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Final column at the HDN: "The Pleasure Has Been All Mine"

From getting the 10,000th visitor to my blog at the tail end of last year to leaving you all hanging or just hanging you out until you leave — what a fabulous blogistrator (blog administrator, to NOT make up words would just be a ‘travashamockery’) I am!

So here’s the deal. I got an e-mail from the former assistant pastor at Brighton First United Methodist Church (where I grew up) a few months ago, and as I read it I got chills through my body and felt called to make a run at this new job, which involves starting up a new newspaper for the Detroit and West Michigan Conferences of the United Methodist Church. Through the grace of God and the acceptance of a group of men who have more collective wisdom than a conference room can hold — I was offered the position at the end of last month.

While I loved being a gym rat with a pen and pad in my hand, I want to further impact people’s lives and without Christ I am nothing. I know there are plenty of you out there who want nothing to do with religion, let alone a relationship with God, but I firmly believe that true Christianity can tear down every social wall and bring together a heart of giving and service that is too meaningful to just ignore. When I leave this earth I can take nothing with me (nor can you, good luck trying if you believe otherwise!) but if I can have an impact on others that can live on and give purpose to why I was here — that’s too much to pass up, given who formulated my DNA. Sure at heart I’m just a big goofball who loves to write, mercilessly pound friends at NCAA 2010 on Xbox 360 and trips over life’s hurdles like a third-grade track star wannabe, but the simple fact that I have a savior who created me for something great who helps me get back up each time.

If you ever wanna talk high school or college sports I’m still game, and to be honest, I’ll finally be able to WATCH some more college and pro sports since I won’t be at the office until 1 a.m., and if you ever just want to give me a holler for the sake of doing what all the cool kids do then feel free. I am also currently working on a deal to freelance for the Jackson Citizen Patriot, so hopefully my byline will venture back into the high school sports scene soon. Thanks for the readership, love and support.

Without further adieu, here is my final column of my sports editing career in Hillsdale. Published on Dec. 31:

