How lucky was I? Looking back on two years of sports coverage

Published 12:12 pm Thursday, October 29, 2015

I remember my first day like it was yesterday, walking into the tiny, middle-school-sized gymnasium at Bear Grass Charter School in Williamston, having never covered a high school sport before.

With no available seats in the bleachers, armed with a camera I hadn’t the slightest idea how to operate, I sat by myself on the wall underneath the net. I jotted down some notes, took a few questionably-zoomed pictures and waited outside the locker room for my first interview as sports editor of the Washington Daily News.

Without my handy red voice recorder, I vigorously tried to write down every word Lady Seahawks’ coach Bill Lake said, missing most of his key points. Once the awkward exchange was over, I watched the men’s game, as former Southside guard Donshae Miller scored what was a season-low 11 points (averaged 19 a game that season). Then I went home.

The title of my first story was “Seahawks defense contains the Lady Bears.” I forgot the apostrophe.

Just one week removed from graduation at East Carolina, with my 1998 Nissan Pathfinder already packed to maximum capacity, I had started heading towards U.S. Highway 264 with the intention of driving back home to New Jersey, dissatisfied that not one of the 40-some applications I sent out received responses. That was until the Daily News called 10 minutes into my drive.

Since that first day on the job, I’ve shaken thousands of hands, written hundreds of newspaper articles and traveled more than 40,000 miles with two vehicles. There have been eastern regional champions, conference champions, individual state champions and historic moments that my writing and photography have frozen in time.

I’ve interviewed former professional athletes like David Garrard, Vonta Leach and Mario Andretti, while also writing the script for a rising young star in Edrice “Bam” Adebayo.

Then, of course, there was Dominique Wilkins. Arguably one of the top 10 basketball players of all time, Wilkins relationship with Washington went from estranged to mended, though, in my opinion, I don’t believe the ESPN Documentary did this town or his head coach justice.

Ah, yes, Dave Smith. Forget Wilkins, the state championship runs or even the East Carolina football games. Being the last sports editor to shake the hand of one of the most revered high school basketball coaches in North Carolina history will be my single proudest memory.

From interviews and talking to those in the Washington community, Smith was more than just a coach. He was one of those selfless figures that only come around once in a century. It was hardly uncommon for words like “champion,” “mentor” and, in some cases, “father figure” to be used when speaking of Smith, who coached the Pam Pack (and P.S. Jones) basketball team from 1972 to 1991, compiling 520 wins along the way.

I’d occasionally cover the Washington Youth Basketball League in the Bobby Andrews Recreation Center and almost every single time, there was Smith, sitting in the same seat, willingly watching 8 and 10 year olds dribble basketballs up and down the court. Up until his last day on Earth, his support for basketball and the youth in this community had not wavered.

My profession aside, I spent the last two years living in Washington, a town that I had only visited once during my four years at ECU. Living on a campus, a college student is oftentimes hit with a mixture cultures and attitudes delivered from students with different backgrounds and upbringings. So, like most New Jersey-born students, I developed stereotypes.

That all changed rather quickly upon my move to the banks of the Pamlico River. There were definitely growing pains through my first couple of weeks on the job, that’s for sure. But formal complaints were far and few between. Rather, readers allowed me time to mature as a writer, learn the history of the area and develop relationships in the community. That opportunity to grow, in my opinion, is something that would never happen anywhere else in the country, especially New Jersey. Here, that kindness is commonplace.

Family is the foundation is everything this county stands for. It’s inspiring. And it’s why I’ve decided to return home to mine.

In a time when print news is shrinking, it’s no mistake that Beaufort County’s newspaper continues to persevere. The community bond is strong here and the Washington Daily News truly continues to be the “Voice of the Pamlico.”

The medium may be changing, but the demand for hyper-local news is not and will not. If anything, it will become stronger. In my opinion, you can’t have a functioning democracy without dedicated print journalists, those who write for the people and not the paycheck. You have that here.

So thanks for a great two years Beaufort County and I look forward to my next visit!