As I stare at this blank Pages document on my laptop, the memories of the last four years pour out — making it impossible for me to figure out where to start with this column.
For those who don’t follow me on Twitter or aren’t my friends on Facebook — shame on y’all, by the way — I announced some personal news that I hadn’t exactly planned for: I was leaving the Observer for the proverbial greener pastures.
After 16 incredible years in journalism, I’m hanging up my press pass — my last official day was Tuesday, July 6 — and trading it in for something similar, but different. A couple of weeks ago, I accepted an offer to become the chief photographer/photo editor/photo archivist for the city of Greensboro back home in North Carolina, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll be shooting a variety of things, including sports — so if you see a white guy passed out on the floor during the ACC basketball tourney, that’s most definitely me.
Despite the excitement, however, I’ve also had time between writing and packing to reflect on everything that’s happened since I arrived in Central Florida back in June 2017.
When I popped up at our sister paper in Winter Park — #RIP — I knew no one. I had just finished an 11-month job search following the completion of my master’s and was just excited someone took a chance on me.
I remember how fast the friendships grew for me, and the newsroom of former Associate Editor Tim Freed and current Sarasota Black Tie Editor Harry Sayer and I was magic. On edit days, we would do our work, but during downtime, we would constantly crack jokes and fill out incredibly important brackets — like best Pop Tart flavor or best animal. On a related note — and this is aimed solely at Tim and Harry — no way should that giraffe have beaten the sloth in the final … I want a recount.
Of course, Tim and Harry weren’t the only good folks I’ve met during my time here. Before I made the move to Winter Garden, I had already befriended the entire staff at the paper here, and they’ve been a big reason why this place has been so good to me.
The constant back-and-forth with Associate Editor Danielle Hendrix over who the true 2017 football national champions were — it was Alabama by the way, Roll Tide — and quoting music lyrics with Community Editor Amy Quesinberry until we broke out into a jam session in the middle of production day was the best. Former Sports Editor Steven Ryzewski would talk sports with me all day, and former staff writer Eric Gutierrez and I would geek out over Star Wars like it was our religion.
Then there’s Editor/Publisher Mike Eng, Design Editor Jess Eng, Designer Lindsay Cannizzaro and the best ad team on the planet that’s made up of Cyndi Gustafson, Iggy Collazo, Allison Brunelle and Ann Carpenter. Throw them into the batch, and it’s easily the best media outlet I’ve ever had to the privilege of working for.
And then, of course, there is you — our loyal audience and community. Without y’all, I wouldn’t be able to do the things that I’ve enjoyed doing these past few years. Seriously, without y’all, I wouldn’t be getting paid, so props to y’all on helping me avoid living in a cardboard box.
Now, there’s way too many folks to thank in the community — though Thomas Lightbody gets a special shoutout for saving my butt on a ghastly number of occasions to the point that I owe him enough drinks to drown a small village in Europe — but I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate the time you spent letting me bother you with phone calls and photos.
You let me into your homes to sit down and talk, and you let me onto the sidelines of your schools to wildly run around as I took photos and notes for stories.
And though I’ve experienced some truly remarkable moments — from state title runs to stories of obstacles overcome — it was always the small things that I loved the most. Seeing my photos and stories hang in your homes, or used as your profile photo on social media, is something that money can’t buy. It’s part of what makes the sports community here in West Orange County so special.
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to experience those moments firsthand anymore as your sports editor, but I’ll be following from afar — trust me. And as the new guy comes in to replace me, I know you’ll appreciate him the way you did me.
With that said, adieu, my friends, and may the force be with you.