My first byline appeared in The Daily Nonpareil in the summer of 1986.
The outstanding sportswriter who was covering our Tri-Center High School baseball team, Mike Condon, knew I had an interest in journalism and offered me the chance to keep a daily journal of my experience at the state tournament in Marshalltown and publish it.
I jumped at the opportunity. Rereading it years later, it was less than stellar. But then again, I was 18. I was hooked.
I took a part-time job in the Nonpareil sports department during my college years at Dana in Blair, Nebraska. The first game they sent me to cover was in the summer of 1989, when St. Albert played Ballard in a substate baseball final at Creston. The Falcons, with future Creighton pitcher and Virginia national championship coach Brian O’Connor on the team, lost.
As fate would have it, 30 years later on July 23 of this year, I was in Creston again for a substate baseball final involving St. Albert, this time against Martensdale-St. Marys. Again, the Falcons lost. This time, my son Carter was in the St. Albert dugout as a freshman reserve.
The 30 years between those two games have been an adventure filled with passion and adrenaline and collaboration and wonderful relationships I could not possibly have imagined. After graduating from Dana in the spring of 1990, I took a job in the Nonpareil newsroom as an administrative assistant, writing obituaries among other things. In the spring of 1991, I replaced the gifted Tim Woods and started my sportswriting journey, thanks to sports editor Steve Sigafoose, who boldly hired me.
I stayed until 2000, when I became the western Iowa sportswriter for the Omaha World-Herald. In 2009, with The World-Herald having taken ownership of the Nonpareil, they added to my duties by also putting me in charge of the Nonpareil sports department.
And now it’s coming to an end. I have elected to take a buyout from The World-Herald, and Aug. 20 will be my last day as a full-time journalist here.
These last few weeks have allowed me to reflect on how lucky I’ve been to do this job for so many years.
Some of the highlights include covering the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, trying out for a professional basketball team (the old Continental Basketball Association’s Omaha Racers) and writing about the experience, and covering several NCAA men’s basketball tournaments (will never forget that Duke-Kansas game).
But my most treasured accomplishment as a sportswriter was that I met my remarkable late wife, Jill. She was an athletic trainer with Jennie Edmundson Hospital at the time, and we covered many of the same events. One night, we were walking out together from a track meet at Lewis Central. When our conversation ended, I watched her drive away. Then I watched her circle back around and stop at my car. She asked me to go out for a bite to eat and a drink, and the rest, as they say, is history. We were blessed with two wonderful children, Bailey, who will be a freshman on the basketball team at College of St. Mary in Omaha, and Carter. We will never forget the outpouring of love for our family at the time of Jill’s death, just more than a year ago.
The next-best part of the job was getting to know the athletes, coaches and fans in Council Bluffs and all of the small towns throughout western Iowa.
There were opportunities to cover more college-level athletics – and I greatly enjoyed my time chronicling the outstanding programs at Iowa Western — but I always held an affinity for the high school athlete. Many Division I athletes are actually coached on how not to say anything relevant to the media. I always gained more satisfaction interviewing high school kids. They were more appreciative of the attention and less apt to speak in clichés.
The same holds true with coaches. I always enjoyed the personal connection of speaking with a high school coach one on one after a game, both the winner and the loser, rather than sitting in a college press conference with a herd of other scribes.
And there’s simply nothing like going into a small town to cover a big game and being warmly received by fans, administrators and coaches. That was the case the vast majority of the time, and it’s something I never took lightly.
The best part of the game coverage undoubtedly was watching young people experience the thrill of either reaching a state tournament, playing in a state tournament or winning a state championship. I always considered it a privilege to have shared those moments with the kids, and I’ll miss that immensely.
Thank you so much to all of my current and former colleagues, both full-timers and part-timers. I’m proud of the work we did. Please continue to support the newspaper industry. There are still many dedicated men and women working tirelessly in it.
So, what’s next? Most of that has yet to be determined. I will be a varsity boys basketball assistant at St. Albert this winter, and I am thrilled about that.
No offense, but it’s going to be nearly impossible to match the pleasure I’ve experienced in my previous full-time job.
To all those who have been so gracious through the years, thank you. I’ll see you at a game somewhere.