Almost everything associated with my 20-plus years working as a sportswriter in the newspaper industry is packed in a box that sits in a dark corner of the basement. What you see is just a small sample of it.
I’m really proud of some of this stuff. I was in the press box in 2001 for the Milwaukee Brewers’ first regular-season game at their then-brand spanking new ballpark. The sports information directors of the NCAA Division III conference I covered thought my prose was good enough to bestow on me a very nice plaque. There is a stack of emails and thank-you cards from readers and people I’d interviewed, and invitations to high school graduation parties from young adults I’d seen grow as both athletes and people. And, there is my farewell column. My goodbye to the only real job I’d ever had (I try to block out the six months I worked at McDonalds, and my one evening working as a third-shift security guard).
Ten years. Has it really been 10 years since I left the profession that took me to four different newspapers in the Midwest and had me enamored from the moment I’d first walked into the newsroom of my hometown paper as a 17-year-old high school senior, eager to take prep football scores and statistics over the phone? Has it really been a decade since I went from getting paid to watch track and field and football to being the one who is running after, and sometimes getting tackled by, a dynamo of a teenager whose strength and challenges know no bounds?
And the subject matter I typically write about now – Nolan, Autism, and the way Cindy and I deal with it? It was so much easier for me to get a high school softball player to describe how she threw the perfect riseball that frustrated batters. I got pretty good at describing what had happened at a sporting event. Now I hope people are being informed, and even entertained, when I write about topics such as taking Nolan to the dentist or on a walk around the neighborhood.
Those of you who read on a regular basis the entries Cindy and I post know our story, as do the people who have known us for years. Nolan was diagnosed with Autism when he was 2½. I worked second shift, always leaving for the office before Cindy got home from work, and I seldom had a Saturday off. And there always was the chance Nolan either still would be awake when I got home, or he would wake up a couple hours after my head had finally hit the pillow.
Cindy and I faced a lot of unknowns those first couple of years after Nolan’s diagnosis. As happy as I was when we paid off our mortgage in 2010 and I gave my notice, I wondered what my future held as I sat at my office computer in late June and began writing about why I was leaving journalism. How would I adjust to my new life as a stay-at-home father?
Ten years on, I couldn’t imagine any other life.
It’s no exaggeration to say the night I told my boss I was leaving and my last night on the job are two of the happiest days of my life, ranking up there with my first date with Cindy, our wedding day, and the day Nolan was born. The collapse of the newspaper industry is comparable to the sinking of the Titanic, and I’m happy I jumped in a lifeboat and rowed away as fast as I could when I did. I very seldom read or watch local media outlets anymore, and I stopped following local sports years ago. When professional sports eventually return to the airwaves, chances are I’ll see there is an “American Pickers” marathon on the History Channel or hopefully spending a weekend afternoon at a flea market.
So why revisit a piece of my past I admittedly was ecstatic to leave behind? There were a lot of positives associated with being a journalist for a significant portion of my life. The people I met over two-plus decades – athletes, parents, coaches – are some of the finest folks I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
I’m Facebook friends with a few of them. Most of them are married. A few of them are parents now. I feel like an enthusiastic uncle when I see their wedding pictures or the photo of their happy toddler who has just learned to crawl. I was out on my morning run a few weeks ago when I saw a young lady who was a cross country and track standout for her high school and earned a scholarship to the University of Michigan. She’s married now and expecting her first child soon. I ignored social distancing protocol and went over to congratulate her, all the while thinking, “Weren’t you 17 just a few weeks ago?”
My job made me grow up a lot over the course of two decades. I struggled to come up with enough questions to ask when I first started out. In a matter of a few years, my editors had entrusted me to drive to Green Bay, cover Packers games at Lambeau Field, attend postgame press conferences and interview players in the locker room, and write three or four stories on deadline. If you can handle being in a car for four hours, sifting through a small book’s worth of statistics and quotes, and keep your composure after a Packers player slaps you on the ass after giving you a long-winded answer to a question and telling you to go talk to one of his teammates, you can handle anything.
When Nolan was a baby, I had visions of eventually taking him with me when I covered sporting events. And maybe if the sports gods blessed him, people would be reading about his athletic prowess by the time he reached high school. By the time I wrote my farewell column, I hoped that one day I could show him the work I’d done as a sportswriter and he’d be proud of me. Even though he can’t tell me, I think all he cares about is that I’ve been there for him.
I’m very content with the role I’ve had the last 10 years. And even though it’s fun to revisit the past from time to time, I’m content to leave it in that box in the basement.
NOTE: If you would like to read my farewell column from 2010, here is the link: https://lacrossetribune.com/sports/kirk-bey-goodbye-for-a-great-reason/article_47005ffa-801b-11df-9721-001cc4c002e0.html