Searching through the memories

I recently had a chance to sift through multiple stacks of old newspapers in my apartment in an attempt to streamline my life.

We’ve all been there: Before you move to a new place, it’s time to take inventory of what’s really important to you and make some decisions about what you hang on to and what you leave behind.

There they were, neatly aligned in four different stacks in my closet: nearly seven year’s worth of by lines, photo packages and features that diagrammed the beginning of my career in journalism.

Minus some of the articles I wrote as a young education reporter nearly seven years ago (sorry about that Pioneer readers circa 2007), I was surprised with just how many of those stories still held up, as well as how much these annual events, sources, rivalry games and players have impacted my life during my time at the Pioneer.

This column will be the last piece of paper to add to the stack, as I take on a new challenge in my career as a reporter with the Kokomo Tribune in Kokomo, Ind. While I am excited to be starting a new chapter in my life and career, it’s still very bittersweet to say goodbye to a company that took a chance on me so long ago while allowing me to learn the ropes in nearly every facet of the journalism industry.

Sure, it’s tempting to talk about the big games I witnessed, and there were some good ones. As I was reliving those old stories, though, many of them came back to life as fractured memories — little snippets or moments that stood out as surreal at a time I was faced with the task of reporting reality.

I can still remember Morley Stanwood kicker Tyler Wilcox splitting the uprights on a 33-yard field goal to defeat the Shelby in the first round of the playoffs in 2011. Wilcox had missed a critical extra point that ended up being the difference in a 41-40 double overtime loss to Menominee in the 2010 regional final, providing one of the more uplifting stories of redemption I ever had a chance to take part in.

“I think about that (Menominee) kick once, twice, sometimes 10 times a day,” Wilcox said at the time. “Just the little things, like did I have my head down? It’s a little bit of redemption (to make the game-winning field goal).”

Seeing Wilcox clutching his helmet and bending over with a sense of relief after the Mohawks won the game was certainly a memorable moment, but after hearing him talk about the pain of living with his shortcoming the year before and seeing him get a second chance was about as life-affirming as covering a high school football game can be.

There are countless others, of course.

Following the Ferris State hockey team on their road to the program’s first Frozen Four and covering a national championship game gave me my first taste of the “big time,” eating catered meals in a press room while viciously writing as many stories as my fingers would allow back to the people in Big Rapids.

I can still remember sitting on a bench outside of my hotel in Tampa, Fla., taking a break from writing at 4 a.m. as former Bulldog Aaron Schmit sat next to me while he waited to take his girlfriend to the airport. We talked for a while, just hours after he had lost the biggest game of his life. After a maddening few hours of hockey writing, it was nice to share that moment of humanity when I least expected it.

I’ve traveled all across the Midwest, interviewed professional athletes and covered a wedding that took place prior to a demolition derby. None of it was boring, most of it was fulfilling.

Even more fulfilling than the job or the stories, though, have been the people. Former editor Dave Clark and associate editor Jim Bruskotter saw something in me and I worked hard every day to make sure they didn’t look stupid for hiring me. After head banging with Clark at an Iron Maiden concert a few years later, it began to make more sense why I was hired. Jim Crees has since carried the torch for awesomeness as editor-in-chief, writing one of the most interesting columns I’ve ever read while telling some of the most interesting stories I’ve ever heard.

Publisher John Norton is as good a man I could ever hope to work for (which makes sense considering he’s a Michigan fan). John and Jack Batdorff have built a paper on the foundation of giving a community its OWN newspaper long ago. Now many small newspapers across the country are following suit.

To my neighbor Kenny: You have been a top notch guy. Thank you for everything.

As for the reporters, you’ve been my best friends. I can’t imagine sharing my Thursday nights ranting about the state of journalism at Schuberg’s without all of you. Take a bow: Candy Allan, Brandon Fountain, Lindsey Wahowiak, Nico Rubello, Brad “Awesome” Klosner, Michelle Graves, Jon Eppley, Whitney Gronski-Buffa, Zeke Jennings and Kyle Leppek (sorry to anyone I left off, I have space restrictions). To Bob Allan, John Raffel and Greg Buckner: Thank you for your countless hours of hard work and cooperation. We’ve done some great things together and I know that will continue long after I’m gone.

The Pioneer also has given me the gift of my best friend and soul mate, Lauren Fitch, who I will be making the move to Indiana with. If I can take one thing, or in this case person, from this job, I’m the luckiest man in the world that it gets to be her.

So now a new stack of papers begins for me in another city. I can only hope the stacks of memories in the Big Rapids area and beyond continue to be as exciting as they’ve been the last seven years.

Thank you Pioneer and thank you Big Rapids.

Leave a Reply