15 years on the job

It was more than 15 years ago that Bowling Green State University told me to leave.

OK, they didn’t tell me. Graduation forced me to leave, though until the moment I walked to get a diploma at Anderson Arena, I was still trying to figure out a way to stay.

Nonetheless, a few weeks later I was in Kenton, Ohio, a town I’d never been to or heard of, writing stories about teams from schools I hadn’t heard of.

That was 15 years ago. I spent 11 months at the Kenton Times before coming up here, to Tiffin. And I’ve been living and working here ever since.

In that time, there have been good teams, bad teams. Good moments, bad moments. Compliments and criticisms.

That’s OK. When you are writing about a topic, the only thing that’s unacceptable is apathy. I appreciate when someone writes in, even if it’s to question my intelligence or competence.

It means that person reads the paper and cares about the topic.

Fifteen years in, I’ve gotten more from my jobs than I could have hoped. And, since it seems like a milestone, here are some tidbits, high points, memories from 15 years of writing about sports, and working at newspapers.

MOST MEMORABLE GAME: Columbian 83, Shelby 82. It wasn’t a basketball game, but a football game with a single overtime. Columbian’s Cliff Miller ran for 516 yards on that Friday evening in the fall of 2014. He was the star of the game, but it was the first time I saw Brennan Armstrong, who is now a quarterback at the University of Virginia. Defense was applied only in the vaguest of terms that night, but there were also some oddities. Shelby recovered multiple onside kicks to overcome a 20-point deficit. And I think the losing coach — Shelby’s Erik Will — was happier than the winner, Columbian’s Brian Colatruglio. One day, I want to do a story — an oral history — on that single game. Never seen anything like it. Probably never will again.

FAVORITE COACH TO INTERVIEW: Steve Gilbert. The former Columbian football coach was in his final season when I started working the team’s beat in 2009. But he was — and is — very knowledgeable about the sport, taking the complicated and making it simple. I’ll admit I was intimidated when I first interviewed him — despite being at The A-T four years, we had never crossed paths prior to that season — but the Hall of Famer has always been good to me. I consider him a friend and still enjoy conversations with the now-Tiffin University assistant. Honorable mentions go to former Tiffin women’s basketball coach Pam Oswald, who once called me on New Years Eve to talk basketball. There was no paper the next day. But it was still a lot of fun to talk about the game with her.

WORST INTERVIEW: After a game at Heidelberg, an opposing men’s basketball coach once yelled at me for a stupid comment, then hugged me afterward. I hadn’t been that emotionally confused since the film “Avatar.”

BEST MOMENT: Calvert winning the state volleyball title last November. In my career, I’d only covered two state title games. The first was when Hardin Northern beat Norwalk St. Paul for a Division VI state title in football in 2004. That was fun, but seeing Calvert make an improbable run — or at least that’s how it seemed at the time — to a state championship, and getting to a point where you realized it was happening — was special. There was also pressure. You want to write a great story for a great moment. I don’t know if I did that, But the overall experience was special. In 2004, I was a rookie, I barely knew who the players were. With Calvert, I’d watched athletes like Lexie White, Zoe Meyer, Shelby Hemminger and Sophie Burtis play numerous sports for years. It was cool.

WORST MOMENT: When Heidelberg baseball lost the Division III regional in 2008 to Adrian in Terra Haute, Ind. Heidelberg had a two-run lead going to the ninth inning, and had it won, would have made the Division III World Series. Not only did Heidelberg lose — it gave up three runs and lost in a walk-off — but the devastated players had to wait for me while I finished a story about the game. Then-coach Matt Palm has joked that they considered leaving me. I honestly wouldn’t have blamed him if he had.

FAVORITE COLUMN: “That’s why you write the stories, and I coach the games.” — Palm. I got a column out of that, about the 2010 team, which did make the World Series. When the people who work at the Body Works front desk talk to you about a column, you know you did something right.

