I sat down this week and did some figuring.
Turns out, I’ve written just under 13,000 words in the Independent Record sports section this month. Add to the math a little guesstimation, and I learned that I’ve almost certainly eclipsed a million words in these pages over nearly five years as sports editor.
That’s a lot of words, even for me.
But -- and it feels incredibly strange to type this -- these will be among the last.
When Friday night’s CMR at Capital game story is filed, it’ll be my final byline as sports editor.
Newspapers are, really, all I’ve ever known. Sure, there was that week-long career as a door-to-door vacuum salesman. (True story.) And I killed for probably twice as long as a telemarketer, selling toner cartridge refills to office managers across the west coast. (If I would have stuck around, I know I would have won over the San Jose Sharks’ front office!)
But newspapers have always been home.
They’ve taken me from the frenzied newsroom of a Friday night in West Texas to a stint in the quirky, relaxed vibe of a three-days-a-week, family owned paper in Oregon wine country.
When my family made the decision to return to Montana and head to Billings, they once again gave me a home. And, most recently, they drew me to the Capital City.
Much has changed in that time.
No longer are sports reporters begging a hotel’s front desk clerk to use the fax machine’s land line to send a playoff game report back to the office via modem. No longer are they, when the clerk remains resolute, using the courtesy phone to dictate said story to the poor part-timer who happened to answer the phone back in that newsroom.
Pica poles? What are those?
Darkrooms? Yeah, those are now where we keep the extra pens and paper clips. And those weird rulers that no one seems to know anything about.
I’m not even sure writers still get stuck in buildings late at night, which is too bad. I have fond memories of being locked in the old Texas Stadium for a time, and maintain you don’t truly become a sports writer until you’ve climbed a chain-link fence at midnight, laptop and all, to escape a battened-up venue.
It is, indeed, a new newspaper world. One filled with Instagrams, Snapchats and Twitters. Where Facebook is the focus and Top 10 lists reign supreme. With more and more to do and fewer and fewer people to do the more and more with, sports journalists have become pretty adept at juggling. Even still, it’s been my world.
It is a world I’m now stepping away from.
I’ve held my own with the changing landscape. But there are, as with everything, absolutes. And in sports journalism, the biggest of those are late hours, long days and an awful lot of time spent away from home.
That wasn’t as much of a problem 15 years ago, other than the havoc it tends to play with a guy’s waistline. But while I’ve spent so much of my time telling the stories and highlighting the moments of others, I’ve been missing out on making stories and sharing moments of my own at home, with an incredibly understanding wife and equally incredible little girl.
Truth be told, I suppose, that little girl isn’t so little any more. It’s been 12 years since I missed Cooper High School’s road game Sept. 9, 2005 to be in that Texas delivery room. Now, she’s excelling in MathCounts, has joined jazz band and is fewer than 180 days away from a school trip to New York.
I’m not sure just when it happened, but my little girl is growing up.
In just five years, I’ve seen some incredible successes for local and area athletes and teams.
I’ve watched the Carroll men’s basketball program’s incredible turnaround. I’ve seen the Saints’ women’s soccer team rule atop the conference and the men’s team form. I was on the sidelines at Nelson Stadium when Austin Dodge and Southern Oregon broke the hearts of Saints fans in the de facto NAIA national championship game -- a contest played in weather so frigid that players were thawing their feet out with portable heaters on the sidelines, officials’ whistles were freezing, and Australian punter Rhys Felton was wondering just how cold Montana could get.
I’ve been around for some epic runs for Townsend golf and tennis, and was here for the Bulldogs’ first State B football title. The Jefferson sprinters recently put on quite a show, Capital boys basketball’s got a title in there, and the Helena High girls just took their first hoops crown in 20 years. A Helena team in at least one of the State AA soccer championship games has become commonplace, and both Bengals and Bruins made a run to last season’s football semifinals.
Individually, there’s been even more success -- certainly too much to recount here, though recent highlights would certainly be seeing Chase Smith and Tre Tintinger go higher than anyone in the state ever has in the pole vault and high jump, respectively. Seeing either of them at a future Olympic Trials would not be a shock.
Helena’s athletes have opened up in incredible ways. I’ve interviewed through tears and smiles, and every time I’ve been struck by how many high-quality young people we have in our community. To stand up and speak after a win is easy. But many of those same athletes have then spoken, willingly and humbly, after defeat -- when it would be incredibly easy to simply walk on by.
Many of you have chatted with me about what is or isn’t in the newspaper, and I’ve always appreciated the honesty. Most of you are even friendly, even while bringing up a concern. (And a few of those who aren’t, you’ll live on in my greatest hits file of complaints.)
I leave behind two of the best writers I’ve ever worked with. They truly care about this community and about their craft, and will continue to put out some of the best work in the state. Of this, I have zero doubts.
Newspapers have long been my home and my passion. But everything in life has a necessary ending. For me, this is that ending.
My new home will be with the Montana Radio Company, where I will work at KCAP as news director. There, more normal hours will allow for time at home, while also letting me tell stories and share the news that is important to Helena, both on-air and online. My focus will now be news, but I’ll stick around local sports, as well, and will continue to co-host The Rundown twice a week on ESPN Radio. And I’m sure I’ll show up at practices and games from time to time, because there are always great stories waiting to be told.
There are big plans and goals already being laid in this new home of mine, and I’m incredibly excited for the challenge and the opportunity.
But, I’m now well over those 13,000 words, and news hole is limited.
You’ve helped to make the last five years incredible, and you’ve helped to make Helena home.
So, goodbye. And thanks.
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