You made my dreams come true. Thank you, and I’ll see you soon.
Dear Hamilton County,
The 23-year-old version of myself, the guy that first stepped into the Daily Freeman-Journal office in September of 1999 for his first real job, would cringe at the person I’ve become.
That young guy didn’t cry, not at the drop of a hat anyway. He didn’t understand sentimental emotions, didn’t want to understand them.
He had a lot of growing up to do.
Over the past 22 years and 9 months at the DFJ — nearly half of my life — I’ve done a lot of that. Right in front of your eyes, whether you noticed it or not, I transformed from a child to an adult.
In the past five weeks, since I first announced my departure from the only job I thought I would ever want, I’ve cried constantly. The countless Twitter comments and direct messages, as well as the Instagram messages I’ve received have made me cry. Text messages from former Webster City wrestling coach Ted Larson and current Webster City baseball coach Adison Kehoe made me bawl like a baby. Sitting in front of my computer right now, typing in a stream of consciousness, I have tears coming down my cheeks.
This is who I’ve become. And I’m so danged grateful.
Friday will be my final day as the sports editor at the DFJ. I’m going to spend the evening strolling the grounds at the Webster City baseball and softball diamonds, taking in the sights and scenes one final time. I’m going to take some photos, I’m going to reminisce, and I’m going to smile. A lot.
And, yes, I’ll probably cry. Hey, it’s who I’ve become.
When I was growing up, this was my dream job. I knew I always wanted to write about sports and for nearly 23 years I got to live out that dream. Without hesitation, I can honestly tell you that it lived up to the hype. I’ve loved every single second of it. I really have.
But it’s come with a cost, I don’t deny that. I’ve missed so much, time with my family I can never get back. I’ll never regret the nights and weekends I spent covering Webster City, South Hamilton and Northeast Hamilton back in the day, but missing my oldest daughter Taylor’s volleyball matches and track meets, and my youngest daughter Brooklyn’s gymnastics meets were difficult. My wife, Kelly, never grumbled when she was a single parent at those events, nor did she ever ask me to change professions, but she’s happy she’ll get her partner back going forward. I am too.
I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s time for me to do something else, and when the perfect opportunity arose, well, I couldn’t pass it up. Beginning July 1, I’ll become the Director of Community Engagement at Gilbert Schools, just three miles up the road from our house. I’ll get the chance to do many of the things I think I do well — writing stories, taking photos, design work and social media, just to name a few — and I’ll get to go back to school myself in some ways as I learn new things. I’ll also get my nights and weekends to spend with my family, and if you know our story then you understand why that’s so important.
I leave this job with no grudges, only appreciation. I wish I could thank each and every one of you and give you all a big hug, but this column will have to suffice. Hamilton County took a chance on a cocky recent college graduate so long ago. You welcomed me in with open arms and for more than two decades you’ve allowed me to be one of you. Your support, your appreciation for my work, and your love have meant more to me than I can ever articulate with my words.
And how you all rallied around my family in 2019 during our darkest of days …
Great, here come the tears again. I’m a mess.
What Jess Howard did. What Todd Coy did. What the McKinney and Doering families did. What the kids — so many kids! — did for us as my wife battled Stage 3 breast cancer … how does one ever repay that? The communities wrapped us in their arms, held on tight, and brightened so many of our days during that difficult journey. It was small-town Iowa at its finest, and it’s something we will never forget or take for granted.
To the kids and coaches that I’ve had the privilege to cover, where do I start? Every story I’ve written, every photo I’ve taken, every special section I’ve completed, have been for you. I hope I’ve made you as proud as you’ve made me.
The golden rule for sports journalism is you cannot, under any circumstances, be a fan when you’re covering an event. A journalist is there to tell the story, that’s the credo.
As I’ve accepted in recent years, I haven’t been a very good traditional journalist. I might not have showed it outwardly, but inside I rooted like crazy for Webster City, South Hamilton and Northeast Hamilton. I screamed and pumped my fists inside my brain at the successes, and my stomach ripped to shreds at the tough losses. There were many sleep-challenged nights as I replayed games in my mind, but that’s just who I am. I don’t apologize for it, not now and not ever.
I’ve been so, so lucky to be able to call this beat my own.
General Jean Mowry and the greatest girls’ golf team this area has ever seen, Air Josten, Matt Tharp’s ridiculous speed and the most improbable run to a state softball title for Webster City were just a few of the early highlights. And in those first few years, former WCHS softball coach Dave Hilton did more for my career than he knows. He challenged me. Held me accountable. Wasn’t afraid to question me on things I wrote. He forced me to become a better journalist and I’ll never be able to thank him enough.
The story I’m most proud of — then, now and forever — came in that first decade too. Dick Kennedy’s long battle with cancer was not a secret, but I never wanted to invade the privacy of the longtime Lynx wrestling coach. I finally got up the courage to ask him if he would be willing to talk about it prior to the start of the 2005-06 season. Honestly, I thought he would politely turn me down, but he readily agreed.
I can still remember that day in November of 2005, sitting in a tiny room off the wrestling room, just the two of us. I had my list of questions, I was ready. And over the next 60 minutes, I think I asked two, maybe three of them. I quickly realized he had a lot to say and so I let him. He talked about his life, about his fight, about his family, about his hopes and dreams for his children after he was gone, and so much more. And when he ran out of things to say and I shut off my recorder, he chuckled and said something like, “Good luck making a story out of all of that.” I quickly told him that the story was done. He had just written it, much better than I ever could, that’s for sure.
He passed away less than eight months later and I hope that story is still read by his family from time to time. I know I’ve read it more than a few times over the years.
So, yeah, my contribution to what I think is my greatest writing accomplishment was as a typist.
There have been plenty of pleasant memories over the last 10 to 11 years too. Jonny Davis and Keagan Parks, what a duo. Gavin Dinsdale’s unmatched athleticism. The Hill family’s impact on South Hamilton basketball. The Fuhs twins’ fights and feats on the basketball court and golf course. That unbelievable run by the Lynx football team to the Class 3A state championship game in 2016. Taylor freakin’ McKinney. Drake Doolittle and Cam Phetxoumphone, two of the smallest giants you’ll ever encounter. The Lynx baseball team, what a run. CJ Hisler, aka Gavin Dinsdale 2.0. And the sweetest of swings from the left side of the plate by Kelly Stoakes.
I’m leaving out so, so much, I know. Please don’t take that as a slight. But there isn’t enough paper to put them all down on.
It’s been an unbelievable journey, and I hope someone new can come in and pick up the mantle. I hope you give that person the same chance you gave me, and I hope he or she does it better than I ever could. And if you’ll indulge me for one moment for a PSA … I’ve had a number of people tell me how much they’ve enjoyed my Twitter updates and my Instagram photos over the years, and I truly appreciate it. But, honestly folks, that wasn’t my job. That was just something I did. No, my job was to write stories, take photos and design pages for the DFJ, a newspaper that desperately needs your support going forward. Without it, there won’t be a newspaper, it’s as simple as that. And that’s a thought that makes me want to crawl into the fetal position.
Please, please continue to support the newspaper. Give the next generation of kids the same opportunities to have their achievements recognized as this and previous generations. You won’t be sorry, I promise you.
It’s cliche, I know, but I’ll leave you with this — thank you, Hamilton County. You have made my dreams come true, and when I’m retired and hanging out with my grandkids, I’ll still root for the kids at Webster City and South Hamilton. That will never change.
This isn’t goodbye, I won’t let it be. This is just see you later.