Like most adjunct professors, Lance Pugmire has to juggle teaching responsibilities with his regular job. However, unlike most adjunct professors at La Verne, the latter involves late night fights, going to New York on weekends and helping put mixed martial arts on the mainstream map. Such are the perks of being a sports writer for the Los Angeles Times.
Pugmire began teaching an introductory journalism class here in 2014, but his story as a journalist extends far beyond the walls of a classroom and traces back to his childhood love of sports.
“I was a complete sports junkie,” Pugmire said.
Pugmire was born in San Diego, but constantly moved around because of wanderlust parents. He attended a different school every year from kindergarten to fifth grade. Growing up, Pugmire devoted his time to reading entire sports pages and stat sheets. He watched ESPN all the time, and his grandfather taught him how to read box scores for baseball. However, love did not translate into talent.
“At the end of the day, I wasn’t very good,” he said about his sports skills.
In his freshman and sophomore years of high school, Pugmire got cut from the baseball team. When choosing a college major, he figured out a way to still be a part of the sports world through journalism. He started in Fullerton College and transferred to Cal State Fullerton, where he joined the Daily Titan school newspaper.
“We just had a lot of talent,” Pugmire said. “It was very influential and impressive; everyone was excited to do their work.”
The staff at the Daily Titan had Mark Stein, who is now on ESPN; Jim Berrero, who writes for ESPN.com and Sam Mitani, who is the international editor for Road and Track magazine.
Pugmire interned at the Anaheim Bulletin when it was a daily newspaper. Because of the Bulletin, he went to NFL and Major League Baseball games in addition to covering high school sports.
His job at the Anaheim Bulletin has given him lasting memories, like the time he interviewed baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield. Pugmire grew up watching Winfield when he played for the San Diego Padres.
“When I was walking away from him, another reporter approached him, but I was still within ear shot of him and heard Dave Winfield say, ‘Good guy.’ That has always stayed with me,” Pugmire said.
As confrontational as journalists need to be, Pugmire said it is nice to occasionally just sit down and have a conversation, be kind to someone and get them to tell their story.
“I was learning that on the highest level possible even though I was so green and wet behind the ears. It was a great environment,” he said.
The time came for Pugmire to move on not too long after. The Anaheim Bulletin turned into a weekly publication called North County News around 1993, and he said it was clear there was no future at the newspaper at the time.
“I came home one day. My car was broken down. I tried to tow it myself to the repair shop with a little trailer, but the car fell off the trailer right as a school was letting out. It was a complete nightmare. I got home that day, and I said, ‘What am I going to do? I don’t think I can do this anymore,’” Pugmire said.
Not all hope was lost and Pugmire got a call from Rusty Evans, former public relations manager at La Verne and former coworker at the Anaheim Bulletin. He had a job offer for Pugmire to cover high school sports, which he took in 1995.
In 1999, the Los Angeles Times created an Inland Valley edition, and Pugmire started working for them, covering Rancho Cucamonga Quakes baseball and various high school and college sports.
“Sometimes it can be difficult to be a very good journalist and also be a very good guy; Lance manages to do both,” said Martin Rogers, a columnist and sports writer for USA Today and Pugmire’s friend. “He has an approach to journalism which is full of integrity, and he doesn’t compromise on that.”
In 2001, Pugmire wrote about Northwestern University football player Rashidi Wheeler, who collapsed and died on the field during a banned NCAA workout. Pugmire said all the Northwestern players were tense because of what they had to do that day, so Rashidi took a drink mix that had Ephedra in it, which lead to his death.
Although Ephedra is banned now, Pugmire described it as having been like legalized speed.
“So you had a banned NCAA workout, you had a coach presiding over this, you had the death, you had Jesse Jackson involved saying that NCAA athletes are being basically abused by this system,” Pugmire said.
With that story, Pugmire moved to the downtown Los Angeles Times office by 2002, where he covered news for three years before going back to sports. Since then, he has been covering boxing and MMA.
“He is one of the last remaining big hard news reporters there is,” said Bill Dwyre, former sports editor and columnist for the Los Angeles Times who hired Pugmire. “His work for me was excellent because his attitude was great and he never turned down an assignment, and he went and got the story. He worked hard and he dug hard.”
During his time as a news writer, Pugmire was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the wildfires in San Bernardino County.
“If you look at the Pulitzer entry, I take great pride because the first story in that entry has my byline on it,” he said. “I was under duress, propane tanks exploding all around, people unbelievably sad as their houses burned down to the ground.”
As a sports writer for the Los Angeles Times, one of the things Pugmire is most proud of is covering the biggest prize fight in history: the Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao fight in May 2015.
“It ranks as the richest single sporting event in history, more than $600 million generated. Because of my context, I think the L.A. Times was out in front of that story, from the time that it was even first mentioned to the time the deal was done,” he said.
Pugmire also appreciates the little stories he writes, such as a recent one about a boxing manager from Russia who came to the United States with no money and now has probably two of the best fighters in the world: Sergey Kovalev and Vasyl Lomachenko, Pugmire said.
“I’ve been told to watch out for too many rags to riches stories, but there are so many in boxing, and so many of them are amazing stories of overcoming adversity and resilience. I love those type of stories because I think that’s what we’re here to do,” he said.
Pugmire encourages aspiring sports journalists to take the time to cover high school and college sports instead of trying to jump into bigger stories immediately after graduation.
“Too many people are considered reporters, and the way they tell the story is actually a little irresponsible. You can tell they don’t have the tact they should have and the professionalism. It may be a pet peeve of mine, but I know how important it is to pay your dues,” he said.
Pugmire wanted to teach so he could give back to students, just like people in his life who took the time to help him, such as his Fullerton College journalism professor Julie Davey and Cal State Fullerton department head Jay Berman.
“If I can pass that on as much as I know to anyone who wants that information, that is something I am happy to do. Everyone needs some help; everyone needs a break along the way. That’s what is most important to me as a professor,” Pugmire said.
As for the future, Pugmire said he would love to write a book, and plans on going to the Philippines in January because of a book idea. His plans are not solidified yet, but the project would likely focus on sports.
“I always found it fascinating. There are always great stories, whether it be a life story attached to that specific game, it seems like there’s always something good to find each and every time.”
Celene Vargas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.