COMMENTARY: Sports editor Tim Trower calls it a career
Where to begin?
I guess I’ll start at the end: This is my last day.
After more than 31 years at the Mail Tribune and nearly 44 years since I first walked into a daily newspaper office to take phone calls from high school coaches and chronicle their players’ successes and failures, ups and downs, moments that would forever be cherished and others that would be rued, I will pack up the corner cubicle that has been a second home for decades and mosey into retirement.
When most people retire, maybe they get a lunch, cards, cake. When journalists retire — or even just move to another job — they write about it.
My only other full-time position was at the Albany Democrat-Herald. The day I was hired, the editor pleaded with me to eschew a farewell column when I left. He’d seen two in about six months. Sure, I said.
Well, my pants should be on fire. I’ve now written two.
I’ve known for a while I was headed here, the idea of calling it a career taking root last winter around the holidays. The pandemic had as much to do with it as anything. That, and age 64 closing on me like a distance runner with a killer finishing kick.
Sports — like nearly everything else — were shut down in the middle of March 2020. So many times I was asked, without them, what do sports people cover? Good question.
We had COVID-19-related stories, of course, and updates of the governor’s announcements and what it meant in our corner of the world. We delved into the many changes to the OSAA calendar and school schedules. We dug up whatever else we could, be they features on local kids figuring out ways to stay in shape, or on those wrapping up college careers. Sometimes we sifted through archives to relive fabulous stories of yore.
Deadline pressure vanished. Free time sprouted. Well, not so much free time as different time.
In my case, it was a glimpse of what was next. Sports happen at night, on weekends, during holidays. When they happen, we work.
That changed during the pandemic, and it provided time to consider a future in which I spend more time with my wife, Cathy, and friends, doing things I wasn’t able to so many times before.
Eventually, the question became not if, but when. When I told my boss my plans, no one knew if high school sports would resume this school year. It was late January, and there was little indication restrictions would ease enough to allow competition.
That became my time clock. If they started, I’d remain until they finished.
After the strangest prep sports campaign in history, here we are.
So, what do you say when you’re saying goodbye?
I’ve done numerous stories on others retiring. Those seemed easy. The material I had was limited to what they chose to share. In this case, I’m a bit close to the subject. Winnowing notes in my head from a long and exceedingly rewarding career is the challenge.
A friend from across the land — we were at an American Press Institute conference together the previous century — posted a picture on Facebook of a blank computer screen, the inference being he was afflicted by writer’s block.
I offered time-honored advice to help kick-start the process: What does the reader most need to know? Or, if you’re casually telling the story to a friend, where do you start? Or, go pop a cold beer and get back to it later.
The tricks of the trade, I guess.
It’s funny the motivation we derive from simple things. When I start a story, the first thing I do is put my byline on it. Even this one, which as a column won’t carry a typical byline in print. I’ve never regarded my byline as merely a stamp of attribution; it’s always been a reminder that it’s my work, my responsibility, that I need to do right by it, take pride in it.
I’ve thought a lot about what to write here. In my head, there were great stories to retell, funny stories, witticisms galore, much frivolity. Stories that came together like art, others, sadly, that did not. I could fill the entire section with recollections and still leave something out I shouldn’t. It’s been that kind of a ride.
But when I began writing it, when my byline was in place, the words were unexpectedly tinged with solemnity.
I’ve been a journalist for a long time, writing for even longer. I took it to heart when a Corvallis High teacher determined I had an aptitude for the craft and steered me to the yearbook staff. A year later, my first newspaper experience came in community college. That teacher saw through my baffle-‘em-with-B.S. approach to homework I didn’t fully understand and is the reason my life took the direction it did.
Journalism is more than a profession, it’s a devotion. Accuracy, fairness, accountability, respect for the people you’re writing about, these values matter when your work goes out to tens of thousands of people each day.
The impending finality of my involvement struck me this week as I shared my news with more people; as I went through my desk and viewed old clippings and photos I’d long since forgotten about but at one time thought worthy of saving; as I cleaned out notebooks and pens, cards and books, takeout menus and petrified packets of Taco Bell sauce.
If I were writing about someone else, there would be obvious questions: When you reflect on your career, what comes to mind? What are the best stories you’ve written? Where do you go from here?
I’ve reflected a lot on relationships I’ve forged, with colleagues, coaches, athletes and others in the Rogue Valley sports arena. Too many to mention. I covered kids in the early ‘90s who now have college-aged kids. I’ve seen a lot of coaches come and go, and some are still around who have been decades-long friends.
My newsroom cohorts, and others throughout the company, are as good and hard working of people as one could hope to be associated with. When I leave, there will still be two who started in the old brick building across the street, before it was torn down and replaced with our “new” digs in the early ‘90s.
From the start, March 20, 1990, my work at the Mail Tribune has run the gamut: primarily a writer, then a page designer, then a little bit of everything. I became sports editor in the fall of 1997 and gradually picked up beats.
I took over golf coverage when Randy Hammericksen, who hired me, tragically passed from an aneurysm in 2000 at age 53. When Don Hunt stepped away a half-dozen years later, I picked up the track and cross country duties.
As for my best stories? Two things come to mind, pieces I wrote about my mom and dad after they passed. I know, a cop-out, right?
Mom’s wasn’t for print. It was a personal letter to her, and fairly heart-wrenching, that was read at her service. No work has touched me more.
Dad’s was fun, a bit celebratory, and much of it revolved around our time together on the golf course. It was one of my “Tee Talk” columns.
Next on the agenda? Nothing major. Lots of golf — my short game needs an overhaul and I’m told I need to keep my left arm straight on takeaway — and trips to see family and friends. Cathy will see to it that domesticity is not, well, swept under the rug.
Kris Henry, who has been on our staff since 1998 and knows the local sports scene better than anyone, takes over as sports editor. It’ll be a shock to have someone in that cubicle who is organized; I flew by the seat of my pants so much I should have miles.
He and reporter Danny Penza, and whomever else they bring on board, will keep things in tip-top shape.
With that, I bid adieu.
It’s time to pop a cold beer.
With that, Tim Trower is retired and no longer the sports editor of the Mail Tribune. Direct inquiries to his replacement, Kris Henry, at email@example.com