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It’s with a measure of nostalgia and great degree of excitement that I write the following: I’ve left the Paxton Record to take a job at the Ames Tribune in Iowa, where I will cover Iowa State women’s basketball, other college sports and high school athletics.
Friday was my last day in Paxton.
I can still remember my first day. It was Monday, Aug. 2, 2010. I’ll always recall it, seeing as this was my first real-world job. I was told to be there at 8:30 a.m. I was early — had to make a good impression on the rest in the office — and I wore an off-white blue-striped polo shirt.
Will Brumleve, our news editor, gave me a tour of Paxton, Buckley and Loda. Tim Evans, our general manager, gave me another tour — hey, there’s a lot to see around these parts — and took me out for lunch. I learned the ropes for the rest of the day.
By that Wednesday, Will had basically said, “Let me know if you need anything, but it’s your sports section to do with as you see fit.” And so it began. I was in charge of an entire sports section of a newspaper.
Since then, I’ve amassed countless memories I will take with me as I go, experiences I will forever draw on.
The 2010-’11 PBL boys’ basketball team was a blast to cover. Granted, winning 29 games helps a lot, but that group of kids was a genuine, laid-back and respectable bunch that could make or take a joke as well. That’s why those Panthers were a joy to be around.
Their 45-43 double-overtime win against Herscher in the regional championship in 2011 remains the best game I’ve covered to date in my career. It may have just been small-school Illinois high school basketball, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a game with more intensity. To those players, in those moments, there was as much on the line as there is to professionals in the NBA Finals, and it’s nights like that one that makes this job so much fun.
I covered a GCMS girls’ track and field team that took second in the state this past spring, led by a five-time state champion in Sydni Meunier. To see and hear the work she put in opened my eyes as to what it takes for a small-town kid to go big-time (a lot of discipline, among other traits). That she’s headed to Notre Dame on scholarship to run should show youngsters all around here that dreams are possible.
I covered a PBL boys’ track and field squad that meddled amongst many other area programs in 2011. Then this past spring, those Panthers won what is believed to be their first sectional title in school history. I had nothing at stake in them winning. I was just happy to see kids who put in the time to get better reap the rewards.
I covered a PBL football team that was bad for two straight seasons. Neither fall was a breeze for me — it’s hard to write stories when there are few emotions and little hope permeating from a group — but it made me a better reporter. Seeing both sides of the spectrum, success and hardship, will help me in the future, and only brighter days lie ahead for those Panthers as they continue to work at changing the program’s mindset.
The wide range of coaching personalities I’ve encountered here has also been beneficial — and made me chuckle a time or two. I’ve quoted coaches who in interviews always look for the bright spot (John Overstreet), who are sentimental (Kristin Oyer), who get stressed out because they care so darn much (Jeff Graham), who wear their emotions on their sleeves, slacks and shoes (Travis Duley), who are apt to paranoia (Scot Vogel) and who are blunt and simply couldn’t tell a lie to me if their life depended on it (Rick Johnson).
I’m also so thankful for the freedom I’ve had in running the Record sports section.
I never thought I’d find myself at a women’s roller derby practice, but there I was early last spring, watching intently for a feature on PBL High teacher Elsie Riddle.
I couldn’t have guessed I’d write about a one-armed golfer, but Rich Page graciously provided his thoughts recently after his hole-in-one.
I didn’t know that I had the ability to do a comprehensive, exhausting four-part series on a team from some 15 years ago, but there I was in summer 2011 accepting an award for the 12,000-word marathon piece I did on the 1995 PBL football team the previous fall/winter.
I never dreamed a PBL story of mine would become national news, but it did when Yahoo! caught wind of the ruling that Eddie Nuss couldn’t play in the first football game of the season last August because he missed too many practices while at basic training.
Through it all, I’ve discovered everyone is unique somehow. Some distinctions are more evident than others, but everyone has a story to tell.
It’s with that in mind I say this: Most of all, I will miss the people here.
I will miss hearing the old-school sayings of Doug McCoy — football linemen are the “special people of this earth” — and seeing the effort head coach Jeff Graham puts in to turn a program around for the better.
I will miss watching John Overstreet play Superman, braving the elements in trying to dry an all-weather track with one little blower following a torrential downpour. Using magic only he has, he got that sectional meet done before midnight, and he probably had the website updated within 10 minutes of the last runner crossing the finish.
I will miss Scot Vogel’s rants about how private-school basketball programs from the Chicago area go about recruiting. Can you imagine what he’d do with a 6-foot-6 future Division-I player? He can.
I will miss hearing everything Mark Coplea, the funniest storyteller I know here, has to offer. It took a steely resolve to get through some of those marathon track and field meets, but Cop the scorekeeper made it more entertaining. “I tried as hard as I could to add an extra half-point, I just didn’t get the job done,” he said one time after PBL tied for first in at a meet, jokingly acting as if he’d failed in the clutch.
I will miss the generosity and dichotomy of Trent Eshleman, the ever professional principal with an astute media presence who is also a hard-edged Buckley Dutchmaster, a believer in spikes-up, old-school baseball. And because of Esh, I’ll never forget how to achieve excellence, for he always, always reminds, it’s through “rigor, relevance and relationships.”
I’ll miss standing among the Swedes and Dutchmasters fans as they exchange banter. “I can’t see you, why don’t you stand on a bucket?” and “If his sermon wasn’t good, his fastball won’t be good” aren’t among the greatest lines to be uttered from behind the dugouts, but they are a couple of the printable ones and get me every time.
And, of course, I will certainly miss the other three individuals in the Record office who’ve been instrumental in making my job enjoyable every day: Will; Sheryl Schunke, our office manager; and Shelbie Rottman, our advertising rep. Together, the four of us have made this one of the best newspapers in the state. The comprehensive and in-depth coverage in the Record dwarfs that of almost every single similar-sized paper in Illinois — and many with two and three times the resources and circulation area.
So to everyone I’ve crossed paths with here, thank you and farewell.
It’s been a fun journey. It’s just time for me to move on to another challenge.