My life changed dramatically on April 10, 1995, my first day at the Belleville News-Democrat.
I don't remember exactly what I did that day, but I knew I was in a good spot.
Now, as I complete my final day at the newspaper, I wonder where all the time has gone. It's a blur, particularly after two weeks of emotional highs and lows on the road to this point.
Covering sports in the metro-east has been an absolute delight. I can't begin to describe the things that have happened. I can't even remember most of them.
People often ask what I enjoyed covering the most. It's a difficult question to answer.
It was an adrenaline rush to cover the Cardinals in dozens of playoff games and two World Series (2006, 2011), the Rams in a Super Bowl (2000), the University of Illinois basketball team in the NCAA Tournament championship game (2005), the Major League Baseball All-Star Game (2009) and the Mark McGwire vs. Sammy Sosa home-run derby (1998).
The Super Bowl assignment was cold and crazy. An ice storm had slammed Atlanta two days before the game. I remember seeing four car accidents in the downtown area in less than 15 minutes. I'm pretty sure one of the vehicles slammed into a Waffle House.
Since I had cut my teeth on high school and college coverage from 1985-95 at the defunct Suburban Journals, I always enjoyed that perhaps more than anything else.
Basketball season always was special. The season was long, but that was the beauty of it. You had time to see many teams as their years unfolded like chapters in a book.
One thing never changed about basketball. If it was a gray, drab Friday and I wasn't feeling much like working as I got into my car to drive to the game, once I arrived in the gym, my energy level soared. I suppose it was the excitement of the competition, the smell of the popcorn, the buzz of the fans. By the end of the evening, I was re-energized.
In recent years, my son Ryan, now 13, has attended games with me. That added a new dimension to Friday nights. He proved to be a student of the game and a wonderful co-worker, as more than once I endorsed his help with holding my tape recorder or iPad.
I've even dragged my daughter, Anna, who turned 11 on Friday, to various sporting events.
I'll miss the Collinsville-Prairie Farms Holiday Classic, formerly the Collinsville-Schnucks Holiday Classic. I have attended the past 29. I'm sure I'll be there for No. 30, but in a different capacity.
I can't come close to recognizing all the people who have helped me along the way. I've been blessed the last two weeks to hear from so many of them. Bittersweet.
Many of the people who meant so much to me were, of course, co-workers. Joe Ostermeier hired me on a Tuesday morning in March. That night, I drove to Carbondale to cover a super-sectional basketball game. I felt like I was flying.
A little more than two months earlier, my dad had died. I remember calling my mom to tell her about the new job, and the first thing she said was how proud Dad would have been.
Mom is still living in Decatur, my hometown. She is 90, still smiling but battling memory issues. I have not yet told her my time at the News-Democrat has come to an end.
The early years at the News-Democrat were so much fun. My "teammates" in the sports department were quality people — Ostermeier, Steve Korte, Norm Sanders, Rod Kloeckner, Dean Criddle and Brian Henry. The man I replaced, Bill Etling, was a gem, too.
We still talk about it when some or all of us are together, but there was never any need to have a sports staff meeting because we all knew what the other person was doing. The cohesion was amazing. Any disagreements we might have were quickly swept aside.
On Friday nights after football games and deadline, we typically gathered at a local watering hole and talked about what had transpired. Then we went back to work the next day.
That was before the Internet. Getting up to read the paper and enjoy a cup of coffee was a treat. Everyone on the BND sports staff enjoyed getting information to the readers.
For me, that always stayed the same. The readers mattered the most. I enjoyed doing one story, then moving on to the next one and the one after that. There was always something to write about, and the BND let me do it year after year after year.
My wife of almost 25 years, Nancy, has been patient and supportive through it all. No sportswriter has ever succeeded without an understanding wife.
As for the future, I'm not sure what is next. I feel I have more to offer.
It will be strange not being associated with the BND. And it will be strange not seeing you, the reader, in the community. It was good to have you along for the ride.