From small-town journalist to big-time sports director, Dave Ammenheuser, a native of Thurmont, has done it all.
Ammenheuser, 57, is now the sports director for a major news network, USA Today, but his journey began like many of us, humbly, in a small town, shadowed by the Catoctin Mountains.
Developing into a great sportswriter requires time, attention to detail, and intimate knowledge of your sport of choice. Athletes can make great sportswriters, knowing the ins and outs of their particular area of expertise, but a devotion to writing has to be there.
For Ammenheuser, that passion for writing was always there; yet, his entry into the sports world is as unique as his rise to success. “I was the worst athlete ever,” Ammenheuser said. “I always liked the competitiveness of it, and liked to write, so I kind of put the two together. It’s kind of ironic I ended up making my career in sports.”
As a student at Catoctin High School, Ammenheuser cultivated his love for sports as the high school newspaper sports editor and the statistician for the historic ’79-80 basketball team.
The ’79-80 and ’80-81 teams were the two most-successful Catoctin basketball teams at the time, and Ammenheuser’s most-recent visit to the area is to organize a reunion for the players who garnered so much success some 40 years ago.
Although Ammenheuser now lives near the USA Today headquarters in McClean, Virginia, friend and family ties bring him back to where it all began from time to time.
Ammenheuser’s professional writing career took its first steps at the Catoctin Enterprise, a small paper located in Thurmont. He then graduated to the Frederick News-Post, where he wrote and developed while attending Hood College. As a communications major, with a minor in gerontology, Ammenheuser continued to craft sports stories throughout college, gaining valuable experience and laying the groundwork for his future.
In the early 1980s, as a rising young sports editor, Ammenheuser stumbled upon the opportunity of a lifetime. The Baltimore Orioles and the Philadelphia Phillies were set to face off head-to-head, in a series that will forever remain special to Ammenheuser.
“I got to cover the 1983 World Series when the Orioles won, and that was my childhood favorite team,” Ammenheuser said. As a lifelong Orioles fan, he had the chance to see his team up close and personal as they won the greatest title in baseball, a feat that they have yet to replicate.
From the Frederick News-Post, Ammenheuser was ready for greater challenges. He later became the sports editor for the Carroll County Times, taking on new stories and responsibilities.
Breaking new ground is nothing new for Ammenheuser. Over his career, he has had many highlights, but one sticks out even to this day.
“When I was the sports editor in Carroll County, Maryland, I covered the first college football game ever played in the former Soviet Union,” Ammenheuser said. “Western Maryland College, now known as McDaniel, played there, and I went with the team. That was a cool experience.”
Sports journalists often have to adjust and adapt to each assignment, especially with drastically changing environments, and that is something Ammenheuser has become accustomed to over his 40-year career.
Traveling across the world has proven to be a theme for Ammenheuser, and his ventures have shaped his writing and guided him to where he is today.
After his local positions at the Carroll County Times and Frederick News-Post, he eventually moved on to Charlotte, Connecticut, California, Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville.
Many challenges come with adjusting to a new job in a new city, and Ammenheuser has established himself in many new assignments and cities. This skill, combined with a unique attention to detail, has contributed to his career development tenfold. “People write differently across the country,” he said. “A writer in Connecticut and how you would manage him or her is quite different from how you would manage a writer in Southern California or Nashville.”
Writing styles, tones, and content differs from place to place. Ammenheuser has become an expert at navigating that balance, and it has had an impact inside and outside the office. “Every person I’ve met throughout the way has helped me grow professionally and personally,” Ammenheuser said.
Throughout his career, Ammenheuser has written, developed, and managed content for various publications. He hit his final stop in February of 2019, after decades of hard work.
“Earlier this year , I was named the sports director for USA Today Network, so I’m the sports editor of USA Today, but also our company owned 109 companies across the country, where more than 500 sports journalists report up to me.”
With such great responsibility in managing so many writers and editors, Ammenheuser does not get to write as much as he would like to these days. Instead, he focuses more on big-picture management.
“I was in Tokyo for a week, where we’re coordinating what we are going to do for the Olympics next year,” he said. “We’re taking 65 sports editors across the country to cover the Olympics.”
Part of covering such a massive global event is conceptualizing and eventually executing all of the moving parts that go with it. Ammenheuser plans to get everything set and organized to provide the best coverage possible, and that sometimes includes things one might not expect.
“I was looking at the venues, trying to figure out where our office will temporarily be, hotels for where we’ll put people, and more,” Ammenheuser said. “It’s big-picture stuff and strategizing how all of those people are going to work together.”
While NBC has exclusive broadcast rights over the production of television for Olympic Games through 2032, Ammenheuser and his team of sports journalists have big plans for Olympic coverage in 2020.
“No one covers the Olympics bigger than USA Today other than NBC,” he said.
Ammenheuser’s career trajectory has taken him to a place he may not have expected, but it was certainly a goal for the long-time sports editor. “It’s a dream come true, really,” he said. “This is it until I retire.”
Call it a stroke of circumstantial luck or even fate, but a seemingly innocuous event may have foreshadowed Ammenheuser’s move to USA Today.
“I remember back in 1982, when USA Today started, walking into the 7/11, and grabbing a USA Today,” Ammenheuser said. “It was the very first issue, and today, ironically, that issue is hanging in my office. It’s yellowed in its frame now.”
When all is said and done, Ammenheuser can look back on his career and near endless list of accomplishments fondly. From Olympic coverage to watching his childhood team capture its last World Series, this former local has clearly made a global impact.