Out on my own
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
Barely a day goes by where I'm not asked - "Why are you not writing sports anymore?"
Well, maybe I can clear that up once and move on.
When COVID-19 began shutting down all sports in March, I was still working at the Southern Standard. At that time, I was just a month removed from the 10-year anniversary of my first day at the paper (Feb. 8, 2010). Despite the grim outlook for sports, I continued writing - even coming up with a few new ideas to keep the community invested in sports.
As April brought more cancellations - including the TSSAA shutting down the spring season - I approached my two bosses and told them I knew I could get us through April with sports stories, but after that we would need to see the light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel.
On Monday, April 27, there was nothing but darkness. McMinnville Parks and Recreation announced it would be shutting down all its spring sports (softball, baseball and soccer). At the same time, all the local softball leagues were uncertain if games would be played.
Most people remember these occurrences. They may not know on that same Monday, two of the most prominent sports writers in the state were sent home.
Maurice Patton, one of the most well-known and well-respected sports writers in the state, was let go at The Daily Herald. Tom Kreager, the statewide high school sports editor for the USA Today Network in Tennessee, was furloughed (He has since returned to work, despite a few more weeks of furlough during the last three months).
It wasn't hard to see the writing on the wall. There was nothing left to write, there was nothing scheduled to cover and papers throughout Tennessee were setting the precedent that sports writers were expendable.
On Thursday, April 30, I was laid off temporarily. The separation paperwork completed indicated I was laid off due to lack of work on a temporary basis and the notes included "It is not known when sports will return." It was signed by my boss and I got my copy and went home.
Over the next two weeks, I continued answering questions for the community, directing any shred of news to the people at the office and worked on stories I could run when I was back to work. The only problem was I was unaware I wasn't going to be welcomed back.
In May, I found out a soon-to-be graduate had went to the paper to interview for a job in the press room, only to be redirected to editorial. He was asked if he liked sports and if he would be interested in writing sports for the paper.
Later that afternoon, I got the phone call. The decision had been made that I would not be returning. This came just a week after I had received a text from my editor that the paper had been notified by the Tennessee Press Association about our top-five finishes in the state in sports writing, sports coverage and sports photography. You can guess who wrote the stories and took the pictures which earned honors.
Over the last three months, I've been looking into many options for new work. My preference has always been to stay in sports, particularly local sports. I've always wanted to work in sports - doing it in my hometown was an added bonus.
I decided if I couldn't do it for the publication I worked at for 10 years, then maybe I should do it on my own. The only thing missing was games to cover.
As we approach the unknown of playing sports in a pandemic, I approach a new career and the unknowns it presents as well. I'm taking comfort in the thought that when the lights come on at Nunley Stadium this fall, I'll see some familiar faces in the stands (albeit behind masks) and I'll take my normal spot on the sideline.
The Warren County Sports Authority is ready to get back to work.