Lived the dream: 25 years of memories created thrill ride of a job

My first day at the Daily Journal was Jan. 21, 1991.

Nervous, apprehensive and a bit scared, I had no idea what to expect that morning. But I had my first assignment within minutes of walking in the door.

That night, I would be covering the Pacers’ home game. The “Showtime” L.A. Lakers were in town.

Instantly, I knew this was going to be a very cool job. Had no idea how long it would last. Two, three, five years, maybe? But I just knew it would be a thrill ride.

More than a quarter century has passed since that first assignment, and I couldn’t have been more right.

Literally, I’ve lived my dream.

Many times over.

Crammed between that Pacers-Lakers game and today, my very last at the Daily Journal, were opportunities to cover events I never dreamed of covering; meet people I never dreamed of meeting; experience things I never dreamed of experiencing; and become part of a community I never dreamed of becoming part of.

Where to begin?

A former bus boy, dishwasher, shelf-stocker, day-laborer, factory worker, drive-thru window operator, fast-food shift manager, I came to the Daily Journal with a simple goal: Don’t lose the job. It was my first at a daily paper, my first in sports writing and my first — and probably last — chance to have a career outside of the aforementioned occupations.

Somehow, someway, thanks to the patience, guidance and mentoring of some of the very best journalists in the state, I was able to make it work. And by extension, live my dream.

Along the way, there were IU basketball games and NCAA Tournaments. There were PGA Championships and Indy 500s. There were NBA Finals and Super Bowls. There were trips to Miami, New York City, Cleveland, St. Louis, Chicago and Washington D.C. There were one-on-one interviews with NFL stars, NBA legends, MLB managers, racecar drivers, WNBA stars, NFL owners, NBA owners and NFL and NBA team presidents.

There was the opportunity to cover Larry Bird as a player, coach and executive. And the chance to cover most of Reggie Miller’s career with the Pacers — and all of Peyton Manning’s with the Colts.

I even had the chance to play Tamika Catchings in a game of H.O.R.S.E. She shut me out and politely invited me to play again anytime I wanted (never took her up on it, though).

I also had the opportunity to finally learn how to play Wii Nintendo. Roy Hibbert taught me one afternoon in his living room.

But there has been much more to this job than that. Not the least of which is having been an eyewitness to many, if not most, of Johnson County’s biggest sporting events of the past 25 years. A tiny, tiny sampling includes:

The Franklin College men’s basketball team’s remarkable 118-110 win at Grace College in 1992, which launched it to the NAIA national tournament in Stephenville, Texas. Still the best basketball game I’ve ever seen (and I got to go to Texas).

The Center Grove softball team’s win against Northview in the 1995 state final, the first of five state championships for the Trojans under veteran coach Russ Milligan.

The Center Grove girls basketball team’s victory against Valparaiso in the 1996 state final, the second-to last finals in the single-class tournament.

Franklin wrestler Bryce Hasseman and Whiteland’s Jason Fryar winning state championships on the same night in 2000, ushering in an era of a steady county presence at the IHSAA state meet.

Tiny Indian Creek, in 2011, having three wrestlers in title matches of the state finals — and producing champions in Ethan Raley and Trey Reese

The Center Grove football team’s epic — or rather, miracle — comeback against Carmel in the 2008 Class 5A state championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

And most recently, the Center Grove football team’s 28-16 win against Penn in the 2015 state final, capping an unbeaten season and making the Trojans the first undefeated champion in Class 6A.

Apart from event coverage, the truly special thing about covering sports in this county is, it has a long, rich, fascinating history, carved remarkable men and women in sports across the spectrum. I could go on for hours on that topic alone. If you live in this community, there is much to be proud of. A few things that immediately come to mind are:

The Franklin Wonder Five. Never tire of that story.

Franklin’s George Crowe, the state’s first Mr. Basketball who went on to play nine years in Major League Baseball. Never tire of his story, either.

Whiteland’s Ray Crowe, George’s brother, who coached the legendary Crispus Attucks state championship basketball teams of the 1950s.

Franklin’s Jon McGlocklin, who played 11 NBA seasons and won a championship in 1971 with the Milwuakee Bucks.

Greenwood’s Tom and Dick Van Arsdale, both three-time NBA All-Stars.

Whiteland’s Bob Glidden, an NHRA drag racing legend.

Whiteland’s Ruth Callon, who founded women’s varsity athletics and Franklin College and was a champion of girls and women’s sports in Indiana.

Franklin College’s Jenny Johnson-Kappes, who coached multiple sports and is a Slow Pitch Softball Hall of Fame player.

Franklin resident Gene White, a longtime women’s basketball coach Franklin College and starting center on the 1954 Milan Miracle basketball team.

Truly, I could linger indefinitely about the county’s tradition. I knew nothing about it 25 years ago, but it has become one of my favorite topics. There is much more to it than what I’ve outlined here, but you get the idea.

Johnson County is a special place, with seven terrific high schools, a terrific college, terrific people and a terrific newspaper. I know, because I’ve spent nearly half my life close to all of it.

As I suspected it would be, the job has been a thrill ride. From covering the “Showtime” Lakers to Michael Jordan comebacks to Super Bowls to high school state finals to writing about extraordinary recreational athletes, of all ages, men and women, working here has been exponentially more than I ever hoped or expected.

I got to do what few people do. I got to live my dream.