Eighteen years ago today (Thursday), I made my first foray into the world of journalism.
On July 12, 2000, I reported for my first day of work at the Daily American Republic in my hometown of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, then headed out that afternoon to cover Brown-Mabry Post 153’s Senior American Legion baseball game against Paragould, Arkansas, at the local junior college baseball field.
I can still remember the first words to my first story: “Justin Hill should do this more often.” This referred to the fact that Hill, who rarely took the mound, had pitched Post 153 to a victory despite spending little time on the hill that summer.
And so began a journey that has taken me a ton of places — and now has brought me to northwest Wyoming.
I don’t have the space to list every memorable moment from the past 18 years, but I do want to share a couple of the highlights. And a major one would have to be getting to cover the National Football League’s Tennessee Titans.
I had wanted to cover, and take photos of, NFL games from early in my career, but did not think it would ever happen — especially since one magazine I read said I would need several thousand dollars worth of lenses and camera gear to even have a chance, not to mention that I would have to work for a major newspaper to have a shot at obtaining credentials.
A few months after taking the sports editor’s job in Kennett, Missouri, it dawned on me that I lived just three hours and change from Nashville, Tennessee, and the Tennessee Titans. While I was not a Titans fan at the time, I was a fan of their then-rookie quarterback Vince Young, since he had led the University of Texas to the national championship in college football. So with the blessing of my publisher, I requested credentials to shoot the Titans’ game against the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 12, 2006.
They said yes.
I spent a big part of the next 3 1/2 seasons on the sidelines or in the press box at LP Field (as Nissan Stadium was known then). I got to interview several NFL stars, including Larry Fitzgerald, Julius Peppers, Antonio Gates, Chris Johnson, Cortland Finnegan and many more. I got to meet people like former coach Dan Reeves, Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware, Tony Dungy and country singer Sara Evans.
I also got to be a part of one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history when the Titans rallied from a 21-point deficit to shock the New York Giants 24-21 on Nov. 26, 2006. By the time the final minute arrived and the Titans had the ball with a chance to kick a game-winning field goal, the feeling in the stadium was absolutely electric.
But as much as I enjoyed covering the NFL, I enjoy the friends I’ve made along the way even more.
I am still friends with several colleagues from my first job, including Jake Kreulen, Linda Cheek and Paul Davis, the latter having taught me how to be a photographer. I also think of many other friends I’ve made through the years, some of whom are colleagues and some are coaches and athletes I met through game coverage. To say the least, it’s a very long list.
However, the best example of friendship over the years came 10 years ago in Kennett, when a car accident in Arkansas totaled my car, destroyed my camera gear and almost took my life. I did not have the funds to replace my camera gear, especially since I also needed another car to drive. However, several friends from Kennett banded together and donated the money to allow me to buy a new camera body and a new telephoto lens, which allowed me to get back to shooting photos at games when I was back on my feet. Even 10 years later, I am amazed by such generosity.
It has been an amazing journey — and one that I have thoroughly enjoyed, and still do.