Nancy Edmonds Hanson
From the moment Renée Grover grabbed her mother’s Brownie camera, she’s been in love with the magic of capturing peak moments. She got her own Kodak Instamatic 44 when she was still in grade school, launching a lifelong love of “taking pictures of everything,” she says – flowers, vacations, friends and family, zoos. “My whole family is photo-crazy,” she confesses. “But it’s always been just a hobby.”
Not so much anymore. While neither Renée or her husband Bill make their livings from photography, they’ve become two of the most essential picture-takers in Spudland. What began with shooting friends’ offspring from the sidelines of football games has evolved into a full-blown passion for the Moorhead couple … chronicling the peak moments of Moorhead Spuds’ sports matches, then sharing them with fans via a much-loved and oft-visited Spud Sports page on Facebook.
“We don’t do this for the money,” Bill Grover explains. “There’s little or no money in it. We’ve spent far more on our equipment than we receive from making an occasional print for a parent. With photography, there’s always something more that you want to buy.”
Instead, the two – who typically photograph two or three Spuds matches every week, snapping perhaps 4,000 images at each of them – share a passion for the teams, the excitement and the fans in the stands. Even more, they’re on the trail of the elusive perfect moment when young athletes are at their peak. Whether it’s leaping to dunk the basketball … slicing into the water after a perfect dive … exulting over a critical sack on the football field … smacking a volleyball with maximum velocity … it’s an appetite that Bill and Renée are passionate to satisfy.
“It’s all about freezing the moment – the crisp, clear moment,” Renée says. “That’s what we’re always after: that perfect, frozen instant.”
This weekend is a peak moment for the Grovers, as it is for thousands of fellow hockey fans. They have headed to St. Paul for the 75th Minnesota State Boys Hockey Tournament. But unlike most of the other sports photographers who’ll be crowding the press box and around the rink, the couple is not on the clock. As always, their coverage will be a labor of love. Renée is one of two official photographers permitted to Moorhead High School. (The other is professional Rick Westra, who shoots all the school’s photos.) Bill will be roaming around the rink on his Moorhead Extra press pass.
It’s vacation time for both Grovers. Renée is an IT building technician with the school district stationed at Reinertson School. By day, she keeps the school’s computers and network running. “My job is to keep the teachers happy,” she smiles. A district employee since 1989, she helped write the original grant that brought the first 10 Apple 575s to the Juvenile Center. After mastering them through Moorhead Community Education classes and self-study, she began teaching the teachers. She became the first technician brought on board when the role was formalized.
Renée, a Moorhead High graduate, married Bill 10 years ago. “Then I figured I needed to pick up a camera, too,” he remembers. Employed by day as a production trainer at Integrity Windows, he got his feet wet with his wife’s previous cameras as her gear moved up the ladder from avid amateur toward professional quality. “I have more background with the camera, but Bill has an advantage I don’t,” Renée confesses. “He played sports himself when he was in high school in Park Rapids. He has a sense – that I do not – of what’s going to happen next.”
Whatever the sport, the Grover team play their regular positions. Renée – the natural-born Spud – covers the action from the Spuds’ side of the field. Bill stations himself on the opposite, usually the opponents’ side. Between them, they’re often ideally situated to catch critical moments, both on the field and sometimes even in the stands. “Moorhead fans are the most phenomenally courteous in the state,” he observes. “If anything, I wish they’d yell more!”
First Renée and then Bill got into their weekly sports routine slowly. “It started in 2011 with football,” she recounts. By 2013, Bill had joined her (“in self defense,” he jokes). They ventured into boys basketball as their hobby grew, then girls, then hockey. “By then people were asking us, ‘Why not volleyball? How about wrestling?’” she says. Today they cover most sports at home, following the teams out of town only for tournaments. On weeks with few matches, they may cover music or drama performances as well.
Game time is only the beginning of the most demanding part of the job – winnowing the 1,500 to 2,000 images each has shot to a few hundred to post on Facebook. “People sometimes message us, ‘Why aren’t our photos online yet?’ They don’t realize the huge amount of time it takes to get them sorted, then posted,” Bill explains. He estimates they spend 1,000 to 1,500 hours a year editing their photos. The school district often uses their best shots in its public information venues, including weekly stories in The Extra; for these, they receive a small stipend.
They chose Facebook as their channel for sharing their work because it’s free and easily accessible to everyone who cares about Spud sports as much as they do. Currently their page – which has never been advertised – has 1,600 followers.
Despite the commitment of time and talent, the Grovers emphasize they’re not in photography for the money. “We’ve never tried to sell it or looked for sponsors – never wanted to cash in with our own web page. Facebook is ideal, and it’s free,” Bill says. “For us, photography is a hobby and a community service … and it’s fun.”