The final event I covered as a full-time staff member of the Creston News Advertiser was a state runner-up finish by the Creston girls tennis team at the 2016 state tournament in Waterloo.
It was fun to go out that way, because many of the team members had played on a middle school basketball teams I coached when they were younger. I really enjoyed watching how they’d grown up and become warriors at the highest level of state competition. It made it a special way to bow out of full-time duty.
Since then I’ve been semi-retired and worked basically on a half-time basis, concentrating on writing occasional feature stories and helping in sports. I particularly enjoyed having the freedom to head out to various colleges around Iowa and Missouri to chronicle the collegiate careers of many former local prep stars. Those trips gave me some of the most memorable moments of my career.
So, with that in mind, it also seems fitting that the final high school game I covered as a part-time regular staff member for the News Advertiser was Tuesday’s home girls basketball game against Shenandoah. Again, I coached nearly every player on the Creston roster when they were in middle school, so it just felt right to go out writing about them securing a victory.
The fact that it was against Shenandoah was also kind of ironic. When I began the first of 41 years in this business in January 1980, I met my wife in Atlantic. While we were starting to date, I was Mr. Romance, saying things like, “Hey, I have to cover the basketball game down in Shenandoah Friday night. Want to ride along and spend the evening together?”
She didn’t know any of the players, really had no interest in the high school sports of that area, yet she often accompanied me. I took advantage of the situation and sometimes had her drive back as I worked on stats and game notes under a light in the passenger seat. It’s a wonder she ever went on a second date, let alone agree to marry into this crazy life!
Deb sacrificed a lot over the years, especially on weekends. Back before there was any kind of online statistical resource like Varsity Bound, the other sports person and I would divide up the calls every Sunday in the fall to speak with every single area football coach and get comments and a recap of their game. They would email their stats. It was probably a 10-hour work day on most Sundays.
In other seasons, I’d often bail on Deb on many Saturdays to cover volleyball or wrestling tournaments. (She spent our first anniversary in a Des Moines hotel room waiting for me to finish coverage of the Atlantic girls state track championship.)
Almost every weeknight in the summers, instead of having time to do something together outdoors in the evenings, I’d be heading off to another high school baseball or softball game and only see Deb for a few minutes if I came home to write for awhile before heading into the office. That hasn’t been so much of an issue since dropping to part-time, but I still owe her a lot of evenings!
When we had morning page production for sports, my days were full. It was compiling stories and composing pages all morning, then often back into the office in the afternoon to chase down scores and work on my own set of conference standings, because again there was no handy internet service for those things. Then, off to another game in the evening.
We had so much space for sports in the 1980s and 1990s, when there were no online news services and the print product was king, that if I took the time I could fit all of the middle school sports in the paper, and even Little League scores. I’d go down to the Bill Sears Complex once a week and pick up the sheets filled out by the coaches. But, it’s a different world now. Newsprint space is tighter and the guys are spread pretty thin also keeping up with Osceola and Adair County newspaper coverage.
It was exhausting, yet also exhilarating, to bring that depth of coverage to our local readers over the years and be in the best seat in the house for the major events. It was so much fun. I enjoy watching the enthusiasm of our current young sports guys on the beat. I remember what that felt like. But, now, I can tell it’s time to step aside.
I may still submit this column, because I’m not sure if I could function without at least one writing outlet. (I’m still enthralled by the concept of creating something on a blank page.) I could also maybe provide an occasional feature story as a freelance contributor, but for now I’m not committing to too much.
I think the job layoff from April through mid-November gave me a taste of retirement. Some of my boyhood buddies told me I’d like it, and I’ve just begun to realize that. Then, I got a fairly nasty case of COVID-19 just as I was trying to resume my work, and I just never regained that spark of enthusiasm in the work that I used to have.
When I was still sick, there was a lot of loss to process, too. A former co-worker in Atlantic died of COVID-19 complications that included pneumonia. Lexi Rounds became the first former player of mine to lose her life in a tragic accident, and that hit hard. She was such a positive person to be around every day at practice as a seventh-grader.
Sometimes you are reminded that time on this earth can be short, and you start to think about what’s really important. Deb and I have two more grandchildren on the way in early 2021, so we hope to be even more busy with family in the year ahead. You only get one shot to be grandpa!
Deb continues to do a stellar job as an admissions representative at Southwestern Community College, but we’ve started to make our long-range plans for when we’re both retired. It’s getting closer.
I will enjoy getting out to watch the local games as often as possible, when there isn’t a global pandemic creating attendance restrictions. I will never lose interest in watching the local competition, and I continue to coach basketball in the winters.
Life goes on. For more than 35 years, I’ve enjoyed bringing many of those life moments to News Advertiser readers.
Thanks for being along for the ride.
On the topic of farewells, here’s a shout out to retiring Union County Sheriff Rick Piel. He first took office in 2001. He succeeded Sheriff John Coulter. I arrived in Creston in late 1984 and only covered two Union County Sheriffs in all of that time. That’s longevity like the University of Iowa football coaching duo of Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz!
Before becoming sheriff, Piel worked for the Creston Police Department for 23 years. That’s a lot of public service. He didn’t want me to do a story on his retirement, so this short acknowledgement is it.
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