I knew this day would eventually arrive... I just never imagined I would be entering the seventh decade of my life when it did.
After 45 years, this is my final column — my last story — for The Logan Daily News. As of today, I am retired as an employee of this publication.
But please don’t consider this “good-bye.” This is just “so long for now,” because I am not retiring in general. Stepping away from here? Yes. Retiring? No.
I know people were surprised and shocked to hear of my decision to leave over the past couple weeks and that some of you who didn’t know are reading it here for the first time.
I didn’t come to this decision on a whim. It’s something that had been building and, to be honest, it’s simply time to move on.
I had all intentions of trying to work a couple more years or, at the very least, getting through the current school year so I could see the Logan High School Class of 2020’s student-athletes through the end of their prep careers.
But because I emphatically do not agree with an upcoming, drastic change to how this publication is going to be presented to you, our faithful readers, I decided this was the time to go.
I am truly heartbroken to leave — that’s no exaggeration — but I just feel I can no longer serve my readers in the way you are accustomed or in the way that I am accustomed to serving you.
Over the past year or so — and as those close to me know — I’ve dealt with an inordinate amount of professional issues and personal setbacks. So the time has come to step away and take some time to recharge my batteries before deciding what I want to do next.
Again, this is just “so long for now.” I won’t disappear. You’ll still see me around.
(And, as of Wednesday, I’m now on Facebook. Who would have ever guessed that?!)
For now, I am going to do something that I did nearly 30 years ago: keep the Logan Lady Chiefs’ varsity basketball scorebook (thank you, Jessica Harris, Jennifer Dicken and Jimmer Breining for graciously allowing me to come back). And the Chieftains know that I am available as needed in the same capacity if/when current scorekeeper (and one of my all-time favorite players from when I coached youth basketball) Matt Mahaffey needs a break.
Those who know me well know that I can’t go to a game just to watch — I have to be doing something — but I’m going to try because I want to support the kids, the teams, the coaches and my alma mater.
As I’ve done for many, many years, I’ll continue to keep the official scorebook for the upcoming Division II boys and girls sectional tournaments and Division III girls regional tournament at LHS. I’ve always enjoyed doing that and don’t plan to give that up anytime soon.
And if head coach Mike Eddy will still have me, I fully intend to continue to serve as the football team’s official statistician as I have done for the last 15 years and also did in previous stints back in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.
I’ve been in this business most of my adult life and even in the last few years of my youth. Counting time elsewhere, this is my 36th year in the newspaper business — 31 of them with this publication — with a couple other jobs in between, including a seven-year stay at Hocking College.
I’ve had offers over the years to go elsewhere, including a chance many years ago to move to southwest Ohio and cover high school sports, a job that would have also included some spot coverage of the Reds and Bengals, but even then, in my early adult years, I knew my heart was (and still is) here among Chieftain Nation.
When I started out in this business and began writing for the legendary Jim Myers as a part-time reporter as a 15-year-old LHS student in 1975, I never dreamed that my byline would appear in this publication for parts of six different decades.
I admit that became sort of a goal in recent years, but still, when I think back, I just shake my head and wonder where the time went.
Last Saturday was the last day I covered a home event — the Lady Chiefs defeated New Albany in the afternoon and the Chieftains lost to state-ranked Gahanna that evening — and I have to admit that it was one of the toughest (and most surreal) days of my career.
I have been so privileged to sit at the far left at the scorer’s table, next to the Logan bench, for all but a handful of games since Jim Myers Gymnasium opened in 2008. Covering basketball games in Jim’s Gym has especially been one of my favorite duties.
When I made my plans to leave a couple weeks ago, I knew the Gahanna game would be my last at home. Apparently, once word got out, a number of other people realized it too.
And while I knew something was up, I had no idea I would be recognized the way I was prior to the game... nor did I know that it had been in the planning for quite some time and had somehow been kept a total secret from me.