After hundreds of articles, thousands of lessons, uncountable meaningful conversations, dozens of angry phone calls and more kind words directed my way than I ever deserved — this is my final piece as the sports editor of the Hillsdale Daily News.
My first day on the job involved covering an SCAA football tilt where then-sophomore quarterback Garet Lee led Pittsford to a 46-0 pasting of North Adams-Jerome. The date was Sept. 14, 2007.
Now Lee has played the final football game of an illustrious career and I am scratching out the final words of an unforgetable venture.
What has felt like an eternity at times, especially when trying to figure out the correct spelling of names like “Reiniche” or “Schwartzengraber” at 1:30 in the morning, is suddenly about to become my past.
But no matter how many disgruntled customers called me complaining about the lack of NASCAR coverage during the offseason and regardless of whether or not you agreed with my perspectives on the county sports scene, I can say with a smile on my face that my time here in Hillsdale has made me a wiser, better person thanks to the people whose presence I was blessed with.
I want to genuinely thank all of the athletic directors and coaches for forging great working relationships with me and holding me accountable to a high standard of truth and the customers and readers for allowing me to have a job that involved free pizza, courtside seats and an unpredictable nature matched by few others.
That said, here are a few of the memories I will take away from my time at the HDN that have enhanced my life as a sports fan and taught me lessons about being a journalist, a friend and a man.
• I will never forget my first substantial phone conversation with Rick Bailey. How could I, considering he informed me I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was — and he was 100 percent right. The Reading coach and principal called me following the publication of the 2007 All Area football team, my first time ever making the call on who was the best of the best. What ensued was a 10-15 minute conversation about how Bailey thought it was foolish for me to pick the top athletes in the county, especially when I hadn’t seen his team play, called any coaches for their input or looked at the All Conference teams. I wish I could say I had a good comeback and brought something to the table to make it a debate, but instead I turned on my “listening ears” and took notes. I was enlightened to realized I didn’t have to shoulder the load of trying to know the strengths and weaknesses of every player on every team. Every All Area or All County team I have helped select ever since has been with the insight of coaches, season-ending stats from every team and the All Conference selections by my side. Bailey taught me the valuable lesson of using the entire athletic community for the benefit of both sides, and to those players who feel they got snubbed on the 2007 All Area football team — well, it’s too bad that phone call didn’t take place a few weeks earlier.
• It took just one experience, far from the athletic field, to help me realize just how few Democratics call Hillsdale College home. I was assigned a story on the local reaction to Obama’s inauguration speech. Needless to say, getting a Republican to give me quotes was as easy as predicting another 20/20 game out of Katie Cezat last year, but trying to get a view from the other side was a laughable proposition. The first nine people I talked to were faithful Republicans, and finally, someone suggested I call the office number for the College Democrats on campus. So I called — and I still haven’t received a response back.
• I will always remember one particular interview with Cezat. While she was on her game most every day I was off my game one Saturday. I mumbled my way through a couple unimpressive questions, trying to remember the compelling one I jotted down on my notepad near the end of the game. Suddenly my mind shut down on me and I told her to wait just a second while I came to my senses. I never quite made it there though, I dropped my recorder, the batteries flew out and I told the perplexed star player to be on her way before things got any worse. Thankfully my education and training were solid and the axons in my brain were never as bad as that one afternoon.
• I learned that it is the size of the heart, not the school that matters most. That’s why the Chargers were able to beat the likes of Grand Valley in football, men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball while I was here. Their preparation is phenomenal, their court and field IQ is through the roof and the players have no regard for the fact they are part of a student body of less than 1,500, a few mere lecture hall sections at some of the GLIAC giants.
• The Charger coaches are priceless, and in my opinion, Division I caliber coaches who realize life is about more than how many peope are watching and how much money is in the bank account. Among my favorite things were Bill Lundberg’s epic stories that seemed to have no end, John Tharp chest-bumping his players with his six-inch vert, and Keith Otterbein’s victory cigars, team Bible studies and impeccable smile. Claudette Charney’s face should be plastered on anything remotely related to GLIAC women’s basketball given all she has accomplished and the Gravel duo of Chris and Stephanie seem to be the perfect “Mom and Pops” to all their players. I could write a short novel on what I’ve learned from watching these men and women, but the greatest lesson is to never underestimate yourself and always hold strong to what you believe in.
• The athetic directors have become a sort of surrogate family to me and I imagine my friendships won’t end with many of them just because my byline has moved elsewhere. I loved picking their brains about what they thought about conference alignments, their own players and coaches, and even what they thought about my coverage of their teams. I learned ADs are extremely protective of their teams, but anytime you set up volleyball tournaments with 9 a.m. start times and shut the gym lights out on a regular basis you should be that way. Jonesville’s Kathy Bondsteel was always feeding me and I couldn’t say no. Even if I had just finished dinner, I knew refusing a plate of pizza would warrant a frown out of her, and she was way too nice a lady to disappoint. Guys like Mike Roberts welcomed me into their lives and gave pointers and constructive criticism, while helping shape my views through hours of enjoyable “off-the-record” chat. And Pete Beck had no problem telling me when he thought I had written something rotten, but he was just as quick to thank me for a job well done and he had plenty of jokes to go around. And getting to know living legends like Jack Kerspilo and Fred Bowers was an awesome experience, because to understand what “old-school” means you have to be willing to step back into their shoes for a minute.
• There are so many things I say I won’t forget that I’ll probably actually forget most of them in the long run. There was Pittsford’s undefeated season in boys hoops, Reading’s magical run to the state semifinals in football, and the Pittsford-Reading gridiron classic in week nine of the 2008 campaign. There was Mitchell Gabriele’s off-balance 3-pointer to shock Albion on the road, there was Dan Vear’s game-winning field goal to keep the Hornets playoff drive alive, and there were the impassioned rivalries involving Waldron, Camden-Frontier and Hillsdale Academy in girls sports. Every player I ever interviewed gave me perspective on something, but 10 years from now the athlete I will think of first is Scott Lantis. The fire he has for living for Christ, the different types of people he can relate to, and his consistently great performances in athletics make him memorable. But seeing him wear a cape and lead cheers at a school other than his own because his sister’s games were the biggest thing in his life for a few hours is a visual of what this young man is all about. He’s kind of quirky and has a baby face with hair that goes wherever it pleases, he sings hymns to himself on the mound, and he probably has a massive “Charger 4 Life” tattoo hidden somewhere. And it never hurt that he helped guide Hillsdale High School to big wins, conference titles, and a state championship in baseball. I’ll let you know that Lantis is the lone county athlete who graced the background of my desktop — but, that was mainly just because our former photographer caught a sweet piece of action with Lantis flying out of bounds on the hardwood.
So in a nut-shell, I guess a rather large one that needs to stop before I engulf the entire sports section with my own sappy memoir, that is what this job and this community has meant to me.
I have taken on the task of being the editor of a new paper for the United Methodist Church’s Detroit and West Michigan Conferences, and if there’s anything more important than my love of sports and family, it is my faith. I have plans on stopping by neighborhood gyms once in a while, and don’t be too surprised if you see my name in competing sports sections somewhere down the road.
If you see me at a local store or pumping gas in town feel free to tell me my predecessor is way better or just stop and chat about anything from which high school coach yells the loudest to how you just can’t stand that new reality show on FOX.
Just because I’ve been called elsewhere doesn’t mean I’m leaving the family. It just means I’ll be out of town more often than not.

About rjwalters

I am what you think I am — a journalist. Actually when I was hired at my current job, which by the way is Sports Editor of the Hillsdale Daily News in Hillsdale, Mich., I applied for a position titled "Wordsmith", so at my best I'll call myself a writer attempting to be a wordsmith extraordinaire.


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