Well, this is it, Snakes fans. My annual Q and A with Jerome will be published tomorrow. This last blog post will mark my retirement from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.
Thought if I typed the words, it would become more real. No such luck. September 1977 to April 2014 is a pretty long stretch, filled with memorable events and people. I'm so fortunate to have made this journey. Thanks for sharing it with me. :)
The adventure that lasted almost 37 years began with a 13-year-old young man. Yes, Johnny Lester, you unwittingly launched my L-E career!
Johnny and his baseball-loving family lived across the street from us and, truth be told, honed their skills in the Shappards' front yard. Johnny was the middle of the three Lester boys who were playing in 1973. As a 13-year-old on the lowest rung of the Babe Ruth Vikings ladder, he got little playing time.
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One beautiful spring day, Johnny loped across the street with the fabulous news that he was in that night's lineup. Would I like to come watch him play? Not only did I enjoy that game, but ended up as team mom (at age 24) for the Vikings and later official scorer for the league, a job that led me to the newspaper.
One of my duties was to report the results of tournaments held at our field. It wasn't all that difficult, but apparently I did it well. After a few years of doing this, I boldly called Enquirer editor (the Ledger was a separate entity back then) Sam Heys and told him that I had other skills and I would like a job. Amazingly he asked me what I'd like to do: stay in the office or cover stuff. Duh...what would you say? Of course I chose covering events. And the rest, as they say, is history. :)
My focus for the majority of my time at the paper was high school sports, which I dearly loved. Athletics in their purest form. Kids playing for the honor of their schools.
During these years, I've worked for a number of editors, but three stand out. Sam, who had the good sense to hire me :) Chuck Williams, a man of his word who encouraged me to stretch my wings, called me Ace and actually listened when I talked to him...lol. I'll never forget Chuck putting girls basketball as the section's centerpiece when I told him, truthfully, that the game that night was bigger than the boys. Ahhhh....victory!! haha At the top of the list is Kevin Price, for reasons most of you know.
Kevin offered me the Snakes beat in the summer of 2004, literally days before I was prepared to beg him to let me give it a try. Apparently, Kevin and I realized one thing: I'd work my tail off to cover the team and never stop learning or trying to get better. To me, there's no excuse for laziness and I never took the easy way. With my mentor John Vogl as my inspiration, I embarked on this fantasy job.
Though I enjoyed all of these years covering different sports and athletes, there is nothing to match the exhilaration of covering the Snakes. Many nights when Reese and I arrived early and I'd look out over the quiet Civic Center and marvel that I was the only one who got to do what I do. This was a whole new world for me.
I got to cover two championships and one other trip to the finals. The 2005 playoffs were new to me, as was everything else...lol, and the Snakes were seeded fifth (of six teams). Raising the Cup was thrilling, as was the whole playoff run. The 2012 team was loaded and I fully expected them to win, which they did, convincingly. Great guys, great fun.
I've often been asked about my most memorable moments. Learning to utilize technology was fun. This blog, facebook and twitter helped me spread the word about the Snakes to a diverse group of fans.
Tops on my list of memories would have to be tweeting from the Emory University Hospital waiting room last June when Jerome underwent open heart surgery. He and Rhonda graciously allowed me to monitor his progress so I could inform his many fans. Would love to have seen Jerome's heart surgeon when he told the doc I was there...haha
Sad moments include Craig Stahl's last game. Craig was so well respected, not only by his teammates, but throughout the league. The traditional handshake took forever because everyone stopped to say a personal word to him. The two OTL to Jacksonville at home were stunning. Every playoff exit was sad.
I leave behind so many dear friends at the Snake Pit, starting with my loyal assistant Kevin Mills and personal security guard Paul Ezell. Chris and Lori Icenhour, Dana Barker, Jossie, Pedro and Barney Slayton, and Wanda and Shelby Amos. The off-ice officials, past and present, always took good care of me, which I really appreciated!
The fans in our area of the rink became like family. I sat by Miss Flit and Joe Simmons for five seasons. Sweeter people you'll never meet. Love them! Nearby I had all of Reese's friends: Miss Donna, Miss Elaine and Teri, Carson McCrea, Janet Davis, the Landis, Pam and Art Barker, Amy Kennedy, the Siegs and Kelleys. Our dear friends Mary Beth, Harlan, Sarah and Nathan Hendricks are also our neighbors in Sec 102. Already looking forward to watching games with them next season! How could I forget Juan Mora, Joe Searcy and all the Snakes fans who were readers who became friends?