It was all that I could do to keep from breaking down as Rob Davis read an announcement from the school district and athletic department before athletic director Theresa Schultheiss had me step onto the court with people on both sides of Jim’s Gym standing and applauding. Needless to say, I had chills and was fighting back tears.
Then she said “look behind you, there are some other people who want to thank you,” and there was the entire Chieftains basketball team and coaching staff lined up to shake my hand. It was all a class act and something I truly appreciate and will never forget.
And the wonderful words from coaches Chris Rider, Pat Walsh, Gregg Landis and John Teal — all of whom I really like, care about and enjoy working with — meant the world to me.
I was just sorry that coach Rich Bell, who was away from the team due to a death in his family, couldn’t be there as well. He and I have been doing what we do for about the same number of years and we graduated from LHS within a couple years of each other.
The balloons the cheerleaders gave me are still in my living room. I’ve looked at them every day since and plan to keep them even when the air finally escapes.
I’ve been very fortunate and, while I am very proud of my accomplishments, I am even prouder of the great relationships I’ve been able to forge in this business... not only here locally but with fans, coaches and athletic personnel throughout southeast Ohio and beyond.
And you have no idea how much my sportswriting colleagues mean to me.
When you work with great people like I have over the years — Tom Metters, Junior Wilson, Odie O’Donnell, Randy Heath, Paul Boggs, Brad Morris, Kevin Wiseman, Jason Arkley, Julie Billings, Pete Wilson and Tom Wilson, to name just a few — you can’t help but improve not only as a writer but as a person as well.
I have truly appreciated the camaraderie and support of what is a tight-knit, dedicated and hard-working group of talented people and will always continue to do so.
And I’ve worked with photographer Barry Miller — himself dedicated to Logan students and Chieftain Nation for many decades as well — for more than 40 years.
If you ever view the replay of Nelsonville-York’s 1981 state championship football game on Nelsonville TV Cable Channel 15, you’ll get glimpses of a guy wearing a Logan Chieftain jacket on the sidelines. That’s Barry, who was there taking photos for the LDN while I was covering the game up in the Groveport High School press box. Outside of the 2000 Logan-Upper Arlington regional final at Columbus Crew Stadium, we agree that it was the coldest sporting event either of us ever covered.
I was shocked last month when the folks down at Warren recognized me on the court prior to the Logan-Warren girls game and I express my sincere appreciation to my good friend Phil Welch and AD Steve Harold for arranging it.
It meant so much to me to know I had made such an impact on people outside the borders of Chieftain Nation not only as a writer but in a number of other capacities among now-former Southeastern Ohio Athletic League members. Some of my best friends outside Hocking County, because of being in this business, are from Warren, Marietta and Jackson.
I know my writing style would not work in a lot of places, and is in some ways antiquated in this day and age.
But I’ve continued to follow the many lessons Jim Myers taught me when I was still a teenager and have tried to stay true to them. I believe my readers (more about you in a little bit) like it that way and like the fact that so much of it has been/is about recognition of our youth.
Jim especially taught me to be fair, to be accurate, and to understand that no matter what I wrote, somebody would read it... and that it likely would find its way not only into someone’s scrapbook but also into their memories.
I’ve never taken that for granted and I’ve taken that advice to heart. Even with the many changes that have since come to this business and to this publication, those are lessons I never forgot and have done my utmost to fulfill.
I never dreamed that my work, both as a writer and behind the scenes, would result in my being named to the Logan High School Athletic Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2014 — something that I cherish and will always consider the biggest honor of my life — as just the second non-athlete/coach to enter the shrine. The other? Bill Sauer. I remain humbled to this day to be so recognized.
Nor did I ever imagine that, just a few weeks ago, I would be named to the Ohio Prep Sports Writers Association (OPSWA) Hall of Fame. Only about 70 people have been so honored and, come late March, I get to join them. I still don’t know how this Union Furnace kid found his way to that level.
Heck, for a kid who couldn’t even drive when I started out, I had no idea how to get to Meigs, Waverly, Ironton, Gallipolis, Wellston, Jackson or even Athens, not to mention, later on, Marietta, Warren, Chillicothe, Portsmouth, Zanesville, Westerville, Dublin and all points in between.
