he’s covered many stories about ath­letes and per­se­verance.

“I remember writing a story about this kid with Down syn­drome who was on the JV bas­ketball team, and they brought him in and he just hit mul­tiple threes,” Gen­sterblum said. “I inter­viewed him, and he was talking about how his grandpa was sick. He didn’t know what he was sick with, but he just knew that he was sick and wanted to do some­thing for him.”

Gen­sterblum said he enjoys cov­ering sports because the values in sports bring out the best in human nature.

“In a sporting event, you get all this range of emo­tions: joy, rage, fear, and bravery,” Gen­sterblum said. “You get to see there’s beauty and there’s excel­lence. It’s really a kind of beau­tiful microcosm for life in general.”