It’s 2018 now, and like most I’m going to take some time to look back at the year 2017 was, and what the New Year might have in store.

2017 was an interesting year for me. When it began I had a well-paying job running a sign and vinyl graphics business in Scottsbluff, and lived with my girlfriend in a wonderful little two-bedroom house in the country, complete with resident goats, chickens, and a very crotchety turkey.

It would seem like we had a good thing going, but the truth is I wasn’t happy with my career, and my girlfriend wasn’t pleased with hers either. 

She wanted to go back to college to get another degree in an entirely different career-field, which would be much easier to accomplish if she didn’t have to commute all the way to Chadron for her classes.

It wasn’t that hard to walk away from where I was working, and I’d been in her position not so long ago when I decided to go to college as a non-traditional journalism student, so I wasn’t about to deny her the same 90 degree life-turn I had been afforded.

So we moved here to Chadron.

 She’s just finished her first semester with flying colors, and I’m finally working in journalism, getting the chance to cover sports, which I love, and working with a great couple of women here at the Record.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I covered my first game, the opening game of the Cards’ football season against Alliance, as a sort of audition for the Record.

It was a great experience, despite the nervous feeling of being thrown into the fire so quickly.   

I have one particular professional sports journalist I follow closely, a writer who covers the Colorado Avalanche, who has been gracious enough to offer me advice whenever I ask it of him. Prior to that first game I picked his brain about what he did to prep for games he covers.

He emphasized the importance of relationship building with coaches and athletes, something that can be a little nerve-wracking when you’re the new guy in town and don’t really know anyone, or any team history.

After that first game, I was relieved when I approached Cardinals’ Coach Mike Lecher and found him to be incredibly inviting and willing to talk throughout the season, even after tough games, and I thank him for that.

It’s been an interesting handful of months here in Chadron since that game, but I’ve already amassed a list of helpful community members like Coach Lecher who I should thank.

I’ll start with members of the journalism community here, beginning with my editor Kerri Rempp. You have no idea how hard this woman works, and how dedicated she is to upholding the fundamental purpose of good journalism in a community.

Her hard work sets the tone in this office, and she’s been a great resource for me. Beyond that, her character, along with that of Julie Pfister, is such that the Record has been a fantastic place to work.

Speaking of resources, there’s none better in this region than Con Marshall. His expertise and his vast knowledge of the history of regional sports is a phenomenal resource for someone like me just getting his start in sports journalism. His helpful comments and tips have been invaluable to me.

Next I’ll thank Justin Haag, who is quick to lend a photo here and there when I’m unable to make an event he might be at. Justin is a great photographer and resource, and I’m thankful he’s always been so quick to help out and generally just be a nice guy.

There’s also Jeremy Anderson, who’s been welcoming and helpful since day one, sharing his knowledge of area high school teams, and going out of his way to have me on his radio show to introduce me to the community.

Along those same lines, I’d also like to thank Jill Paopao of Chadron High School for her kindness. I’ve already shared space on the sidelines taking photographs alongside Jill numerous times. She’s dedicated to supporting Chadron High students, and I can’t understate how important it’s been to have had people go out of their way to make me, the newbie, feel more comfortable. 

Lastly, I’ll send a big thank you to Chadron coaches including Mike Lecher, Coach Loni Watson, Coach Willie Uhing, Coach Jodi Hendrickson, Coach Jamie Slingsby, Coach Jonn McLain, and Coach Eric Calkins. Also Coach Rick Barry of Crawford, Coach Josh Borme of Hay Springs, and all of the other area coaches that have always been helpful and willing to offer stats, or a quote, or answer some dumb question I might have.

As for my most memorable moments of 2017?

As someone who spent most of my youth playing baseball and football, it was easy to get up for those Chadron softball and football games.

Atop all of the best moments though is probably covering the Cardinals girls’ incredible performance at District softball. What a fantastic group of games that was, and seeing the joy and excitement of that team was awesome.

As far as memorable moments with individual athletes, Dana Dunbar gave a great interview after that District performance, as did Kylee Garret. And Logan Tiensvold’s interview after the game with Ogallala, in which he threw a touchdown pass on a trick play, was great as well. I’m betting he wore that smile for a while.

Most memorable though was my interaction with Chadron quarterback Coy Bila after his final game of high school football. It was a tough loss for the Cardinals and the players were understandably taking it hard.

I asked Bila if he would mind taking a few questions, even offered him an out to take the questions later, if he wasn’t feeling up to it. A little to my surprise he composed himself like a pro, took my questions and gave thoughtful answers. After I concluded my questions and turned the recorder off, he stuck out his hand, insisting on a handshake, and thanked me. It came across as a very mature, very respectful gesture.

What some may not have had the opportunity to notice was that Bila was the last Chadron Cardinal to exit the field that day. I watched him as he did it, and noticed that although none of his teammates, or his coaches, or even fans were around, he didn’t sulk away.

He took a couple of steps toward the locker room, and then jogged, not walked, off the field, across the track, and through the gates. I was lucky enough to be in a position to grab a photo, and I’ve shared it here.  

It’s tough to put in the work to reach your goals, and as Chadron, and no doubt, countless other high school athletes learned in 2017, not meeting your goal doesn’t mean you haven’t experienced success or that you shouldn’t take pride in your efforts.

Win or lose, you should run off that field instead of walking.

Often in sports you’ll hear about “the grind.” It’s celebrated as one of the things that separate successful athletes from their peers. It’s the willingness to put in the work on and off the field or court; it’s sacrificing in the present in order to have the hope of being rewarded in the future.

Being a successful high school athlete isn’t easy, it’s a grind to try to be the best, and maturity isn’t something you always find with young, talented, athletes. I’ve had the honor of meeting several local athletes who are that full-package though, and hopefully the lessons they learn while wearing a Cardinals uniform help them later in life, when they have to grind for other goals.

Changing your life for the better isn’t easy. I can say that with certainty, I’ve done it more than once. My girlfriend and I knew uprooting our established life was going to be a grind; it wasn’t going to be comfortable, and the reward for doing so wasn’t going to come quickly.

I’ve said elsewhere that 2017 was the year we got the train moving, and 2018 will be the year we keep the train moving. We’ve put in the work, but there’s work yet to be done.

Thank you again to everyone I’ve mentioned here, to those of you who take the time to read the words we here at the Record put on the page (or the website), and to everyone who has made myself or my girlfriend feel welcome in our new community. It’s appreciated.

Here’s to a great New Year for everyone.