March 25, 2016

I’ll never forget the first time I received a call from a 712 area code. I had never seen a 712 area code. So obviously I ignored it, but a voicemail — a lengthy one at that — came through. As I put the phone up to my ear, an unfamiliar voice carried out a message that would ultimately change the trajectory of my life and my career for the next three years.

When Doug Burns told me he was interested in hiring me for a sportswriting position at his newspaper in Carroll, Iowa, a couple thoughts raced through my mind.

How did he get this number? And where in the hell is Carroll, Iowa?

I soon came to know the answer to both of those questions in earnest.

Before taking this job, I had never lived outside the state of Missouri. I was born and raised in St. Joseph, went to college at the University of Missouri and my first job was in southwest Missouri. Iowa was foreign to me and I had never heard of Carroll, so it was a welcome surprise to discover it was only three hours north of my hometown.

I had no idea what to expect, but I knew it was where I belonged. And now, though it’s with some trepidation, I know it’s time to take the next step in my journey.

This is the last piece I will pen for the Daily Times Herald, as I am headed to Chicago to pursue opportunities there, namely with the Chicago Tribune in a freelance capacity.

There is plenty I will miss from covering sports in this area, both profound and subtle. The latter of which includes the adjustment to an Iowan accent that I had no clue existed. (Listening to my tape recorder after interviews the first few weeks was a source of great entertainment. I will forever appreciate the way the “o” sounds here.)

The first year I was here, I walked into an incredible string of fortune from a coverage standpoint, provided by a transcendent group of Kuemper Catholic athletes. Two months after arriving, the boys basketball team went on a run to the state tournament and ultimately finished in third place in Class 2A. In the summer, the baseball team made its fourth consecutive trip to the state tournament and fell in the semifinals. And then in the fall, the football team won the state title while the volleyball team was the runner-up in 3A. Trips to Des Moines, Cedar Falls and Cedar Rapids within my first six months on the job was quite the treat. I soon came to realize that was the exception, not the rule. Winning in the postseason is hard. Getting to state is really hard. And winning a state title is incredibly hard. Kuemper football remains the only state champion I’ve covered in five years writing on prep sports.

There were plenty of worthy candidates, however, in my time here. Kuemper volleyball has been fantastic and so has its girls basketball, as has South Central Calhoun volleyball and their girls basketball teams, both of which made the state tournament. I caught the tail-end of a great run of Ar-We-Va girls basketball. Carroll football and boys basketball has been tantalizingly close to breaking through onto the state stage since I’ve been here. East Sac County boys basketball was close as well and the Raiders produced the second Division-I hooper I’ve covered in Reed Tellinghuisen. Tim Bell and the Ar-We-Va boys came so close to getting there the past three years. The IKM-Manning boys and girls basketball teams were mainstays when it came to competing for state. Actually, the Wolves are pretty darn good in everything aren’t they? Coon Rapids-Bayard baseball has an amazing thing going; that’s a credit to its cerebral coach John Waddle. As does Glidden-Ralston football thanks to head coach Kreg Lensch.

That’s one of the things I’ll miss most around here, the relationships formed with coaches. As a sports nerd, there’s nothing better than chopping it up with guys who are truly invested in their sport and their school. Nearly all of them have been easy to deal with, which allows for us to provide the best coverage in the area. I’ll treasure the side conversations I was able to have, especially the one’s that were explicitly stated as “off the record.”

I’ll forever be impressed at the ability of high school kids in this area handle post-game interviews, whether it is after a big win or a devastating loss, yet still remain articulate and candid. I know I certainly was unable to do the same at that age.

I’ll always appreciate the kind words I received both in person and over email or the phone about stories I wrote. I truly came to know what “Iowa nice” means. There was certainly some criticism and displeasure hurled my way as well, but I enjoyed it all the same for a simple reason: it means you care. That’s what I will always love about this gig.

Sports are a wonderful thing. They can unite schools and more importantly, communities. A newspaper is the linchpin of all that and I’m certainly proud to have been apart of it in this particular area.

The people who help bring it all together at the Daily Times Herald are second to none in this kind of market. The talent here is superb, but, more importantly, it is caring. I’ll forever be grateful to my coworkers who helped make the transition to a completely unknown area of the country for me all the easier and I’ll cherish their friendships.  

I’ve enjoyed my time here immensely and look forward to the next challenge ahead of me.

And going forward, when 712 pops up on my phone, it will be met with a smile.