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My days are numbered at the Chiefland Citizen. Monday will be my last at the paper as I’ve accepted a job to become the editor of Gator Country Magazine and GatorCountry.com. It’s what is best for my family and career as I try to grow in the Florida media world after moving here from Arkansas a year ago.
Chiefland, and Levy County, will always be special to me. It’s a special place with special people with a few, at times, that were a special kind of crazy.
There were dozens of people who helped me over the past 11 months, and I’ll do some name dropping later. First of all, I want to thank my 20-plus coworkers - that’s more employees than any newspaper in the Tri-County area, by the way - of the Chiefland Citizen. They are committed to excellence and tirelessly work together to produce the best possible product for our readers each week. Here's a little friendly advice for when the new sports guy or gal gets here: When you see him/her at games, don’t badger them with complaints about what “big“ game they missed. Instead, simply thank them for covering that game or even offer them insight for a feature story. As I posted on our Facebook page after receiving several "thanks for comings” from Chiefland Middle School volleyball fans, you're team will catch more bylines with honey.
I wasn’t going to single any coworkers out in print, but it was a real treat getting to know Fred Wilson, our long-time production genius whose family formerly owned the newspaper. Since my first byline last December, Fred’s been saving my butt by correcting countless mistakes that only a local would know. My first few weeks he prevented articles from being printed with everything from the wrong mascot for an opponent to the actual spelling of Chiefland. No kidding.
Of course, I didn’t make it to every game or event that I should have, but I made it to every one that I could have. A lot of folks don’t realize we spend Monday and Tuesday nights designing the newspaper, and we’re also building pages for the Cedar Key Beacon on Wednesdays. So essentially, that left Thursday, Friday and Saturday to gather as much sports as possible and then have it all ready to go to press by Monday, which meant writing most weekends.
My family situation made my work week even trickier. My wife works from about 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the University of Florida, while I play daddy to our two young boys. Most media members don’t make bank (for anyone over 35, that‘s slang for being rich) so we could not afford daycare. My usual work day was from about 3-11 p.m., and I barely would see my wife most weekdays other than a quick kiss on my way out the door before making the commute from Gainesville.
That alone, along with the price of gas, played a major factor in this decision. Now I’ll certainly have more time for our entire family to be in the same place, at the same time, for more than 10 minutes. The late-night, early-morning schedule probably aged me a few years, but it was what needed to be done under the circumstances.
I sincerely appreciate editor Lou Elliott Jones and general manager Tom Ten Broeck for allowing me to work such an awkward schedule, and for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the Citizen family in the first place. OK, so I named a few more coworkers.
Now it’s on to the real name dropping. These are a few, but not all, of the folks I encountered who were 100 percent genuine, or at least seemed to be. They never lobbied for extra coverage of their sons or daughters (I hope those who do realize how trans“parent” they are to us reporters) and welcomed me with open arms from Day 1.
Bobby Schultz - I don’t even know where to begin, but you’ll never find a more giving, caring and honest person. The entire Schultz family is awesome. I could be homeless a year from now and I know they’d open their doors to help me. They’re the backbone of this community thanks to their volunteering for anything and everything. I feel like I can call each one of them my friends, especially Bobby. His integrity for doing the right thing is unmatched. Because of his strong background in law enforcement, I believe he’d make an excellent sheriff one day, if he ever was interested in such a thing.
Matt McClellan - No matter what sporting event I was at, it always seemed like Matt was around. The CHS vice principal cares a ton about the coaches, the students and the athletic program as a whole. He provided background on certain players or coaches or families that helped me craft better stories about them. Matt was always a text message away whenever I was fact checking a story or double-checking when a game started. Most of all, he was sincerely friendly and went out of his way to visit with me whenever I was covering any Chiefland event. I have no idea motivated him to do so. He didn’t have a kid playing and his job wasn't affected whether the team received a positive write-up or not. I just believe Matt is a nice guy who enjoyed seeing students highlighted in a positive way.
Jim O’Neal - What the Chiefland football coach has been through in the past few months, on and off field, would make most men curl up in the fetal position and beg for mommy. His wife was diagnosed with cancer and his father died after a terrible bout with Alzheimers. He also had a rent house broken into this past weekend. As if that wasn’t enough, the consistent winner has been strapped with back-to-back winless seasons. Eighty-eight percent of this year’s rosters are freshman and sophomores, and not even Bobby Bowden or Urban Meyer could win with a JV team playing a varsity schedule, especially if they were dealing with O’Neal’s distractions. But he's stood tall through it all and is a shining example to each of his players and to all of us of how to handle adversity. It would've been easy for him to quit coaching for family reasons, but there's no quitting in that man.
