I still get asked by fans if I actually get paid to cover sporting events, especially considering they were charged admission.

Watching games is something I’ve done all my life whether I was getting paid or not, but for the past 38 years I’ve been on the company dime here at the Kennebec Journal. Of course, I was getting paid to report on these games as well as write columns, features and cover breaking events.

For me, nothing compares to the thrill and challenge of sitting in front of a blank screen and creating something someone else might be interested in reading. The daily writing fix is what keeps many of us in this business coming back. So does the interaction we sports writers have with coaches, athletes, fans and the general public. Being a neutral observer has given me a different perspective on those caught up in the frenzy of a game or championship. Seldom does any event in any of the towns we cover here at the KJ and Morning Sentinel have the ability to unite these communities as a winning athletic team.

Sports is often referred to as the toy department of journalism because it’s mostly fun, but at the same time we take these toys quite seriously whether they represent a high school game or a World Cup soccer match.

It’s with regret that I’ll no longer be part of this as I move into retirement, at least from the newspaper business. To paraphrase Douglas MacArthur, old sports writers never die, they just run out of cliches.

The newspaper business has changed greatly in just the past few years. When I first began, we were still typing stories on typewriters and submitting them to a compositor, although computers (bad ones in those days) quickly replaced them. Today reporters all have iPhones and laptops and tweet as they go so everyone knows what’s happening in real time or as close to it as we can get. The days of everyone heading across the street and having a beer after work are long gone — although a few of us still adhere to that policy a couple of times a week.

The newsroom remains a fascinating place to work, albeit quieter than it used to be. Reporters and editors from all over the country and beyond come and go with regularity bringing their own perspective to the job as well as their sports allegiances. Journalism, these days, is low on the scale of admired professions, in many cases because readers don’t agree with what is written, in some because they believe it’s inaccurate. What I’ve seen in my experiences are reporters, editors and photographers who go the extra mile to get their stories right, work odd hours for relatively low pay, and care a lot about the people and communities they serve.

I’ve made great friends, past and current, with many of the people here and in Waterville. Over the years the staff has gotten together for noon-time basketball, played golf, touch football and in softball leagues, just to name a few of the activities we share.

Of the many events I’ve covered three stand out because of unexpected outcomes and the circumstances surrounding them. First there was the Cony High School boys basketball team’s winning the New England championship in 1978. This free-wheeling team was a blast to watch and on its way to the final, beat a Providence Central team that had won 77 straight games. Then there was Mark Plummer’s epic battle against Tiger Woods at the U.S. Amateur in Newport, R.I. in 1995. Plummer charmed the crowd and ESPN crew with his Maine accent and unorthodox golf swing. And at 43 years old, he took young Tiger to the 18th hole of match play in the semifinals. The Gardiner Area High School football victory against Bangor in the Eastern Maine Class A finals in 1997 was somewhat unexpected. The Tigers lost to the Rams in the regular season and had to travel 80-plus miles north in a blizzard to get their revenge. These weren’t gentle flakes falling on a cool November evening. It was snowing sideways in 30-mile-an-hour winds and the field was covered in white. Gardiner won, thanks in part to the 800 or so fans who braved the treacherous drive north.

There’s a list of people I’d like to thank and acknowledge, beginning with my wife and our two sons who coped with my crazy working hours for most of their lives.

I began working here in 1976, thanks to then State House reporter Dan Simpson who put in a good word for me. When I turned in the story to my first game (Oak Hill-Maranacook football), Steve Solloway was the sports editor and Dave Byron a sports writer. Byron moved to Florida and Solloway took a job in Portland where he still writes. A line of sports editors, which somewhere in there included myself for five years, followed. They included Paul Betit, Jerry Lauzon, Joe Halpern, Ben Sturtevant, Scott Martin and currently Bill Stewart — all good guys who know their stuff and did a lot with a small staff.

I was encouraged along the way by several city or managing editors, whose titles changed often, going way back to Ray Siegler and Jim Milliken and extending to Scott Gibson, Soren Nielson, David Offer and Eric Conrad. The sports staff, of which I include the Morning Sentinel, has been relatively stable and good. Some have gone on to other jobs while others have remained in the business. In Waterville some of them include Tom Lizotte, Ernie Clark, Bob Williams and Colin Hickey. The current staff there includes Matt DiFilippo and Travis Lazarczyk, friends who have been there long enough for me to learn how to spell their last names.

The Augusta or KJ crew has included Joe Grant, Deb Shaw, Dave Greely and the inimitable Bill Porter. Many of those who became sports editors cut their teeth on the daily grind, including Betit, Lauzon, Sturtevant, Martin and Stewart. As I leave, Evan Crawley has come on board to replace me as assistant sports editor while another sports writer will soon be hired.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the desk staff, of which there have been dozens. These people gather information, edit stories, fill scoreboard pages, answer phones and are usually the brunt of criticism from readers which had nothing to do with them. Sandra Pooler, Dave Dyer, Rick Siracusa and Sarah St. Pierre operate behind the scenes and are usually up to their eyebrows in work.

To my colleagues in Lewiston, Portland, Bangor, Brunswick and at newspapers elsewhere around the state, thanks for your help. It’s a tight knit community where information is shared rather than withheld, especially on deadline. It’s been fun sharing events, big and small, as well.

To the coaches and athletic directors, thanks for all your cooperation. Few know how many hours you put in for so little recognition. I wish a few of your critics could walk in your shoes for just a day. More importantly, you’ve inspired generations of kids who speak of your impact on their lives long into adulthood.

To the parents, that much maligned group, none of this would be possible without your support — transporting kids, manning snack shacks, raising funds and cheering on your kids and their teams. Many of you have been coaches yourselves and have laid the groundwork for future success. For every problem parent there are at least 50 good ones we seldom here about.

Finally to the athletes, thanks for sharing your thoughts after a win or a loss, and letting me be a small part of your lives. It’s been a blast.

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @GaryHawkinsKJ

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