Although I didn’t know it at the time, I wrote my first ever sports column in the sixth grade.
I can’t remember what the actual assignment was, or how I managed to do it, but I somehow convinced my English teacher that the “Curse of the Bambino” was an acceptable paper topic. I got to spend weeks of class time doing what was technically labeled “research,” gleefully sifting through online articles that detailed Pesky’s ignominious dithering, Bucky’s miracle swing, and Buckner’s infamous gaffe, while writing about my own indelible experiences hearing Yankee Stadium reverberate with chants of “1918” on brisk October nights. It was middle school bliss.
Fast-forward to 2009, my first year at Virginia.
I was following the pre-med curriculum: biology and chemistry classes, laborious three-hour labs dissecting baby squids, all that good stuff. It was an ambitious effort, a rookie mistake, and a GPA-killer; yet remaining fallow within me throughout that desultory year was a latent desire to write. It took an exceedingly soporific — yet, well-paying and parent-pleasing — internship at a hospital the summer after my first year to fully educe this desire. Sitting at a computer crunching numbers on Excel all day, I thought back to the last time I truly enjoyed doing “work” — my sixth grade foray into sports writing — and in the midst of researching some spinal disorder I began penning a 40-page excoriation of LeBron James for choosing South Beach instead of Manhattan.
The following month, now back in Charlottesville for my second year, I nervously wandered into the Cavalier Daily office — it took me a frustrating amount of time to find the Newcomb basement — and spoke with reluctant excitement to then-sports editor Andrew Seidman about my new prospective career path. My timing was fortuitous. Minutes before I arrived with my “mock” article in hand — which accounts for a Cavalier Daily tryout — the section’s cross-country associate had abruptly retired.
I will forever be thankful for what transpired next between Andrew and me. He read my mock article and offered me the open associate position on the spot, allowing me to eschew the traditional “staff writer” transitional period. I was hesitant, having never written for a newspaper in any capacity before, but Andrew told me he believed I’d do great and assured me he’d be there to assist me with any growing pains along the way. He was true to his word, and his blind — probably misguided — faith in me helped immensely when I was first getting settled in with the paper.
Here’s an embarrassing anecdote that only a few people know. The first sporting event I ever covered was the Lou Onesty Open, a home race that marked the opener of the cross-country season. A good friend of mine, Alex Roark — you finally got your shout-out — drove me to the event and was instrumental in keeping my mind off the fact that I really had no idea what I was doing.
I began my interviews with men’s runner Ryan Collins — who had just finished third in the race — and it went along better than I could have ever expected, except that moments after we finished our tête-à-tête I accidently deleted the entire recording. I was petrified to admit this but knew I had no other choice, and amazingly Ryan was more than happy to do the whole interview over again. Even though I was abjectly shamefaced at that moment, it marked the first of countless times that the student-athletes I’ve covered were far kinder to me than I deserved, and I have and always will appreciate that.
In a similar vein, the coaches I encountered and spent lengthy, invaluable time with when I was following their teams were always kind to me. With special mention to Steve Garland, Eileen Schmidt and George Gelnovatch, I will look back fondly on the conversations I shared with all of you and am forever thankful for the forbearance you displayed in our dealings.
I’m also eternally thankful for every editor that has put up with me in the last three years. If the list wasn’t so long I’d enumerate each of you, but I’d be remiss not to specifically highlight Ashley Robertson, Matt Welsh, Stacy Kruczkowski, and Nick Eilerson for going out of your ways to provide me with kind, instructive and encouraging words about my work, making what sometimes felt like a thankless job much more enjoyable.
To my parents, I must thank you for allowing me to follow my gut, believing in me, inveterately reading everything I write, and — until recently — not pestering me too much about where I really plan on going with this whole writing business. To my older brother Sam — who still knows more about sports than I do — much love for not reminding me of that too often, and for always being there to bounce ideas off and talk to about anything.
I’ve never really known how large this next group is, but for anyone who has ever read any of my columns or articles over the years, I most certainly thank you, too. To my faithful readers, a contingent comprised mostly of my good friends — you goons know you are — I love you all for the column suggestions, and the retweets, and the interminable sports banter, and even the times when you told me that I had been slacking.
Finally, for the readers who hit me up on Twitter, or the select few who recognized me from my columnist picture and stopped me on Grounds just to tell me that I write too much about New York sports, I know that I did and I’m sorry. I tried to mix it up as best as I could, but I always wrote what was on my mind and what was in my heart, and, just like that kid way back in sixth grade, I had fun doing it. I hope you had some fun, or laughed, or said, “damn that was weird,” when reading.