Let’s begin again

Friday marked the start of a new scholastic sports season, and with it being the winter that meant it was the 12th season that I would be heading out on Opening Day to cover a girls basketball game. The lateness of the day getting my story done and online was part of the reason why I didn’t post anything that day.

There’s a reason there is such a thing as Season Affective Disorder, which can sometimes be known as winter blues or winter depression, and I think winter sports and covering them help illustrate it pretty well.

You’ve been outside covering fall sports like football or soccer, with those seasons starting generally in warm weather with shorts and hopefully sunny skies. You’ve watched the games move earlier to accommodate the changing time of sunset, started wearing a coat. You’ve bundled up for the playoffs, watched the skies go gray and then black even earlier and doing your best to brace against the win. You’ve prayed for games to be played in stadia with press boxes.

But now after the briefest of breaks, you’re now beginning a sport where you know you’re going to be trapped in a high school gymnasium for the next three months. There’s good reason for it too, because you pretty much don’t want to be outside anyway. It begins right around the time of the shortest day of the year, and it’s a given you’ll be driving home in the dark (and could be heading to your game in the dark as well since more and more begin at 5:30 or 7 pm).

It’s why I’m so glad that after so many years of covering the sport, that I have so many friends among coaches, reporters, game workers (scorekeepers, clock operators, even officials), fans and players. It makes the season easier to deal with, as does the enjoyment of the sport.

I’m not one who can in August immediately recall any fact from girls basketball or girls soccer season, because they were months before. But once I’m in the gym, writing down the lineups as the players are warming up and I chat with reporters from other outlets, I can quickly feel in my element again.

So while winter is my least favorite season of the year, it isn’t because of the sport I cover and the people involved. They actually make it enjoyable, and when Friday rolled around I was ready to begin again.

Ouroboros

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A little over 14 years ago, I was saved from the Bridgeton court reporter beat with the offer of a job in the sports department of the Gloucester County Times and Today’s Sunbeam.

It was just shy of the 14th anniversary of that day that I was informed that my services would no longer be required by what has since become nj.com and the South Jersey Times come September.

Friday, Sept. 5 was my last day at the paper, the place I figured for a long time I’d be spending the rest of my professional career. I never would have predicted that when I started.

My degree is in broadcasting, and while I enjoyed reading and writing I never considered it as a career path. I always assumed I’d be doing TV or radio for the Atlanta Braves by now, but that never materialized. Instead I followed my heart to New Jersey back in 1996, and after a few years of bumming around and taking various jobs — including the job I had hoped previously would be my career, at TV Guide — I ended up at the Times.

That’s when I discovered high school sports, the communities and schools of Gloucester, Salem, Camden and Cumberland counties and the athletes, coaches and administrators that made them run. And I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed it. So many coaches were great to deal with and interview, the kids were generally good (if occasionally a little shy and tongue-tied) and the ADs were often quite helpful and welcoming of anyone who wanted to give their school some press.

I also got to meet some pretty amazing people working in the industry, from the people in the sports department at the Times to news reporters, paginators, editors, advertising, production people — not everyone was perfect as is always the case in a business setting, but I made a lot of new friends. Then there were the reporters from other papers, once considered the “enemy” but many of whom I now consider good people and friends.

Luckily, as soon as word got out about the situation I and many of my co-workers found ourselves in, other publications both print and online were asking me if I wanted to do part-time work. Because of that, I’m staying involved covering St. Augustine football for the Vineland Daily Journal and girls soccer for South Jersey Sports Digest this fall. There may be other work as well, but nothing’s been finalized yet.

As far as full-time work, that is still a work in progress. Thanks to the state of the industry, it looks like that may very well have to come in another field, hopefully at least tangentially related. There’s a certain irony in that, considering the last few places I’ve worked significantly for are either dead, essentially dead or in a very different form than when I was there. Look out, whoever’s next!

From the time I covered my first game for the Today’s Sunbeam back in April 2000 to my last day in the office on Friday nearly 5,250 days later, the Internet has exploded to dominate information dissemination and Twitter has changed the way many people think about instant info. In the same time, the paper has shrunk in number of pages and page size, and readership has dwindled.

I don’t begrudge the technological advances, because I think they are amazing tools when used properly. Hopefully someday newspaper management will figure out how to provide things electronically and still preserve the print version, which I think still has a place in our society.

I have told numerous people that I never paid any attention to South Jersey sports before I started working at the paper, and even if I stop writing I can’t imagine not staying in touch with the scene because of the people involved and having become invested in the schools, the culture and the kids. It’s changed me in a fundamental way, and I think it’s for the better. I will always be thankful for that.

I’ll miss the people I’ve worked with, as I miss those who left before, and hopefully we will stay in touch and remain friends for life. But don’t cry for me, O South Jersey, because I won’t be (except for that one amazing message from a former high school athlete thanking me for changing her life that caught me completely off guard). I’m nostalgic, but have learned to be pragmatic as well and am looking forward to seeing what life brings next.