Adam Gore - Talk about a man who has given his entire life to Chiefland, and you’re talking about Adam Gore. Adam is a present day C. Doyle McCall. The living legendary coach gave his life to Chiefland High and one of my biggest regrets is never finding a free afternoon to visit with the man the football field is named for. Adam has always helped me keep things in perspective whenever he noticed complainers getting under my skin. He pointed me in the right direction on sticky subjects that may have wrinkled the wrong feathers (I know, Indians don’t have feathers). Adam will make a great head football coach one day, if he ever aspires for such a thing.
Ginger and Randy Fuller - I included them together but they both deserve to be bragged about individually. I recently joked with the Fullers that the school should donate land to them to build a house on campus, because they’re always there. They’re constant drive to see Chiefland High succeed in all sports is unprecedented when compared to the hundreds of other high schools I’ve covered. Some may not like their old school methods, but as some of us learned at a ‘Fields of Faith’ event recently, old school works. Just look at everything future Florida Gators softball player and high school All-American Taylore Fuller has accomplished. She's the best high school female athlete I've ever had the honor of covering. One of my regrets in leaving is I won’t get to write the family affair feature on the Fullers I was planning to do this spring. Another is not seeing Randy Jr. mature as an athlete and the fact that I may miss the day when Caitlan’s cannon arm decapitates the first base coach with an errant throw.
Kyle Parnell - One of my most enjoyable things to watch over the past 11 months was following Parnell’s baseball team's improvement over the course of a season that culminated with victories against Trenton and P.K. Yonge to win the district championship. Parnell reminded me of my father, whether he knew it or not before now, and that was nice with my father and the rest of my family 1,000 miles away. While the 2012 season may be a struggle, especially against rival Trenton that's powered by coach Todd Bryant and slugger Clif Bryant, I have no doubt Chiefland will be vying for another district title in the near future.
Allen Strickland - The Bronson baseball skipper is probably the first coach to ever to call me ‘sir,’ a habit he could never break no matter how many times I begged him to stop. It made sense, though, with me being 10 years his elder and with him being raised the right way. Allen is a person with high morals and character. He and his wife, Dara who coaches volleyball, always were appreciative of any coverage they received, and it was never as much as their teams deserved. They’re great people and a cute couple. Allen reminds me of the kind of guys I hung out with in high school and Dara’s personality is so much like my wife’s it’s scary.
Chad Brock - A former college baseball player like myself, we always had plenty in common to chat about. He played in Arkansas, my home state, so there’s that, too. Chad’s a down-to-earth guy who looks at a situation logically, not one-sided. He’s got an fantastic future wife in Cyndal Dean (thanks Cyndal for help on photos!) and his moral compass is always pointing in the right direction. He’s another guy I see being a great head coach one day, if he every aspires for such a thing.
Donna Brock - Chad’s mom is fully devoted to the cheerleading squad, and the school in general, like few spirit sponsors I’ve came across. Donna was always was super nice to me and I never felt like she had any hidden agenda in doing so. I’ll never forget the wonderful letter to the editor she wrote about me either.
Becky Tyson - The lady who probably gave me more crap than most about missing an event or game also put a week-long smile on my face when she said, and I don’t recall her exact words, that the sports section was the better than it had ever been under my direction. Gaining her approval was my biggest accomplishment over the past 11 months.
Rob Alexander - Rob always greeted me with a smile and a firm handshake, and helped me understand more about the history of Chiefland football. He'd give you the shirt off his back, if you needed a shirt. I've never heard anyone say a negative thing about the man because he's as likable as he can be. He’ll make a great banker one day … wait?
Aaron Haldeman - The Bronson basketball coach taught me how to stay positive, especially after the Eagles started last season with a long losing streak. He also helped teach me a lot about the history of sports all around Levy County. And evnthough he'd got my name wrong a few times, calling me "Matt" or "Caddy," I always enjoyed talking with him.
Adam Boyd - Even though he grew up in Michigan, I always felt like I had something in common with Adam because we were both "outsiders" in the eyes of some folks in Chiefland. Like me, he also doesn't like to shave more than once or twice a week. That dude is highly advanced in his knowledge of basketball. If he ever gets enough talent to execute the schemes he draws up against top-level competition, he'll make a serious run at a state title.
Dave Mitchell - The CHS district champion golf coach made my job easier by calling in results after events. Every coach should learn from his example if they want to ensure their team is highlighted. Parents and players should encourage their coaches to do the same thing as Mitchell if they want the same kind of recognition. He's a nice guy, and obviously a heckuva golf coach, too.
