By Rick Pedone
First off, it’s time to answer the one question that I was asked more than any other over these many years, mostly from the student athletes that I covered: “Can you really read that?” they’d say, pointing to the chicken scratch on my notepad.
Well, no, of course not. Nobody can read it. You could bring in every cryptologist the CIA employs, and they couldn’t figure it out.
But, I always had a fairly good memory.
As they say in the movies, let’s cut to the chase: After almost 33 years and somewhere around 3,200 issues of the News-Gazette sports section, this will be the last edition I produce as the sports editor.
Come Tuesday, appropriately on Halloween, Ken Jackson takes over. His email is email@example.com.
You’ve been warned.
I spent a few years at several newspapers in Polk County before arriving here in December of 1984. The reason for coming was to help the newspaper transition into a daily publication.
Of course, that never happened.
The smart thing to do then would have been to leave for a larger paper, but this wasn’t a bad place to be. I liked the people I worked with, and I made so many good friends around the community that I figured, “What the heck, this works.”
Plus, I usually had weekends off. You don’t get that covering the NFL, which was my original career goal.
When I broke into this business, I was thinking of all the great games I’d get to cover. I was going to dazzle readers with my wit and insight.
When I go back and read those early clips now, I wince. Way too much dull wit; not enough insight.
I quickly figured out that it’s not the games that matter, anyway.
It’s the people.
I can count on my fingers the number games that I remember much about.
But, the players? The coaches? The volunteers who give up so much of their personal time to support the high school programs and other community events?
They are what kept me coming back to the News-Gazette newsroom for 33 years. They were, and are, remarkable.
I learned that you don’t have to cover the NFL to witness greatness.
It was and is right here in Osceola County.
I saw some of the best high school athletes in the nation, right here.
And, I worked with great coaches – and I do not exaggerate when I say great – right here. Some of them are in Halls of Fame. A lot more of them should be.
I saw many of the young athletes I covered grow up, get their education, and then return to Osceola County and become excellent coaches and community leaders themselves.
There are so many of you that I would like to mention by name, but I’m not going to. Knowing me, I’d leave a few very important people out and I’d feel terrible about that. Some of you were here when I got here and you are still reading today.
To all of you, young and not so young, I’ll say that working with you was a pleasure. I am thankful and honored that you consider me to be your friend.
My job as the sports editor was to tell you all I could about your favorite high school teams and other community events. I wanted the News-Gazette to be the place you visited to read about your kids or your friends. Of the thousands of sports sections I supervised, just about all of them were completely local in content. I am proud of that.
I tried to make the sports section a fun read while at the same time reporting as accurately as possible. To do that, I needed a lot of help from inside this building. Hundreds of people in jobs you never see worked diligently to bring my work to you. Some of the very best people I ever met, I met right here in this building. Of course, we had a few specimens, too – the type who were challenged to unlock the front door. They usually didn’t last long.
My thanks to my co-workers, past and present, for your invaluable assistance, patient tolerance and friendship.
I received many kind and thoughtful messages from our readers and those were appreciated. We all have days when we need a lift, and those words of praise meant so much.
But, I also know that I let some of you down. Sometimes it was because of silly mistakes. Sometimes the right words just wouldn’t come out. Many times I didn’t get to events that were important to you. For that, I apologize.
The most frustrating part about this job is that no matter how hard you work at it, you are going to miss a lot of events. Only the assistance and guidance I received from coaches, athletic directors and community members enabled me to fill the sports pages for three decades.
As usual, I am blathering far too long here, so it’s time to wrap this up.
But, before I do, I am going to mention the names of a few people who made my extended career here possible: my wife, Melissa, because without her constant support, encouragement and love, working at a community paper for most of my career would not have been possible. Melissa is a career educator, and through her, I understand the challenges and sacrifices that educators navigate daily.
My kids, Katie and Zak, aren’t kids anymore. They are young adults who grew up and were educated here in Osceola County. I had the good fortune to meet and interview thousands of exceptional students during my career; just amazing individuals. And, I am proud to say that Katie and Zak earned their places among those outstanding young people. They also convinced me that the only career better than sports editor is being a dad.
One of the cardinal rules of sports writing is that you don’t cheer in the press box.
Well, I’ll tell you that I bent that rule a time or two.
Don’t regret it one bit, either.
Thanks to all of you, for everything.