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Hawkins' first class of student athletes from freshman to senior year will always be memorable

With the Kennedy softball team's loss in the 2A/1A state semifinals last week, the final chapter on the 2016-17 athletic season finally came to a close. All that has made this past school year memorable on the court, field, track and mat is officially in the record books. The student athletes who came onto the high school scene way back in the fall of 2013 with promise, ambition and potential have made their way through the halls of their institutions and the pages of the Woodburn Independent, forever leaving their marks for the next generation of athletes to follow.

This happens every year with the end of the spring season. As one class of students leaves to embark on their journey to adulthood, a new class of middle school children prepare to enter the last steps of their long journey of public education.

But this class will forever remain special to me. I mentioned as much in November when the Woodburn boys soccer team won the 5A State Championship — this is the first class of student athletes I have had the opportunity to watch grow up before my eyes.

When I joined the staff of the Independent in February of 2013, I was coming off of a two-and-a-half-year layoff from journalism while I stayed at home with my son. Prior to his birth, I had been a freelancer in the southern Willamette Valley, an editor for a weekly newspaper in Junction City, a sports writer, an intern and a student at the University of Oregon.

I had never owned any of these titles for more than a year or two, which seemed to be the norm for incoming professionals entering the journalism community. "Newspapers are a dying industry" I always heard, and steady staff positions were being cut around the country in favor of freelance writing positions that were easier to add and subtract from a publication's payroll.

Newspapers aren't really dying, just changing. Large regional papers like the Oregonian in Portland, the Register-Guard in Eugene and the Statesman Journal in Salem are competing more and more with a seemingly endless wave of information emanating from the keystrokes of thousands of online writers from around the globe. If you want to read about international trade, global terrorism and national politics, there are endless avenues with which to do so.

But if you want to read about the town you live in, the schools you support, the businesses you frequent, the availability of media that caters to that demographic is very small. And that's where community newspapers like the Woodburn Independent quietly make their living every week.

PAMPLIN MEDIA - Phil HawkinsCommunity papers aren't new, of course. The Independent has been around for decades, as have newspapers in Molalla, Newberg, Canby, Forest Grove, Oregon City and all throughout the Willamette Valley. But as the internet has grown into an information juggernaut in the past 25 years, it has helped emphasize the importance of journalism at a hyper-local level.

So when I was ready to rejoin the workforce a little more than four years ago, I came to Woodburn with little understanding of the city and its surrounding communities in northern Marion County. It's actually not all that dissimilar from the freshman class that was preparing to enter high school that fall.

I have followed that class every year I've been at the Independent, watching student-athletes grow into young men and women, reporting on their excitement and heartbreak each athletic season as they grew up before my eyes.

The class of 2017 is the first I have seen and reported on throughout their entire high school experience from beginning to end, and as such, it will forever hold a special place in my heart.

With good fortune, this will be the first of many classes that I have the opportunity to see pass from the beginning of their high school careers to the end. After all, high school athletics is a never-ending venture. While this year's senior class is putting on their caps and gowns in celebration, next year's class is already competing in summer leagues and practices, getting ready to write the next chapter in their schools' record books for the coming 2017-18 season. I can hardly wait.

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