Marilee Leonard - The same can be said about Ms. Marilee as Mitchell. She went the extra mile by regularly submitting write-ups and pictures to guarantee the Chiefland Women’s Golf Association received coverage. So the next time you’re wondering why your favorite team isn’t getting in the paper, try writing something up and taking a few pictures to submit yourself. I see dozens of parents taking pictures at every game I've attended. I promise that if you send it to email@example.com, we’ll find a spot for it. We do not have the manpower to be at every event, and as my editor Lou always liked to say, “If I could clone Mike, I would.” So stop complaining (it's counter-productive anyway) and show us your game like Ms. Marilee often does.
Abraham Blitch - He gives everything he has to making Chiefland’s sports better. Abe is a look-you-in-the-eyes, do-whatever-it-takes-to-get-er-done kind of guy. His tireless work with the CHS Quarterback Club is inspiring and fans should thank Abe the next chance they get. He recently thanked me for continuing to cover Indians football even when they weren't winning. He was always sincere and honest in my delaings with him. If he ever ran for a political office, Honest Abe would get my vote.
Wayne Weatherford - I'm not sure any one person has impacted sports and youth in the community as much as Wayne has through his work with the Chiefland Area Athletic Association. He carries so many responsibilities on his broad shoulders - which you can easily see because he usually wears a tank top - and his only motivation is getting kids pointed in a positive direction early in life. I also hear he carves a pretty mean steak during his day job at Winn-Dixie.
Lorran Brookins - I could say the same stuff about Mr. Brookins as I did about Abe in regards to his work on the CHS Quarterback Club. The guy loves and cares about the future of Chiefland football and all the people associated with it, past and present. I also want to thank him for the ride to our office one night when I was stuck at the field. I owe you one, Mr. Brookins, although I know you’re too good of a guy to ever collect on it.
Harry and Ken Hutson - Every fan should pat these guys on the back and thank them for bringing CHS football to the radio and Internet this past season. Broadcasting games involves a lot of work behind the scenes, and these guys did it all for little - if any - pay or fanfare. And coach Harry Hutson stepping up to coach the JV football team at the last minute is as unselfish and giving as it gets.
Kristina Berger - The lady who takes pictures at most every Chiefland High event gives her photos to anyone who wants them, and I’m not sure she asks for a dime. That’s unheard of this day and age of monetizing everything. She should be compensated for all the lasting memories she’s given players and their families. She’s also bailed us out numerous times when we’ve missed an event, and I cannot thank her enough for all that she does to help promote CHS sports.
Diedre Thomas - The mother of a talented Bronson athlete, Mrs. Thomas always made sure to say 'Hi Mike' after meeting her and a huge group of kids at Blue Springs one afternoon this summer. Also, thank you for watching my camera so my 5-year-old son and I could take a quick dip in the spring.
Andy Kidd - Another guy who would give the shirt off his back to help anyone less fortunate. Andy and his wife, Bobbie, are always supportive and friendly. As good of a coach as Andy is - he's the head coach of CMS basketball and an assistant on the football team - he may be an even better actor and director. If you haven't checked out one of the plays the Suwannee Valley Players puts on regularly at The Chief Theatre, then you're missing the best live entertainment - other than sports, of course - that's available in the Tri-County area.
Bob Hastings - The Levy Schools superintendent always went out of his way to make me feel welcome, whether it was asking me questions during board meetings or introducing me to others when running into him elsewhere. Sure, he’s a politician and it behooves him to befriend the media, but I got the impression he would be just as friendly if we had met in another venue.
There are dozens on players I enjoyed covering from Chiefland and Bronson, but I won't mention any specifically. I'll miss seeing many of them mature as athletes, though. There also are several families that helped me along the way, but I won't go into detail about each one. Instead, I'll just thank the Andersons, Basons, Barnes, Beauchamps (of Chiefland and Bronson), Bryants, Gerhards, Gores (other than the aforementioned Adam), Hornes, McBrides, Meeks, Mills, Parks, Richbergs, Schmidts, Slaughters, Scotts, Thompsons, Tovines and Wassons.
Whew, I wrote much more here than I had planned, but as you can tell, I met many great people in my short time here. Anyway, I’m certain I’ve missed a few and will likely think of many others who are deserving of praise after this is sent to press. Please don’t hold it against me if your name was or wasn’t mentioned. My last Chiefland game will be football at Trenton tomorrow night, but I’ll certainly keep tabs on what’s happening over here. You may even see me pop in on a game sometime, especially when the Indians play in Gainesville.
All the best.