But boy, did I ever find out... especially after on-site coverage of more than 2,500 sporting events (including exactly 250 Logan football games and well over a thousand Chiefs and Lady Chiefs basketball games for this publication alone) at what I estimate to be around 120 different schools and venues.
And even with all that, I saw something in my final coverage game (Logan girls at Sheridan on Wednesday) I know I had never seen before: a full, 32-minute varsity basketball game played in exactly 60 minutes (including a 10-minute halftime) in which only three fouls were called.
I won’t even try to list career highlights though, needless to say, Katie Smith figures into so many of them both professionally and personally.
Being so fortunate to have coached her when she was in fifth/sixth grade, and to be there, cover or simply see so many of her career mileposts on her way to the national Naismith Hall of Fame is something truly remarkable that I never dreamed of... though, as I have told anyone who will listen, I knew she was someone special back in her elementary-school days.
And when I say “someone” special, not just a special basketball player or athlete, that’s exactly what I mean. She’s truly a class person, on and off the court, and had she never played a single game of basketball she would still be just that. John and Barb, you raised a great family, not just Katie, and this community owes all of you its everlasting gratitude.
I know that if I even tried to thank everyone who has helped me on this long and winding road I would miss a lot of people. But that said, I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize at least a few people in particular.
I only have two remaining blood relatives, my sister Cindy Lawson and nephew Robert Lawson, who have dealt with so much adversity over the years. I am so thankful they are in my life. We’ve dealt with so many ups and downs within our lives and I truly believe we are survivors because we dealt with them together.
Logan High School has been so fortunate for the last 35 years to have outstanding athletic directors in Ron Janey (arguably the most-colorful character in the history of the LHS athletic program) and Theresa Schultheiss, both of whom have done (and continue to do) their utmost for the good of Logan’s student-athletes and teams.
(Chieftain Nation, I fully believe we will be back in a league someday... and I believe that someday will be soon. Rest assured that LHS administrators are working hard behind the scenes to do just that. And when that happens, that’s one story I will be more than happy to tell you about in one way or another).
Folks, if you aren’t already aware of it, LHS graduate and school sports historian Spencer Waugh is an absolute treasure, truly unlike anyone I have ever met or worked with.
What Spencer has done to assemble the school’s comprehensive football history, and is doing now for basketball and other sports, is just absolutely remarkable... and yet, as vital and important as his dedicated work and research is and has been, he’s an even better human being. Just a truly, truly special person and a great, great friend.
And, to my game-travel companions over the years — Dick McLaughlin, Mike Barrell, Mike Mercer, Bill Mauck, Steve Harden, John Brenneman, Scott Vermillion and many others, especially from my days as a naïve teen-ager/20-something — please understand how grateful I am to you for all the great times, the laughter, the conversation, your caring and for helping me keep my wits about me during difficult times.
(BTW, if you ever see Bob Fisk, Keith Mowery, Kerry Columber, Dave Lehman or Pete Clark from our days together circa 1980, ask them about our now-legendary — maybe even call it infamous — basketball trip to Gallipolis. It’s a story I can’t tell here, but it’s one of my all-time favorites).
During my LHS Athletic HOF acceptance speech six years ago, I expressed my sincere gratitude to Logan’s coaching staff for their incredible cooperation, for being great friends and for being there as my second family. I didn’t think it was possible, but that feeling of closeness and family has actually grown since.
Chieftain Nation, while you may not always agree with some of their coaching decisions, rest assured that you are incredibly fortunate to have had (and still have) many, many caring coaches who are simply outstanding people and great role models for our students... so clam up online and in the stands and put things into proper perspective.
I’ve said so many times, both privately and in this space, that writing for a small, rural newspaper is far different than it is elsewhere.
You get to know coaches, administrators, athletes, students and fans on a much-more personal level and, as in the case here, the writing is thus slanted toward the perspective of Chieftain Nation while still also recognizing the accomplishments of opposing teams and athletes and, as Jim Myers stressed, being fair.
