It was quick and concise and more poignant than likely was intended.
A week ago, at the Class 3A bi-district track and field meet, Prairie High School’s Nicole Goecke said, “You don’t realize how important it is until you lose it.”
Goecke was talking about being disqualified from — and ultimately reinstated to — a race. But she might as well have been talking about me.
Because, you see, in two months I will be leaving newspaper sports after 25 years, including 13 at The Columbian. I will be moving over to become The Columbian’s Editorial editor.
And while I’m excited about the opportunity to play a role in leading the discussions that shape our community, I’m also a bit sad. I’m particularly sad because I’ll no longer be covering high school sports.
Oh, I’m no Paul Valencia. I don’t get to spend every waking moment immersed in local prep sports. But I do pitch in when the playoffs come around, and I spent the past weekend covering the state track meet.
Covering the state track meet is exhausting. It means long hours of going a mile a minute, and yet I enjoy it. I enjoy it because high school sports reflect the fabric of a community. You have young people testing themselves and bettering themselves and learning lessons that will last a lifetime.
I never grow tired of that.
And it dawned on me that, with the end of the spring sports season, this was the last time I will cover a high school sporting event.
Sure, there have been plenty of Blazers games and Seahawks games and Mariners games over the years. There have been Huskies and Cougars and others. There have been Olympic Trials and NCAA Tournaments and Women’s World Cups.
Yet through the years I have always enjoyed the communal aspect of covering high school sports. Covering a Blazers game is an exercise in pack journalism, with 20 or more reporters surrounding a player’s locker after the game and culling identical meaningless quotes. Covering a high school event is more intimate and more meaningful, reminding me that quoting Rasheed Wallace saying, “Both teams played hard” over and over doesn’t count as journalism.
Instead, I have reveled in the opportunity to know, on a personal level, extraordinary athletes and personalities such as Clem Eischen and Kara Patterson. Eischen was an Olympian from Vancouver in 1948; Patterson was an Olympian from Vancouver in 2008 and 2012. I am better for knowing both of them.
My kids often ask things such as, “Have you ever interviewed Michael Jordan?” Or, “Have you met Kevin Durant?”
The answer is yes, and yet I am more impressed by having known the likes of Al Aldridge, the best coach I have ever been around. Or asking thoughtful questions of Jon Eagle, a highly intelligent man who also knows a little about coaching football. Or having covered Alexa Efraimson, as I did this past weekend, and marveling at her extraordinary talent.
To cover high school sports is to report on the present while glimpsing the future. And it has always made me feel better about the direction our country is headed.
There have been unforgettable moments, of course. Like when Aubrey Ward-El went 0 for 10 before making a 3-pointer to deliver a state championship for Skyview. Or when Union won back-to-back one-point games to capture a state title in boys basketball.
But there have been just as many failures, and that’s what makes sports so wonderful. At the professional level, failures are fodder for ESPN; at the high school level, they are teaching opportunities.
And so, as I move into a new role and work to make our newspaper and our community and, hopefully, myself a tiny bit better, I will embrace new challenges and new opportunities. But a small part of me will always miss the high school sports community and the exceptional people I got to meet there.
Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian … until the end of July. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read his blog, go to http://blogs.columbian.com/greg-jayne