This is a big week for me.
The reason for that almost entirely relates to Elvis Presley.
First of all, this week marks 20 years since I became a fan of The King. My family and I visited Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, in June 2002. That trip changed my life.
We attended a show called Country Tonite, which highlights a lot of the country music hits from throughout the years. At one point, one of the performers donned a white jumpsuit in the style of Elvis from the 1970s. He wore a big, black wig and dark sunglasses as he performed “Burning Love.”
That was a comedic performance made to get a cheap laugh from the audience but I was enraptured.
Elvis was already a part of my life because one of my great-aunts was a huge fan of his and, inside her house, she had a room filled with Elvis memorabilia. I also regularly heard a few Elvis songs on the country station my dad enjoyed.
But that moment sitting in the Country Tonite theater on June 20-something (I can never remember the exact date) was the moment I officially became an Elvis fan.
My family and I also caught a showing of Lilo & Stitch before we left Pigeon Forge. That film is loaded with Elvis references and songs.
Talk about the stars aligning, right?
I bought the “Elvis’ Gold Records Vol. 5” CD upon returning to Georgia and the rest was history.
This week also marks the release of the new Elvis biopic starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks. The film looks incredible, and there is a noticeable attention to detail that has me giddy with excitement.
I’ve got a ticket to watch the movie Thursday evening and I truly can’t wait. I’ve never felt a higher degree of anticipation for a movie in my life.
Of course, the significance of this week is most marked by my departure from The Oconee Enterprise. This Friday is my final day as sports editor.
After I made that announcement in last week’s edition, I’ll admit I was stunned by the response it received. I can’t believe how many people took to social media and wished me well. There have been several coaches who texted me, too, and some student-athletes reached out as well.
I’m so humbled to know that people appreciated my work. I’ve always been curious how people felt about the job I’ve done here since October 2020. You don’t know how grateful I am to know that there are so many who enjoyed it.
My goal was simple: I wanted to provide the best possible coverage of the high schools in Oconee County.
Looking back on the last year and a half, I feel like I accomplished that goal. I certainly hope I did.
I just want to thank everyone around the county who made this job so enjoyable.
The community support here is unlike anything I’ve experienced before.
My first week on the job, OCHS legend Ben Bridges stopped by The Enterprise office to introduce himself, welcome me to Watkinsville and let me know he’s always there if I need anything. I was blown away.
I quickly met Dale Shedd at PACS, too. Dale is probably the biggest cheerleader in the county (for all schools), and I will miss being around his infectious personality. I always knew that if no one else liked my headlines, Dale would.
Tom and Peggy Reigle, ACAD’s iconic baseball scorekeepers, were such a big help with their regular statistics and emails of support. I’m so happy I got to tell their story in this week’s edition.
Others, such as Jenny Richardson at ACAD, James Dunn and Gavin Harter at PACS and Ty Johnston at NOHS, were there with me on the sidelines for many games. It was nice having them to talk with because, really, the sideline can sometimes be a boring place if you’re out there alone.
Several parents helped in one way or another. The parents at WCA, PACS, ACAD, OCHS and NOHS are so passionate and dedicated to their kids’ athletic exploits. It’s been great seeing their engagement with our articles.
The athletic directors in Oconee are the best. Richard Ricketts, Kevin Petroski, Steve Crouse, Curt Miller and Michael Dowis helped me tremendously. The organization of their programs and the media access are incredible compared to most high schools. None of them get enough credit for what they do.
Many thanks as well go to WCA’s head of school, Jared Clark, and former NOHS principal Philip Brown for always coming over to speak with me anytime I visited their schools, even though they didn’t really have to.
I’ve got to thank all the coaches for their willingness to talk with us, win or lose, and have us work so closely with their teams.
From Greg Vandagriff, Jay Lasley, Mark Oglesby, Billy Dooley, Brandon Jones, Tyler Aurandt, Josh Alexander, Donnie Byrom, Zack Graham, Rick Rasmussen, Thad Burgess, Mike Salvia, Brian Olson, Philip Manning, Erick Willis, Tom Gooch, Ben Grassmyer, Stefan Billmayer, Alex Ventura, Steve Stewart, Rob Melton, Jimmy Phillips, Kayla Yeargin, Kevin Stewart and so many others, this job has been made easy because our coaches are so open to coverage. That is not always the case – trust me.
The people who matter most in this job, however, are the student-athletes.
I can’t even begin to name all of the special kids I’ve encountered with this job.
All of the kids in this county are top notch but it was so fun covering the championship-winning teams of the last two years, in particular PACS football just because it was my first football championship coverage and NOHS baseball because all those guys were a joy to be around.
As a matter of fact, NOHS baseball’s championship series was the final event I covered for The OE. Because my next job is taking me outside sports journalism, that may well be the final sporting event I cover for a long time.
I’ve been in a super nostalgic mood the last few weeks with my impending job change on the horizon. I’ve reflected time and again on all the wonderful memories I made here.
For all of you who played a part in those memories, no matter how big or small, I thank you for making the last year and a half such a blast.
There’s an old Frank Sinatra song that Elvis recorded and performed live several times. This is morbid to think about, I know, but it’s one of several songs I want played at my funeral whenever that time comes.
The song is a reflective one, which certainly fits my current headspace. It talks about all the experiences one encounters in life.
The ups and downs, the good times and the bad. I’ve seen them all here at The OE, and I thank God for all of them. There are certainly things I wish had gone differently but, then again, there are too few of those to mention.
I look back on my time at this paper with a great sense of pride and gratitude. We all enjoyed a lot of special times together thanks to this sports section.
All the wins, all the losses, all the scholarship signings, all the championships – it was so much fun being there to cover every bit of it.
“To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh, no, no not me
I did it my way…”