So long, and thanks for all the fish
Way back before the pandemic, one of my favorite work-related activities involved taking a late lunch at Sushi Brothers as I prepared my schedule for the evening's high school athletic events.
On a typical weekday evening, any of the five schools in the Woodburn Independent's coverage area host a multitude of games, and I would wait until the conveyor belt sushi restaurant's 2 p.m. happy hour began so I could gorge myself on raw fish while planning my night's schedule.
Figuring out where to be for an evening of sports is a delicate game of Tetris, a tightrope act of trying to squeeze the utmost coverage out of a single night when seemingly every program is competing simultaneously. "If I start my night at North Marion, I can hit up the first half of the girls basketball game, catch the second half of the Woodburn girls, hit up the Gervais boys, then get home by 9:30 p.m. to start uploading and editing photos.
"But that means I'd miss the St. Paul girls and they're hosting Kennedy for a huge rivalry game. I should be there the whole game to give it a good front page spread in next week's sports section. Plus, I kill two birds with one stone with taking pictures, and I'd be near enough to catch the final three quarters of the North Marion boys.
"On the other hand, I haven't covered Gervais wrestling all season, and they're competing with Kennedy at Santiam, which is close enough to home that it would be worth the drive.
"This is also the fourth night out this week, and I could tell by the twitch in my wife's eye this morning that I'm testing her sanity with how often I'm out. Perhaps it's best to stay home for the night and be with the family.
As stressful as it sounds, I'm going to miss balancing this impossible equation, this Kobayashi Maru of extracurricular scheduling. After more than eight years working for the Woodburn Independent, I'm officially hanging up my press badge on June 28.
To some this may come as a surprise, but for my family this plan has been cooking in the oven long before I took over as editor. Prior to my time at the Independent, I worked as a stay-at-home dad for the first two and a half years of my son's life, managing the home front while my wife brought home the proverbial bacon.
It was necessary to defray the costs of raising a newborn, and between a community journalist and an attorney, it was crystal clear whose career path would be better suited to be put on hold for a few years.
When Arthur was old enough for preschool, I rejoined the workforce, coming aboard the Woodburn Independent in 2013 to cover the high school sports beat.
During the years I have become intimately familiar with the communities of Woodburn, North Marion, Gervais, Kennedy and St. Paul, the people of which have opened their hearts and welcomed me into their homes to document the most memorable four years of their children's high school athletic careers.
It has truly been some of the most rewarding work I have ever had the pleasure of committing myself to.
That first hit home nearly four years into the job at the 5A boys soccer state championship game between Woodburn and Wilsonville. It was the culmination of a four-year journey for the freshmen who came into the Bulldogs boys soccer program in my first year covering the program — all of us raised on the stories of the three state championships Woodburn won from 2010 to 2012 before I was introduced to the community.
After documenting the team falling short of their championship goal in three straight years, including a devastating 2-0 loss in the 2014 title game, it was a seminal moment in my career to witness the Bulldogs reclaim their perch at the top of Oregon soccer in 2016.
Since then, I've seen championship programs and athletes pass through the pages of the Independent, too many to list. Those state title teams hold a special place in my heart, but they wouldn't be worth covering if not for the day-to-day grind the kids put in. What is a state trophy if not the physical embodiment of years of dedication to the craft? Performing on the biggest stage is only important because of the commitment on the nights and weekends when there's no opposing team, no crowd, no cameras. Just work.
I strive to match their effort, to honor their dedication behind the scenes by getting to as many events each season without making myself a complete stranger to my family.
Long before I had children, there was a part of me that kind of rolled my eyes every time I saw someone step down from their profession due to "family reasons." It seemed like a way to avoid the real reason why they left without having to answer any hard questions.
Post-fatherhood, my views have understandably changed. While covering high school sports is indeed rewarding, it is not without sacrifice. Every night I'm at a game is a night my son doesn't spend with me, a night where my wife must immediately take off her attorney hat and replace it with her mom hat with no moment to decompress.
As my son was making his way through elementary school, my wife and I decided that both of us working nights and weekends was incongruent with a home life we wanted our son to have.
A decade-plus of covering sports has taught me that prioritizing the most important things in life sometimes requires giving up other opportunities. It's not easy — few things worthwhile are — but I'm eager for the next chapter in my life.
This does not mean that I'll disappear from the sidelines entirely. The communities of northern Marion County have made too much of an impact on my life to simply walk away from. I'll continue to support the school districts and extracurricular programs that I love, just without the familiar Pamplin Media Group press badge dangling around my neck.
And if you spot me at Sushi Brothers during happy hour, flag me down and I'll buy you some fried calamari. It's the best item on the menu, but you have to order it fresh.
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