25 years at The News-Herald more about you than it is about me | Opinion

Jan. 16—Around 9:30 a.m. on June 3, 2022, I stood on Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium's infield in Columbus as the state track and field meet was commencing.

It had been a long two years, emerging from rock bottom following a pandemic and a divorce. I looked around and could feel the tears welling up.

Drastic life change shook me to my core, yet there had been a few constants.

One of them is this.

For all its quirks, for all its peaks and valleys, those tears on that Friday morning came in large part from gratitude.

Jan. 19 marks 25 years for me at The News-Herald.

It's hard to fathom sitting at home in Painesville, seven months removed from graduating from Harvey as a 19-year-old college freshman in January 1999, seeing an ad in the paper for a part-time sports clerk position. Somewhere in a box, that paper remains.

Never would it have seemed possible I'd work my way up by 21 and it would turn into my life's work, producing colleagues and communities permanently in my heart.

While it may be a sign of longevity and persistence, of joy and solace within community service, I also look at it as a tribute to you, our News-Herald coverage area high school sports community.

It's natural in this line of work to wonder how much good you're doing for the people you serve.

You always question if you're doing right by them. You question if, amid their pursuits, your contribution provides value. At times, it's challenging to gauge whether people are aware of or care about your work. You spend countless hours immersed in that work, striving to do it well — not for self-worth affirmation or ego, but for your communities.

Then something simple happens and accumulates. Every day.

For a quarter-century now, you have welcomed me into your schools, homes and lives.

You have entrusted me with the essential duty of chronicling one of the most important endeavors of formative years, watersheds that alter community tradition.

You have been, by and large, engaging, kind, open and supportive. You have spoiled me with your talent, perspective, candor and class.

I have to do my part, but that dynamic starts with you. Your trust — in good times and otherwise — is something I have never taken for granted.

I've long had three principles:

—Treat student-athletes as equals, like you would want your child treated, and just as importantly as an athlete at higher levels of competition.

—Never lose sight — while not literally, of course — that these are your kids, too. Because their story is your responsibility.

—Walk in as the most prepared for every eventuality.

From there, you have shared your tales of triumph and travail. We have traversed state championships and breakthroughs, heartbreak and tragedy.

Unwavering loyalty extends most to my primary sport responsibilities: Soccer (21 years), hockey (24), swimming and diving (18) and track and field (21).

If my News-Herald tenure is marked as being a "niche sports" writer, that's all right. Niche sports may not have the numbers or interest football and basketball do, but their communities are filled with passionate people who will have your back through thick and thin, provided you do the same.

That started with hockey, assigned that duty before my 21st birthday for the 2000-2001 season. A couple years were required to find my footing, but we got there. Today, I can't imagine a professional life without it.

We even have our inside humor — Clipboard of Doom. Lillstrung Corner. What you know riles me in real time.

It would be impossible to name every student-athlete who has impacted my life for the better.

I think of the world-class talent, such as Jessica Beard and Matt Ludwig.

The all-time area greats such as Kori Chapic, Erika Zschuppe, Marshall Plow, Nick Rieple, Patrick Neundorfer, Elliot Taxman, Andrew Malone, Austin Quinn, Brittany Strumbel, Crile Hart, Nolan Landis, Nick Biega, Mia Knight and Paige Floriea.

The inspirational, from Jack Misny to Sam Cicconetti to Anna Layman.

Those who left us far too soon, such as Alec Kornet and Stevie Grieshammer.

Wickliffe's 2006 boys soccer state final run, University hockey's "triple crown" 2008-09 team and Beachwood girls track and field's back-to-back team championships in 2017 and 2018.

Baron Cup Sundays. Four days at Fitch. My tradition of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" blaring pulling into the parking lot for a big-stage event.

Leah King being a state champion hurdler, but off the track being so moved by a story on a student-athlete who was racially targeted decades earlier she raised money through her family's foundation for a headstone so his final resting place was no longer unmarked.

The standouts, the steady, the invaluable reserves and the vibrant personalities who represented their schools with distinction.

The coaches and administrators who have gone the extra mile — too many to name, but plenty who have helped make this journey more enjoyable.

The News-Herald coverage area war heroes — student-athletes who went on to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country — whose stories have been recounted and saved for posterity.

STORY COLLECTION: News-Herald coverage area HS athletes killed in action in World War I, II

The pride in student-athletes returning as coaches or those who go on to success in personal and professional lives beyond sports.

All of you who ask about me outside of work or about my daughter. The warm greetings and the "I enjoy your work" affirmations that brighten my day.

The hugs, tears and friendliness from student-athletes, parents and coaches, the thank-you notes and the bond we share, regardless where your lives take you.

Yet none of it is because of anything I did, really. That was you doing that, with me there along the way.

It hasn't been a perfect 25 years. Vehement detractors. Anonymous attacks. Threats. Physical shaming. Personal abuse. Mental health and life toll. Mistakes. Regrets. Missed opportunities. We haven't always agreed or gotten along.

None of that, though, could ever envelop the goodwill we've built. Together.

Because what you begin to realize is, even in the most challenging times, the highest form of achievement against detraction is consistency — keep showing up and doing your job as best you can, honest but fair, with the vast majority believing you are.

After all, people are counting on you regardless.

So in Hour 12 on a Saturday night on the back end of a long week, when there's still work to do, that's what keeps me going: You.

This industry doesn't make anyone wealthy. But it has made me rich beyond measure.

This chapter won't last forever. None ever do.

I can reflect on our 25 years so far together, though, beaming with pride.

If you can reflect fondly on a weathering newspaper or a website years later on a transcendent moment in your life or your family's or community's life through something with my name on it, then my job was done. If I've played any role in making your life better, then mine is better for it, too.

Those tears were real on that Friday morning in 2022. They are now as I finish this 25-year retrospection, grateful for how much you've enriched this kid from Painesville City.

To all of you past and present, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Because it's not about me. It's about you.