All good things come to an end

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 8, 2006

I came down with a nasty, nasty cold while in Birmingham covering the Final Four. It was the cold equivalent of a pizza with everything. Sore throat? Check. Cough? Check. Nasal blockage worthy of Atlanta at rush hour? Check. Serious fatigue with an occasional side of fever? Oh yeah.

The cold managed to do more than just make the time spent hanging out in a chilly Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center a lot more, well, unpleasant than it should have been. It cost me my camera. When I wrapped up my coverage of Greene County’s semifinal loss Wednesday night, I took off for a warm bed like a suspect fleeing a crime scene. Thanks in part to a, uh, stronger-than-recommended dose of cold medicine, I did so with my camera still gently resting on a media room table. I never saw it again.

But that cold also took something from me just as important–if not more–than that camera. That tournament was the last event I’ll be covering for the Demopolis Times. Yep. This is my last sports section, my last day ay the paper. And I really would have preferred to cover my last assignment without the distraction of having to wipe sneeze particles off of my keyboard every three minutes or so. Instead of making memories to last a lifetime, I was lucky if I could remember where I’d parked my car.

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If there’s anything I’ve re-learned about sports during my almost-a-year at the Times’ sports desk, though, it’s that things just don’t always go according to plan. Take that Greene County team that fell to Saks of Anniston the night I lost my camera. The story any GCHS fan would have written, the one I wanted to write, the one the state press was expecting, was for senior Tiger teammates and UAB commitments Howard Crawford and Curtis Nickson to make the jump to the Blazers next season riding back-to-back 4A championships.

It didn’t happen, thanks to the Tigers’ bad luck of facing Saks’ Darreyl Griffin on the best shooting night of his life (Griffin went 5-of-7 on threes vs. Greene and 0-for-10 in Saks’ loss to Hillcrest-Evergreen three days later in the 4A title game). It was too bad, but it wasn’t the first time a sports story I wanted to see on the Times’ pages didn’t pan out. The Sweet Water Bulldogs had their dreams of back-to-back 1A football titles dashed by Brantley. Sumter Academy’s volleyball team fell in the state finals to a Clarke Prep team the Lady Eagles had defeated earlier in the state tournament. Sumter County’s basketball team came within a game of their third straight 3A title only to fall by 25 to Madison Academy.

And of course, I won’t blame any superstitious Demopolis fans if they’re glad to see me go. During my predecessor’s tenure the Tigers took home state titles in football and baseball and sent the girls’ basketball team to the Final Four; with me at the Times sports desk the football team made their earliest exit in five seasons and the girls’ hoops team lost a heartbreaker a step away from a third straight Final Four.

Still, I got to see plenty of area triumphs grace our sports pages. Southern Academy won their second straight AISA Class A football title in dominant fashion. Linden’s football team scored arguably the biggest upset in the opening round of the playoffs in the entire state by knocking off previously undefeated Autaugaville. MMI in girls’ basketball and Warrior Academy in boys’ basketball each won their first state titles behind the play of stars Felicia Sprott and JaMichael Rivers, respectively. And I never got to cover a better underdog story than the Linden 9-and-10 year-old softball All-Star team, which last summer finished second at the state tournament despite drawing from a pool of candidates only 18 participants deep–dozens of girls smaller than any of their competitors.

And, of course, Demopolis athletics didn’t exactly slouch during my time at the paper. Watching the Tigers’ football seniors leave the team without having ever lost a regular season game was more than a little special. The volleyball team claimed an area championship, as did both basketball teams–quite an accomplishment for the boys, considering their competition (Livingston and Greene County).

But all of those highlights, as wonderful as they are, aren’t going to be what I remember the most when I look back at my time here in Demopolis. It’s going to be the handshake from someone nice enough to tell me I’m doing a good job. It’s going to be the single individual plays of brilliance, like Dontrell Miller’s punt return against Rehobeth in the playoffs or Jamey Donaldson’s buzzer-beating three-pointer to win Warrior’s area title. It’s going to be all those little moments spent with a player or coach when the notebook had been put away and we could spend a second or two chatting about the weather or Auburn and Alabama or how football really DOES look that good on widescreen HDTV. (Trust me, it does.)

It’s those little things that I’m going to carry with me, and thanks to the terrific people here in Demopolis and across the Black Belt, I’ve got enough to take with me to last a lifetime. Whatever newspaper I end up writing for next time might have fancier computers and bigger desks and, who knows, a whole sports staff (hopefully they’ll be able to give me a camera).

But I know they won’t have the kind of community or the kind of people I’ve enjoyed coming to know here. I’d like to offer a huge, huge Thank You to the hundreds of terrific people I’ve met that have made my year-plus at this paper such a rewarding experience.

This was my first newspaper job, my first sports job, and I honestly can’t imagine it having gone any better.

Though if you just happen to