Last month, I hit the one-year mark of my tenure as sports editor at the Independent Review.
When I began the job on June 16, 2014, I knew I had big shoes to fill.
My predecessor, the estimable Lyle Diekmann, worked as the sports editor here in town for more than 13 years and seemed to know all the ins and outs of the Litchfield sports scene; the only Litchfield resident I met with more local sports knowledge was Stan Roeser, who was always a welcome presence in the Independent Review offices and an invaluable resource when I had a tricky local sports question that needed answering.
(It didn’t hurt that Stan started his journalism career before the advent of the forward pass — just kidding, Stan. But I’m still smarting from your anti-soccer diatribe.)
Surrounded by so much local sports knowledge and a newcomer to Litchfield myself, I was initially hesitant to write a regular sports column — an insightful, must-read part of Lyle’s sports pages.
Having spent the bulk of the previous seven years in Oregon and growing up in St. Cloud, my knowledge of Litchfield sports was limited to the Dragon boys basketball teams of the early-2000s.
Back then, my sub-par Cathedral Crusaders would face Coach Carlson’s talented teams twice a year and my teammates and I would mostly just try to avoid getting dunked on in front of an entire city.
(In the 2001-2002 season, my senior year, I once resorted to bear-hugging a fast-breaking John Carlson as he prepared to dunk violently over me in front of our home crowd. Not my proudest moment. But I avoided a spot in the end-of-season highlight reel, which felt like a small victory.)
After spending a year working in Litch, my knowledge of the area sports scene has deepened and I find myself able to shoot the breeze about the ever-changing Wright County Conference, or chat about how the girls basketball team looks for next season or answer the question, “So, just how good is that Eddie Estrada?” (Really good.)
These chats have gotten more frequent and more enjoyable the more I’ve gotten to know the community — and, for me, the No. 1 way to do that is through sports, even when I’m not on the clock.
Dusting off the sneakers
I first heard about Wednesday and Sunday open gym at the high school about a year ago, and I started showing up as often as I could.
Not long after I began playing on Wednesday nights, I got invited to join a group of guys who play in the early morning before work. Before I knew it, I was playing basketball three, sometimes four times a week and loving every second of it — though my frequent self-directed expletives occasionally made it seem otherwise.
Baseball is my first love and I’ve always been a better baseball player than a cager, as Stan would call it. But I think now, at age 31 and unable to consistently throw strikes anymore, I find basketball more enjoyable.
Someone asked me recently why I love playing basketball so much. There are the staving-off-Father Time-and-a-beer-belly considerations, of course.
But that’s not the only explanation.
I’ve thought a lot about it, and here’s the truth: For an hour and a half, when I’m playing basketball, I literally don’t think about anything. I just react and play.
As I’ve gotten further from those high school days, I’ve found there are few moments when my mind is truly blank, untouched by the everyday realities and vagaries of adulthood and free to roam, to rest, to wander — to whatever.
And I’ve learned that when you find those things that both give your mind a break and make you unabashedly gleeful, that cause you to feel like a child again, you should probably do them for as long as you can.
It’s this kind of joy that I hope to bring to my column, because for as much money and time and airspace and bellyaching that are devoted to sports, never forget: sports are fun.
They are fundamentally silly, unserious games that we began playing and watching for that one simple reason.
I don’t pretend to know everything about area sports. I’m not an expert. I’ll never be an expert. I’m just an area sports fan who loves playing, watching, talking and writing about sports.
My hope is not for this column to be a soapbox or a cudgel or a megaphone.
My hope is that this column, this little corner of the sports section, can be a conversation-starter: a way to air some ideas, to shine a light on a more unusual story or a spot to share some odds and ends that I’ve picked up in chatting with other area sports nuts.
My hope is that this column can be, like sports, fun. And I hope that you think so, too.