Sideline Slants

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Sometimes life takes us to places we never knew existed just a short time before. Such is the recent history of my life.

Born in Ellsworth and raised on a farm on the Russell-Osborne county line, farming is the life I know so well. So how is it that I’m now writing sports stories for a newspaper in Hillsboro?

Well, it’s like this….

Through a mutual friend, I was introduced to the woman who will become my wife just less than a month from now. Modern technology being what it is, e-mail played a vital role in our fledgling relationship.

Although the two-hour drive between home towns posed some interesting challenges, the old saying “love will conquer all” certainly holds true with us. But enough of this fairy-tale romance.

To make a long story short, (which my editor will appreciate), I am now employed by the Free Press. Never have a more kind, willing, able and knowledgeable group been assembled for the purpose of creating a weekly newspaper.

To say that they are at the top of their respective professional fields would be a bold understatement.

Sports has always been a huge part of my life. Growing up with two older brothers in the house, I was always trying to emulate the success they achieved. It’s really difficult though, being the youngest child trying to follow in the footpath of older, and unquestionably more talented brothers.

To put it bluntly, “I didn’t measure up to the standards they set.” Not that I
didn’t try.

Being a part of an athletic team has no noticeable drawbacks that I can see. It teaches a student-athlete how to work with others, as well as instills a sense of responsibility between you and your teammates.

I was never the best player on the team, nor have I ever bragged that I was. I do know that the older I get, the better I was. But not to the point of embellishing my athletic prowess from many years ago.

My point is that every team needs guys like me. They go to practice every day, get beat up by the starters and then come back the next day for some more.

My hometown is Luray, a tiny village of 325 people. Back in the mid ’70s, while I was in high school, we were fortunate enough to be in the state playoffs in football every year, making it to the semifinals two years and the state championship game the other two years.

I can proudly say I was a member of a state championship team, although my contribution to the championship team was quite minimal.

But I wouldn’t trade the experience of being a star on a mediocre team for being a substitute on a championship team for anything. The sense of pride was just as powerful for those of us who didn’t strike fear into others, as it was for the guy who made all-state.

The thrill of being part of a group, whether it be in sports or at your place of employment, or just a group of citizens volunteering to pick up trash to beautify your community, is something that cannot be duplicated by individuals alone.

Throughout my life, I’ve tried most all sports, attempting many, but mastering none. Any sport ranging from table tennis to basketball has been tried by this old ex-farmer. I may not beat you in head-to-head competition, but I’ll at least know what the rules are, the equipment needed and have the ability to give you a good tussle.

Finishing my high school years, I was off to Fort Hays State, where I completed my bachelor’s in business-amazingly, in four years!

Not finding the job I was looking for, I headed back to the family farm, where I would spend the next 21 years-years for which I am very thankful. I learned a lot, especially from my parents about everything from farming to how to be a “good person.”

Eventually, I couldn’t envision myself doing this for the rest of my life, so I began to explore other options. Thus, the city of Hillsboro has gained a new citizen.

Through my pen (or computer), I hope to bring you the flavor of the events that I’m privileged to cover. Getting paid to go to sporting events is something I hadn’t envisioned in the not-so-distant past.

One huge advantage to writing for a newspaper as opposed to being on the television is the public notoriety. I’m not one for being recognized in public. As my good friend Bob Davis, the voice of the Kansas Jayhawks, says, “I have a face made for radio.”

Seriously, my goal in this job is to cover as many sporting events as I possibly can while maintaining a good home life with my new family.

Trying to report on the events without reporting with a bias will be my main goal.

I hope I won’t become every town’s “arm-chair quarterback” and second-guess the decisions that area coaches are paid to make. I know from my limited experience in coaching, it isn’t nearly as easy to do in the heat of battle as it is after you’ve had several minutes, hours, or even days to ponder what decisions to make.

Finally, I want to thank the numerous people I’ve already met and have been so kind to me in this community. I’m sorry I don’t remember all of your names, but I vow to improve in that area.

I really am looking forward to becoming a bigger part of the community, and hope I, in a small way, will enable you to experience the thrill of sports with a clearer understanding of what happened-and give you a way to attend local games from the comfort of your own living room.

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