I will always remain grateful, especially to longtime friends and coaches John Helber, Gregg Landis, Pat Walsh and Jim Huntsberger, and to ADs Janey and Schultheiss — all of whom have a special place in my heart — for helping get me through some particularly tough times. I’ve done so with them (and others) as well. We’ve leaned on each other when things were rough and I believe we are all better people because of it.
And I can’t help but think of some people who are not here.
I would not have made it anywhere near this far without the great support of my mom and dad, who would drive me to Logan and come pick me up at four in the morning from the newspaper office before I could drive because they knew this was what I wanted to do.
In my young-adult days they bought me vehicle after vehicle and things like a then-modern electric typewriter (trust me when I say, back in the day, that was such an improvement over the old manual typewriters we used in the office, which is why, to this day, I still just use my index fingers and my thumbs to keyboard 60 words a minute) so that I could travel and pursue my craft. And I’m surprised dad didn’t go broke buying me newspapers, sports magazines and baseball cards.
I think I picked up the love of sports from my mom and her mother. My grandmother lost both of her legs to diabetes when I was young, so she was in a wheelchair all the years I knew her until she passed away when I was 10.
She particularly loved Ohio State basketball and would have mom send me across the street to watch games with her when they were on Channel 4 and the great Jimmy Crum (how about THAT, sports fans!) would call the games.
When Ohio State would fall behind, she would wheel away from the TV and go do laundry, cook or wash dishes — she was quite active despite being in that wheelchair — and would listen to me report back to her on what was going on... and when Ohio State came back, she would wheel right back into the living room to watch with me.
(Contrary to what you might be thinking, no, I did not keep play-by-play notes or statistics back then... but by the time I was 16, Jim Myers had taught me to do just that and Porky Columber, just a wonderful, wonderful man, had taught me how to keep a baseball/softball scorebook. I was hooked).
City Rec Director Harry Westfall got me started keeping a basketball scorebook when I was a sophomore in high school at men’s “fast break” and men’s “slow break” (yes, that’s what they were called) league games. He was a big influence on me as well.
It was there I saw my one of my favorite people, Clyde Johnson, still a big Chiefs fan today, hit shot after shot after shot from the corner during those “slow break” games.
I always marvel when I listen to athletes and coaches who enter the LHS Athletic HOF who speak reverently of the support they received from their families, coaches and friends... and although the highlight of my athletic career was hitting a triple over my now-good friend Jim Robinson’s head in center field during an otherwise meaningless men’s softball league game 40 years ago (I even somehow did a pop-up slide at third base and kept the resulting sliding strawberry open as long as I could as a souvenir), I fully understand their feelings.
People like Jim Myers, Mark Hartman, Loryn Cassady, Tom Metters and my nephew Dennis Lawson were (and still are) so special and inspirational to me both professionally and personally. They are gone but will certainly never be forgotten.
And last, but certainly not least, from the bottom of my heart, a million thanks are not nearly enough to you, dear readers, for your support. I wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long as I did without you.
I learned from my mistakes (and the occasional criticism) as much as I could, especially in those early years when, at age 17, I became the youngest sports editor of a daily newspaper in the state just two days after I graduated from LHS in 1977.
I always tried, to the best of my abilities, to do this job for you as well as for the student-athletes, coaches, teams, school, community and everyone who makes up Chieftain Nation. I’ve truly been blessed. You have my undying gratitude.
So, for better or worse, I now close the chapter on this part of my life and look forward to seeing what happens going forward.
And when it comes to the question I’ve been asked many times over the last couple weeks — “will you ever write again?” — well, let’s put it this way: never say never.
All that said, while I hope a great new adventure awaits not too far beyond the horizon, I will always look back with fondness as, with your support, this shy, 15-year-old somehow became a 60-year-old writer who was deemed worthy of a couple Halls of Fame.
Where has the time gone? It seems like it’s been 45 minutes, not 45 years.
So long for now.