Medina Journal-Register — I remember the very first thing I did as J-R sports editor, on my first day of work back in late August.
Former sports editor Mike Wertman graciously left contact information for area high school coaches, so I quickly went about calling coaches to introduce myself and arrange meetings to discuss the upcoming season.
The first coach I called was Medina volleyball coach Tim Lincoln, and although he was friendly on the phone, he seemed confused as to who I was, and why I was calling. Wertman had already attended practice and taken a team photo for a season preview, for another media outlet. And as Wertman had been J-R sports editor for 35 years, Lincoln couldn’t believe that there was another reporter with the intention of covering his team.
But once things were cleared up and Lincoln realized that I would indeed now be covering N-O sports for the paper, it was smooth sailing. Every coach was more than welcoming toward me (including the affable Lincoln, of course), and I have had a great time covering sports in Medina, Albion, Middleport, Barker and so on.
Now, I am sadly announcing my departure from the J-R. I have been offered an opportunity to work as a junior editor at Golf Digest and Golf World magazines in Wilton, CT — golf publications with worldwide circulation — and as an avid golf enthusiast, it is an offer I cannot refuse. I will be packing for the next few days, driving down to Connecticut on Thursday and starting my new job at 8:30 Friday morning.
Although I am excited to start at Golf Digest/Golf World, I depart with a very mixed bag of emotions. Everyone in the Niagara-Orleans region has been so friendly and welcoming to me over the last few months, and I have been lucky to develop relationships that I will miss. I am an outsider to some degree — I was born and raised in Orchard Park — but you would never know it from the way I have been treated. To everyone I have been lucky enough to interact with during my time here (besides, perhaps, a certain boys soccer coach from Akron), I offer a great big thanks.
There was Medina boys soccer coach Steve Luksch, and Mustangs football coach Eric Valley, always willing to answer my calls and texts when I presented sometimes obscure questions, at sometimes absurd hours. There was Medina girls swimming coach Mary Dooley with her witty sarcasm and good humor, cross-country/wrestling coach Eric Gross with his agreeableness, and of course Barker field hockey/girls basketball coach Jeff Costello with his good nature and always-expansive answers to my questions.
I’ll remember veteran Albion volleyball coach Ann Capacci for always preaching the message of team chemistry and cohesion in postgame interviews. I’ll remember Medina field hockey coach Kristi Young for always getting right to the point, and Roy-Hart boys basketball coach Mark Rydza for letting me interview his entire team all at once for a season preview.
I’ll remember Barker’s Jake Haight dominating on the both the football field and the basketball hardwood, as well as Medina quarterback/point guard Jason Hellwig and versatile all-purpose threat Dan (Munjie) Brown — whose nickname comes from a love of the movie “Jumanji” as a youth. I’ll remember the entire Hellwig family (including brother Adam, and parents Sandy and Eric), who all maintain close involvement with the Mustangs sports program and welcomed me to the community immediately.
I’ll remember the day I drove all across Western New York trying to find a game to cover — trying to get to a golf match between Medina and CSAT in Grand Island before arriving too late, racing to Pembroke for a Medina girls soccer game before realizing I misread the schedule, and then finally making it to a volleyball game at Roy-Hart.
I’ll remember watching the Medina boys soccer team defeat Newfane for the Class B-1 title in a driving rainstorm at Hamburg HS, and the Mustang football team outlasting Albion in a late-season battle for Doc’s Rock. I’ll remember driving to Syracuse to see Barker field hockey compete in the state semifinals, and seeing Albion volleyball defeat Cheektowaga in straight sets to earn a berth in the sectional final.
In addition to all the coaches, players and administrators, I’ll be grateful for the help and support along the way from my colleagues at the J-R. Lockport Union-Sun and Journal sports editor John D’Onofrio, for his guidance, advice and encouragement — and even his semi-angry outbursts in the midst of evening production. Night editor Scott Leffler for not getting mad when I would submit a budget late, and the retired Bill Wolcott for his wisdom. Managing editor Joyce Miles for her years of experience and vast knowledge of the business, and of course publisher Diane Crowe for taking a chance on a kid out of college who didn’t have much professional experience at a paper.
Medina news editor Howie Balaban for helping explain Medina to me, taking sports photos on occasion and consistently joining me in rooting for Syracuse sports (our alma mater). Fellow reporters Joe Olenick and Kaley Lynch, photographer Joed Viera, community editor Anne Calos, and everyone else from along the way. Sorry if I forgot anyone. You all deserve a great big thanks.
I wasn’t looking to leave Medina. I was hoping to stay for at least a couple of years, developing my writing skills and continuing to get to know the community. It’s just that a great opportunity in golf writing came up, and I owe it to myself to give it a shot, especially at 22 years old. The timing is tough for sure, right in the middle of winter sports season, and I don’t feel good about it. When my replacement is found, I will do all I can to help him or her learn the position, and I am confident that the new sports editor will pick up right where I left off. I’ll be following along to see how this year’s winter teams fare in late-season and postseason play, that’s for sure.
And now, I don’t even need to attempt to stay unbiased. I can just be a fan.
I would love to hear any feedback regarding my efforts here, and I can be reached at email@example.com. This has been the first step in what I hope will be a long journalism career, and I fully intend to continue my growth and development as a reporter and writer as I move to Golf Digest/Golf World.
It has been a pleasure, Medina. Regardless of how things go from here, I’ll always be proud to say I started my career covering the Mustangs.
And I can leave at peace. Doc’s Rock is right where it belongs.
Contact Kevin Prise at firstname.lastname@example.org.