FAVORITE STORY: My piece this past October on former USFL player and Fostoria and Notre Dame star Joe Johnson. It took a month to write, and included a 3:30 a.m. interview with best-selling author Jeff Pearlman. But Johnson was an amazing subject and a tremendous interview, and Pearlman was generous with his time and insight. And I managed to find a game where Johnson tackled the great Herschel Walker on YouTube, a play Johnson still remembered and vividly described. It was a piece I’m very proud of.

CLOSEST COACH FRIEND: I don’t consider myself to be friends with most coaches, rather, I’m friendly with them. I don’t usually hang out or go to dinner with people I cover. But Heidelberg football coach Scott Donaldson is an exception. We’re about the same age, came to Tiffin at about the same time, and have gotten along ever since we met. Scott is one of the few coaches where I can say to him: “I can’t write that, that’s bull.” And he’s one of the few coaches who can run up to me, seconds after a game, and say “Why don’t you dress better?” That’s friendship. Honorable mentions are Oswald, Palm, Colatruglio (best Browns chats, ever) and SE girls track coach Matt Schock.

BEST COACH: Oh, this is a hard one. But I still think what Mike Hallett did for Heidelberg football — from a 36 game losing streak to the D-III playoffs in five years — is remarkable. He’s also the most creative playcaller I have ever covered in football. He’s now the offensive line coach at Toledo, but I must admit I’d love to see him get a chance to call plays in Division I. An honorable mention here goes to Gary Goff, the former TU football coach, Palm, Heidelberg volleyball/wrestling coach Jason Miller, former Seneca East baseball coach Frank Lamoreaux and Calvert volleyball coach Lori Rombach. And Old Fort volleyball’s Nancy Hoover and Mohawk volleyball/Mohawk baseball/Old Fort basketball’s Eric Hoover are amazing coaches. Eric could probably coach an equestrian team to a title.

BEST COLLEGE GAME: Heidelberg vs. Baldwin-Wallace football, 2012. Quentin Rembert blocked a last-second field goal attempt by B-W, securing a 9-1 season for Heidelberg an a trip to the D-III playoffs. That was also the game where tailback Bryan Lacey broke out for about 200 yards. It was a must-win for HU, and it was an unbelievable contest.

MOST EXCITING ATHLETE: I think Micah Hyde, a Fostoria star who now plays for the Buffalo Bills, was probably the best athlete. But I never saw him play high school football, and only saw him play basketball once. I give the nod to Jon Diebler, who could draw crowds wherever he went. The then-Upper Sandusky wunderkind was the only player I have ever covered at the high school level that when you stepped out of a car to cover his games, there was a notable buzz. It was an excitement from everyone, because they weren’t sure what he was going to do. A basketball player who could shoot the lights out, playing on a state-championship caliber team. It doesn’t get much more exciting than that. And then Jon went on to do the same thing when he was at Ohio State. He was amazing.

PEOPLE I’M THANKFUL TO: There’s Tim Thomas for hiring me as a kid right out of college in Kenton. Dan Robinson and Aaron Korte also need to be noted for providing me guidance there. When I came to Tiffin, Dave Feltner taught me plenty without even saying a word. He taught more by writing so well himself. We were close, and we had so many great conversations about sports and about life. It’s been 10 years since he died, and I miss him every day. I also learned a valuable lesson: Don’t wait to tell people what they mean to you. I used to tell myself I never got the chance, but the truth is, I had a chance every day and didn’t. It’s a professional and personal regret. I’m also thankful to Mike Genet for his friendship, one that has persisted even eight years after he left for Missouri. He’s my Tiffin brother. And then there’s MJ McVay, a former news editor here, who made me not only a better reporter, but a better person. Pat Magers is my idol, and John Montgomery and Matt Nye have made the last few years of coming to work a joy. That’s a blessing.

ONE FINAL THOUGHT: Thank you for reading. Always.