Nine years old. 1984. It’s been a big summer for my new favorite team. After moving to central South Carolina, my family got this thing called cable. There is a box that is actually connected to a long cable, or wire, and it has about 30 buttons on it. This thing changes channels.
One summer day a year before, I went through all of them, starting with 2 and going up.
I stopped at 9. Baseball was on. I love baseball. It was here my love affair with the Chicago Cubs began.
A year later, I’m getting ready for school. It’s morning, and it’s September. The Cubs are in a pennant race, and I’ve got to know.
No internet. No web. Heck, no time for ESPN.
Thank goodness for the newspaper.
Cubs win. Right there in black and white.
Middle School. Seventh grade. An avid sports page reader, I clip articles about all of my favorite athletes and post them on my bedrom wall. Don Mattingly. Ryne Sandberg. Kirby Puckett. Larry Bird. Art Monk.
I already know what I want to do with my life. The middle school doesn’t have a school paper. I ask if we could start one. One teacher, Mrs. Satterwhite, says we can use her planning period and classroom to get it up and running.
Myself and three other students join in. One of them is the one girl every 7th-grader wishes would just talk to him, much less hang onto him at the school dance. Way out of our league. Turns out she’s just a normal kid, and kind of a dork, like the rest of us. Interesting. Anyway, the L-E Post is born (for Lugoff-Elgin Middle School). It’s more newsletter than newspaper, for sure.
But it’s ours.
Senior in high school. 1993. My third year on the school paper. No other Pinecrest student had ever done that before. Maybe nobody wanted to. The teacher, Mrs. Boyer, had to get a special exemption to make it happen, since there was no Journalism III class.
But it was my year to be a Co-Editor, after being the Sports Editor my junior year. Paula B wasn’t going to take that away from me.
A friend has a fantastic idea. James Moore has been the girls’ basketball coach at Pinecrest for eons and has a couple of state championships in his hip pocket. Beautiful man. Pinecrest’s gym isn’t named for anyone, but it should be.
I agree. I write a back page column, “The Senior Voice.” Coach Moore doesn’t want any fuss, won’t comment.
But Felton Capel will. He goes to the Moore County School Board and the ball is rolling. You don’t turn down Felton Capel. Not in Moore County. His presentation includes my column.
A year later, I come home from Chapel Hill for “James H. Moore Day” at Pinecrest. I sit on the dais and even get a moment to speak. Coach Moore’s name adorns the gym’s wall now.
It wasn’t necessarily my idea. Credit my buddy Neil Oakley.
But I had the pen and the keyboard.
A part of freshmen orientation at Chapel Hill. Parents are invited, and we go to a discussion catered to our prospective major. Naturally, we’re in the Journalism and Mass Communication hall.
After a brief presentation, we mingle with professors and such. My dad and I strike up a conversation with one. We talk about the future. The man says one day we’ll all be able to have newspapers in our hands on small electronic devices. There may not even be paper involved anymore.
This is 16 years ago.
I go cold.
Summer school after sophomore year. Done with my general college requirements, I jump into more J-School stuff. Who do I draw for Newswriting? Of course. Jim Shumaker.
“Shu,” the inspiration to the comic strip “Shoe,” is about 4,372 years old. He cuts an intimidating figure still. But it’s his sandpaper voice and fierce red pen that get you. Day 1, he tells us nobody will get an A in the class. “I’ve done this 50 years,” he growls. “There’s nothing you 20-year-olds can do that I can’t find fault with.”
There are 20 of us. One day he asks the room, “How many of you want to do TV?” Half the hands go up. “Uh-huh. And how many of you want to go into PR?” The other half go up. “Jesus H. Christ. Anybody here still want to go into newspapers?” My solitary hand goes up. “G-dammit, at least there’s one of you.”
Shu gets me two summer jobs at Chapel Hill newspapers over the next two years. Not internships. Jobs. He gets the papers to pay me as a correspondent.
Newswriting with Shu. The proudest A-minus of my life.
I’m gonna marry this girl. She’s amazing. I’m young, but I don’t care. God, she’s the one. No semblance of doubt.
But it would be nice to have a job.
The Daily Courier in Forest City, N.C., obliges. Of course they do. I have a pulse. Football season is 15 days away and they need somebody. The football preview edition has to be done in 13 days.
But I’m enthusiastic. And it’s a sports job. Not bored of education, or cops and courts, or general assignment. And as a one-man sports department, it even comes with a Sports Editor title. Done deal.
I arrive with eight days to get the preview section done. Eight pages. Three high schools. Terror sets in.
Somehow I get through it, and the next six years.
That great woman has given me a wonderful little girl. We’re looking at bigger houses. One night at work, the past managing editor asks if I had checked the job sites lately.
The Sanford Herald has an opening for a sports editor. That’s half an hour from my hometown. And mom has been sick.
And it’s a two-man sports department.
It’s been a helluva ride for the last six years. To say that I’ve loved every single minute of it would be something less than the full truth, but when I look back on this time down the road, I’m sure I’ll view it exactly that way.
About a week after I got to Forest City straight out of college, a spectator at a football game told me I had big shoes to fill to match my predecessor, who had been there 11 years. I had hoped when it was time for me to leave The Courier, someone might say the same thing about me.
I’ve heard that happened, but I don’t know if it was true. Hard to believe my buddy Fisher sometimes. And, I will admit, fully aware how selfish it is, that I do hope someone may say something close to that again now.
Because I am leaving The Sanford Herald.
And, for now at least, and maybe forever, newspapers.
I’m not sure what Shu would think. Then again, he had to realize one day that teaching was the right avenue for him to take. And so that’s what he did in the last years of his life, until the retort, “Still vertical” could no longer be the answer to the question, “How are you, Shu?”
But I am staying in media, just in another capacity. I’ve accepted the position of Assistant Sports Information Director at Fayetteville State University, and I am thrilled about the opportunity to serve that proud institution.
There are too many people to thank personally for fear of leaving someone out, but they range from Mrs. Satterwhite to Paula Boyer to Jim Shumaker to Wister Jackson and Jim Brown at The Courier to Bill Horner III at The Herald. But to every person who has ever said something to me — good or bad, agree or disagree — about something I wrote, I owe you all the most precious and heartfelt of thank yous.
There is something about newsprint. Thumb through a newspaper, and the newsprint’s coal-like sheen will effortlessly cover your fingertips.
But it takes soap, water and some scrubbing to wash it off.
If only it were really that easy for me.
Alex Podlogar has been The Herald’s sports editor for six years and five days, since Aug. 16, 2004. Continue to read his blog at designatedhitter.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter @alexpodlogar. The Herald will continue to publish a periodical column by Podlogar.