This transition tough after 31⁄2 years covering sports

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Whether you’re a baseball player who throws that final pitch, a basketball player who takes a final shot or a football player who gains his final yard, change is inevitable.

That time has arrived in my life with the Free Press. After 31⁄2 years as a sports and feature writer, I will be moving on.

My time here has produced more friends and memories than I thought possible in such a short span.

My primary sports duties revolved around Tabor College and Marion High School. I’ve witnessed the thrill of victory and agony of defeat from a sideline perspective few people ever enjoy.

And did I ever enjoy it!

Beginning this job in December 2002, I dove right into Bluejay basketball. Since then, I’ve seen all but three of Tabor’s KCAC basketball games over four seasons, and most of the non-conference slate. Twice, icy weather kept me home; the other time I broke a 42-year streak of bachelorhood.

Along the way, I’ve covered a pair of women’s national basketball tournaments in Sioux City, Iowa; made a trip to Point Lookout, Mo., for the men’s basketball national tournament; and made two trips to Sioux Falls, S.D., and one to Alva, Okla., for football playoff games.

After witnessing nearly 200 Bluejay basketball games, I’ve concluded college coaches are among the most complex and intense individuals I’ve ever met.

Their passion for teaching the game is inspiring. Even more impressive, coaches Rusty Allen and Don Brubacher are passionate about teaching the game of life to their student-athletes.

I appreciate their willingness to accommodate my request for post-game interviews when I know they’d rather do almost anything else.

I’ve had the privilege of working with so many great coaches at Tabor: Amy Ratzlaff, Dave Kroeker, Karol Hunt, John Sparks, Lonnie Isaac, Jim Moore, Tina King, Tim McCarty and Mike Gardner.

The opportunities I had to talk with coaches apart from post-game interviews always gave this lifelong sports fan a sense of pride. I was a kid in a candy store. Along the way, I feel I’ve gained friendships I’ll cherish for many years.

It was a blast to stand along the sidelines and take photos, collect statistics and get the inside scoop from coaches-and to feel the emotions that come with winning and losing.

I was fortunate to cover this beat at a time when Tabor College athletics thrived. I’m one of the few Bluejay fans who has known nothing but phenomenal success on the gridiron.

Along the way, I’ve befriended numerous athletes and many of their parents, and I’ve benefited from the support staff in the athletic office. My thanks to Kathy Epp, Clara Frick, Layne Frick and Sara Cook for all their help.

When I moved to Hillsboro, I barely knew Tabor College existed. As I leave this job, I think of myself as one of Tabor’s biggest fans.

I’ve also made numerous friends at Marion, where I haven’t missed a football game in three years.

Coach Thierolf, I believe, would have been a blast to play for while he squeezed every ounce of ability out of my not-so-athletic body. My thanks to him and other coaches I’ve worked with-Ostmeyer, Enos, Chisholm, Waner, Adkins, Dick, Spoonts and Craft-for allowing me to be a part of your seasons.

I’ve also come to appreciate coaches too numerous to mention at Canton-Galva, Goessel, Peabody-Burns and Centre. You know who you are and I thank you for your help.

Beyond the sports beat, I’ve interviewed many fascinating people and made many friends.

From riding with Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Jeff White to flying the pipeline with Marion’s Dick McLinden, I’ve experienced numerous opportunities and thrills on this job.

And it produced more friends than anyone should be allowed to have, but whom I won’t forget.

The most important friends are the ones with whom I worked every day.

Joel Klaassen and Don Ratzlaff took a monumental risk hiring me off the farm with absolutely no writing experience, no knowledge of how Macintosh computers work, no idea how digital cameras function and no clue how to compose a story.

I like to think it worked out pretty well for all of us.

With his uncanny knowledge for what was pertinent to a story and what may have been ramblings, Don edited my stories into something a lot of people looked forward to reading.

I’ve also had great co-workers: Cynthia Martens, Elaine Ewert, Paula Emerson, Tina Groening, Jerry Engler, Don Wipf, Aleen Ratzlaff, Lisa Mayfield, Angela Jost, Laura Campbell, Nicole Suderman and Kevin Hower, plus the encouragement of Free Press sports columnist Joe Kleinsasser.

I hope I’ve put as many smiles on your faces as you have on mine. Although I know our daily interactions will be a thing of the past, I hope our friendships will live on.

I’d also like to thank my wife, Glenda, for putting up with my absences all those nights I was “working” games. She embodies the adage, “Behind every good man, there’s a good woman.”

Last but not least, I’d like to thank the readers of the Hillsboro Free Press. I appreciated your comments, compliments and constructive criticism. You helped me be a better writer.

So, as the final key stroke nears on my not-always-so-trusty keyboard, I look forward to facing my next challenge in life.

I hope my successor will desire to cover sports as much as I did, enjoy it as much as I did and be accepted as well as I was.

Thanks to everyone for making me who and what I was for the past three-plus years.

You were all truly something to write about.

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