I met so many great people in other SPHL cities. Mark Atnip and Mike Craigen in Knoxville, Todd Gordon in Pensacola, Leif Skodnick in Biloxi and Keith Jeffries and Ashley Balch in Huntsville all became hockey colleagues. I met my pal Don Money in 2004 and began a friendship that continues today. Thanks to the SPHL's Jim Combs and Doug Price for your cheerful cooperation each and every time I called.
This run would not have been possible without the players, who were my teachers. They helped me immeasurably and I'll always be grateful to them. They were kind, respectful and patient. Some were more gregarious than others. Some were simply not talkers and others had to be encouraged. Only two players in 10 years were jerks. I think that's a pretty good track record, don't you?
I realize that only a few of you die-hard fans and those who are related to me are probably still reading...bless your hearts. :)
I have to single out a few players for what were small moments to them, but meant a lot to me...
Training camp 2004. I'd sat down to interview a group of players and we were chatting afterward. I told them that "I want to have good communication with ya'all. If I write something that's wrong or you don't like or you think is unfair, please tell me! I don't want you to be steamed about it all season. Let's talk about it." Terry Friesen looked at me with a big smile and said: "That's good to know".
I thought...WOW. They bought it! It made sense!! YAY, me! I was so nervous and wanted so badly to do a good job.
A couple of weeks later, Lorne Misita passed me in the hallway and said a simple. "Hi, Kathy." Lorne calling me by name made me feel like I belonged. It's the simple things, folks.
In Huntsville during the 2012 playoffs, I was on deadline and scrambling to find a place to write. I was all set up in the room where the guys were going to eat after the game, when a security guard tried to kick me out. Now, normally, I'd have relished a good stand-off with him, but I sadly just didn't have the time. (I hate Central time games...UGH). I got up to move and Tom Maldonado hollered: "Kathy...you don't have to leave! Hey, she's with us!".
Not only did I appreciate the gesture, but I had a fleeting picture of my 18 guys vs this security guy...lol. Would've been fun. :)
I've covered some big stories and made A-1 a number of times, but none was bigger than the signing of Shannon Szabados. She is an SPHL pioneer and a talented, terrific young woman. It was an honor to tell her story and I wish her all the best in the future.
The toughest moment I ever had came this season in camp. I'd broken the Amesbury story a couple of weeks earlier and, needless to say, it wasn't universally well received. Rumor had it that the players could be reluctant to talk to me, the kiss of death for a beat writer, especially one who values communication as much as I do.
The day before camp officially starts, I always go down to the rink for my own personal meet-and-greet. I try to put names and faces of the new guys together and have a reunion with the returning players. I was terrified that the guys would snub me. I fully expected Daniel to, which he did, but I experienced one of the defining moments of my 10 seasons covering the team.
Out of the lockerroom came Kyle Johnson, followed by Kevin Kessler and Chris Bailer. Kyle spotted me and his face broke into a huge grin. He came toward me and wrapped me in a big bear hug and Kevin and Chris did the same. I'd never been happier or more relieved!! It's the little things that mean so much.
I can't say enough about Wanda and Jerome. Working with them has been pure joy. From day one, Jerome gave me access to his players 24/7. He told me they'd meet me anywhere, anytime and they did. He was a pleasure to deal with and I appreciate everything he did to help me. We had only a couple of issues over the years and we worked through them with ease.
Wanda has the biggest heart of anybody I've ever met...except possibly Jerome...haha. Wanda and I worked together on a couple of big projects this year, including the breast cancer walk and the Salute Seen Round the World story. She's always working to help people.
I appreciate the team and league honoring me at the end of my decade of covering the Snakes and the SPHL. Being asked to drop the puck was an honor and the team and league surprising me with gifts was wonderful. I'll cherish all of the gifts forever, but even more will I always remember how well I was treated by everyone: fans, players, team and league officials. We truly formed a special working relationship and enjoyed the game we love.
Finally, none of this would have been possible without the help of my family, especially my husband. Larry has always been a terrific husband and father, supporting everything Reese, Lindsey and I wanted to do. In the early days, he was a hands-on dad, watching two little kids while I hung out at various stadiums, courts, fields and later rinks. :) A little unconventional, but it worked for us. Another special thing about hockey was that all of the Gierers enjoyed it together!! Next season, we could actually be sitting together!
Thanks, one and all, for the memories!!
See you in Sec 102 next October!