I remember the day as if it were yesterday.
Forty years ago today, Aug. 13, 1979, I walked into The McPherson Sentinel newspaper office for my first day of covering sports.
Then-editor John Fraser took a chance on an unproven May 1979 graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism. I wasn’t really sure what I was getting myself into, but I knew I was an adult and on my own for the first time in the real world and in a town where I didn’t know anybody. I had a studio apartment on East Kansas that was the size of a thumbnail, but it was my first place and felt like a mansion to me.
John told me on that day I had 2 weeks to put together a fall sports edition. That was something they didn’t teach you in J-school and my head immediately was spinning, wondering if I could really do this job.
I frantically cobbled together some semblance of an edition, though when I look back on it now it was borderline embarrassing.
But I persevered and moved on. I began developing my craft and my own personal style. I studied the big-time sports writers and realized early I had to write just beyond the basic nuts and bolts of a game. You have to inject some flair, some hook to catch the readers or they would move on to something else in the paper.
And it didn’t take long to realize I had landed in sports heaven.
I grew up in Independence, Kan., a pretty good sports town. The local Bulldogs and Pirates were strong in most sports when I was there. I was fortunate to work for the local newspaper, The Daily Reporter, while attending junior college. I was the definition of a “cub reporter.” That experience turned out to be a blessing. I covered high school and junior college sports to cut my teeth in the profession.
But McPherson is a different animal. Sports here are a way of life. I learned early on that basketball was king and that the bouncing ball was infectious. Games were an event, a happening. I had never seen support quite like that.
My plan was to be here two years. Man, did that ever go out the window.
It didn’t take long for me to realize McPherson was going to be home. I had opportunities to go elsewhere, but I said to myself, “why?” Granted, I worked for pennies on the dollar, but sports writing was my love and I never considered it a job. It was fun to go to games, cover top-notch athletes, work with accommodating coaches and athletic directors and cover numerous championship teams. I always told myself when this became a “job,” I knew it was time to get out.
My sports writing was locally influenced, but I also knew KU, K-State and Wichita State were important to the community. And I offered up opinions on pro sports, which were well received.
I worked with a lot of great people in the newspaper business, but as the years went on I saw the downturn it was taking. Online content was exploding and I knew it was the future since people were spending hours on the Internet. For someone who admittedly is so stuck in his ways, I decided to take a giant leap of faith and joinMidkansasonline.comand McPherson Radio.
The move, which came in 2012, has been invigorating and recharged my batteries. Gone was having to design pages daily, crop photos (which I don’t have to take anymore) and worrying if the press was going to break down. I felt like I could concentrate more on what I love to do and that’s writing.
I have been overwhelmed at the response.Midkansasonline.com receives more than 900,000 hits a year. I write a five-times-a-week column “Sell on Sports,” that is well-received and often discussed (or cussed if people don’t like it). I look at the other outlets in Kansas and realize I’ve become a dinosaur as local sports columnists have virtually disappeared, but it’s the one part of my job I find the most exciting.
I also do some radio work that has been enjoyable and I never thought the radio classes I took in junior college would ever come into play.
I also have become a small part of the McPherson community. When I’m out in public, more often than not somebody asks me about something I’ve written or what I think about the Bullpups, Bulldogs, Tigers or Swedes. I appreciate all the support I’ve received for these four decades and while I’ve infuriated people at times, I try to tell them I respect their opinion even if they don’t concur with mine.
Most of all, I’ve been able to make a life in a wonderful town. I get to play golf as much as I want, which is my other passion. I have great friends who would do anything for me. They look out for me because even at 62, I guess I’ve still not grown up.
I know the sand is running out of the hour glass. It’s soon going to be up to somebody else to keep the McPherson and area community informed on what’s happening in the world of sports. When that day comes, I’ll be able to relax and enjoy watching and supporting all the teams that I covered for so many years.
But I’m not quite done yet. Even though the needle is between empty and a quarter of a tank, I still have a few miles left on these tires. Bring on season No. 41 and I’ll do the best I can in providing you with all the information you need and keeping you entertained.
Forty years. How can it be? Time really does fly when you’re having fun.