Sometime on Thanksgiving weekend I will make my way back from quality time with the family and go back to work, the fall season fading away, the winter about to start.
And it will begin my 25th season on the Central New York high school sports scene. Only by writing those words can I honestly believe that a quarter-century has passed.
The young man who arrived at our old offices on Firestone Drive, single, hungry, eager to work, is now mature, married, middle-aged…and still quite excited about venturing out to gyms, hockey rinks and every venue in between.
Why is that the case? When so many others at this company, and in this industry, have long moved on, why do I still return to the same places to follow the hopes and dreams of students now old enough to be my children?
The answer is a complex one. Some of it has to do with the way the media world changed, and the fact that the places to which I might have aspired are mere shadows of what they once were, and had I gone, perhaps I would get swept away with so many other people far more talented, gifted and accomplished.
A bit of it involves the deep attachment I have felt for this area since my college days. Not everyone can stand the extremes here, especially the voracious snowfall, but at least here we get four seasons. Sometimes all in a month.
Here, sports are a big deal, like everywhere, but instead of overwhelming and suffocating, it fits well into a larger social fabric. There’s an appreciation for culture and the arts without too much pretension, a place for faith and family, and a generosity that lies just beneath the surface if you stay here long enough.
Above all the other reasons, though, is just the fact that, at some unknown point all those years ago, the stories, people and atmosphere of high school sports entered my bloodstream and took permanent residence.
It was the way a season started, everyone full of optimism and eager to compete. The way a season built up, week by week, with special teams and athletes emerging, their stories building toward a post-season climax.
Then, when the championships were handed out, there was the complete spectrum of human emotion on display. Hugs and cheers, sadness and tears, sometimes within a few feet of one another, results that were decided in a matter of moments but would stay with them for a lifetime.
No matter how many times I have experienced it, those raw scenes still stir the soul. In those instances, if before you didn’t understand what sports meant, then you sure found out fast.
Maybe that’s why I bristle at all the criticism and vitriol thrown at people in sports when they don’t win. It’s almost as if, because they didn’t score one more point than the other side, somehow they’re deficient of character or heart, when most of the time they gave the full measure.
Spend enough time in college or (especially) professional sports, and this nitpicking and character assassination turns into a full-time job. Everyone wants to show how tough they are. Big deal.
For a vast majority of kids taking part in high school sports, this is their athletic pinnacle, and they still see it as a game, at least if the adults around them haven’t tried to take all the fun out of it.
And being around it, even now, always somehow brings light and joy into my life, even when everything else seems so dark, or hopeless, or overwhelming.
Thus, I cannot thank all of them enough for the excitement and fun they have brought in the (still is weird to write this) 24 years spent on this job, with a 25th about to commence.
Maybe someday that fire, that passion, that love for high school sports will fade. But not yet, and not for a long while, I suspect.
As long as there are young men and women bringing recognition and pride to their communities through the unique spectacle and stage of high school sports, I will do my level best to make sure their efforts are not forgotten.