Thirty-two years later, here I am still on the job

Magic Johnson was one of the best ever to wear No. 32. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Magic Johnson was one of the best ever to wear No. 32. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

In the history of sports, so many greats wore No. 32.

Jim Brown. Magic Johnson. Steve Carleton. Yes, even Orenthal James Simpson.

The number popped in my head today as the 2016 high school sports season officially opened here in the state of Connecticut.

Football has been going at it for about a week now, but today everybody else jumped on that new-season bandwagon. Everybody is tied for first, nobody is in last place and everybody is hopeful.

Hope springs eternal, is the cliche. In the fall, it is especially so.

Thirty-two years ago this month, I received a phone call that changed my life and every fall thereafter. A foot-in-the-door job was offered to me, working a part-time gig at the Bangor Daily News Sports Department.

New England journalism legend Bud Leavitt, who hired me and became my first boss, talks with his good friend, Red Sox legend Ted Williams. (Photo courtesy of the Bangor Daily News)
New England journalism legend Bud Leavitt, who hired me and became my first boss, talks with his good friend, Red Sox legend Ted Williams. (Photo courtesy of the Bangor Daily News)

All I had to do was go in, shake hands with a New England journalism legend (Mr. Bud Leavitt, the BDN’s Executive Editor, for those of you who don’t know) and I had the job.

I don’t know if it was really that easy, but it seemed so.

I was 18 years old andI swallowed everything up as quickly as I could. I knew I loved to write and I knew I loved sports, and here I was putting my two passions together.

Three months later, I had my first byline. Two and a half years after that I was promoted into a full-time position. Twenty-nine years and a few months from that date I’m looking at a different kind of “32” straight in the eyes and counting  my blessings.

For 32 years, I’ve had the pleasure — no, the honor — of working as a professional sports journalist.

Save for gigs as a waiter, a pizza delivery driver, and a substitute teacher — just temp jobs to help make ends meet — it’s all I’ve ever known.

 

My business is changing and I’ll admit it makes me sad. My chosen profession is dying and it breaks my heart to realize that I likely won’t be able to retire from a job I love to do.

I’m trying like hell to hang on, but every year it gets a little tougher and the writing on the wall grows a little more in font size.

Other than the fact that I’m really good at what I do (it’s the only thing in my life that I’ve ever been confident about), I’ve learned to do it all, and that’s helped keep me employed,  as well. Write. Page layout. Copy-editing Photography. Sports. Arts. Hard news. I really can do it all.

I started as a 20-hour-a-week sports clerk and moved up to a full-time sportswriter. Later in my career, in the space of one week’s time in New Hampshire, I went from being an assistant Sunday editor to the Sunday Sports Editor to the Managing Sports Editor.

A couple of years after that, I was laid off from that newspaper along with 10 percent of our work force, though they kept me working as a lowly freelancer … making more money while working less hours.

Go figure.

That was 13 years and two states ago.

Now, here I am in Connecticut, and there I was on Thursday morning at a Norwalk High School girls volleyball tryout.

As I watched a group of girls go through the routine of their season-opening drills, the coach whistled the veterans to the side and sent a large contingent of newcomers out onto the court.

Norwalk High's Edona Jakaj, right, is a senior leader for her volleyball team, even though she's not a captain.
Norwalk High’s Edona Jakaj, right, is a senior leader for her volleyball team, even though she’s not a captain.

Behind these rough-around-the-edge newbies, though, was one of the team’s seniors, who instead of sitting down and resting stayed court-side, yelling and cheering for the younger girls to try their hardest and do their best.

That girl, who I had gotten to know from being a good track hurdler in the spring, is a senior, but she’s not a captain.

But what a leader. And a what a story I’ll get to tell.

And today was just the first day of a new season.

For 32 years, I’ve been lucky to wake up and do a job I love to do. I need to remember that more often, even during these trying (dying?) times in the journalism industry.

Larry Bird is on deck (No. 33) with Walter Payton (No. 34) beyond that.

Hopefully, I’m still doing this when I have to figure out who the great No. 35s are.

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