Turning the page on a career also comes with fond memories

 
 
Updated 9/10/2018 5:51 PM

I feel a little like Babe Dahlgren.

For those of you not familiar with Babe Dahlgren, he was the guy who replaced Lou Gehrig at first base for the New York Yankees in 1939 after Gehrig had appeared in 2,130 consecutive major league baseball games.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

For the past 20-plus years Aaron Gabriel has directed the high school sports department for the Daily Herald and I have toiled, graciously, as the Fox Valley Sports Editor.

But that's all changing now as Aaron has decided to pursue the next chapter in his professional life. His departure for the final time from our newsroom this past Saturday night was a bittersweet moment for me. Over these 20-plus years Aaron was not only my boss but he became a friend, and more importantly, a mentor.

The Daily Herald has now entrusted me with the job of high school sports editor, meaning I'll be leaving my Fox Valley comfort zone to oversee and direct our coverage of 86 high schools in five counties. It's a task that still, at times, has me saying "Wow."

But before I put on this new hat, I need to take some of your time today to reflect on more than 20 years of covering high school sports in the Fox Valley, which I will continue to call home, which will always be home.

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I could probably fill every page of today's sports section with those memories. Heck, I might be able to fill today's entire paper.

This is not about me, though. It's about the people and the teams I've had the privilege of writing about all these years -- the people who made this job so much easier.

Where to start? And how not to leave anyone out? Well, where to start is easy. We'll start from the beginning. But how not to leave anyone out is as tough a challenge as any.

The beginning of my Daily Herald career was as a freelancer in 1995. Thrown into the fire with former columnist Jim Wojciechowski my first, and one of my fondest memories, was covering the 1995-96 Elgin High girls basketball team on its route to placing second in the state finals. The dynamic duo (Leslie Schock and Melissa Parker), their coaches (Lee Turek and Mark Sharf), and several others from that team have become good friends over the years and covering that team will always hold a special place in my heart.

There are many other special teams I had the honor of covering. Cary-Grove's great run in football from 1997-99, a time when we at the Herald worked hard to plant our foot in the Fox Valley. The run the Hampshire girls basketball team had from 2001 through 2004 that resulted in second and third place finishes at state. The second place finish at state in 2005 by the Bartlett girls basketball team, followed by the Hawks' third-place state finish in 2012. Cary-Grove's great girls volleyball run from 2009 to 2011, which included a state championship in 2009. Burlington Central's third-place finish at state softball in 2009. And, most recently, St. Edward's third-place finish in girls basketball in 2017 as well as Larkin's boys basketball team taking fourth place at state in 2018, which very well could be the final state tournament I cover.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

People always ask me what I have the most fun covering. I covered every sport at one time or another but girls basketball and softball became my favorites. The Charger Classic Christmas Tournament at Dundee-Crown has provided so many great memories. And my association with the people at D-C, from former coach Joe Komaromy, to current coach Sarah Miller, to former AD Dick Storm to current AD Steve Gertz has been very special.

I've worked with some really great people on my staff in the Fox Valley and those people helped me do my job more than I can say. From Mike Miazga to Travis Miller to now, our staff of John Lemon and Jerry Fitzpatrick, have all been so much fun to work with.

We always try to do compelling and insightful work and one of my fondest memories of a project we did was our special section in 1999-2000 on 100 years of basketball at Elgin High. That was a real team effort and one of the sections I've saved and savored over the years.

But now I move on to a new position, one in which I will strive to continue helping produce the best daily high school sports sections we can.

And while the moment may still be somewhat surreal, the reality is this is my final column written specifically for our Fox Valley readers.

It's been a slice, folks. It's been 21 years that I'll never forget. Thanks, to all the athletes, coaches, and ADs (and their administrative assistants) but mostly to all the readers who have made it so much fun.

jradtke@dailyherald.com

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