As dawn opens on Wednesday morning, signaling the start of a new year, so too does a new chapter for the best man I know.
After well over four decades as an official member of the West Virginia workforce, my father will have retired by the end of his shift on Tuesday, ending a 20-plus-year run as a field technician at Frontier. He’ll trade in his work boots for his chest waders, and trust me when I say that no trout in the state is safe.
As so many of you likely did, I went home to my parents’ house for the holidays and while there, a picture caught my eye. It’s one of him and me on the back deck that he built. I’m around 11 years old and am suited up in a Nitro Midget League football uniform. It’s not hard to tell that I’m ready to go. And now, that I’m older, it’s also not hard to tell that he could’ve used a nap.
Before being hired at Frontier, my dad was a strip miner in Logan and Boone Counties for just over 20 years. He ran heavy equipment, specifically a drill, and the job required a drive of an hour-and-a-half one way, a 10 or 12-hour shift, and then the same drive back, five times a week. And yet while doing all that, all while keeping up with cars and home maintenance, I can only recall a handful of my youth football, basketball or baseball games he ever missed.
One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about covering prep sports over the past decade or so is meeting parents and seeing them make some of the same sacrifices for their children. With travel sports booming these days, it can be even more difficult as summertime athletics require hotel rooms, travel and meals on the road, not to mention time off of work.
I think of Jerry Lacy, father of George Washington’s Kalissa Lacy, who attends swim meets, games and practices during soccer, basketball and softball season and AAU practices and games in the summer. His schedule is like that of so many other parents I know. Personally, I can’t imagine.
People often ask how I got into this line of work. I simplify an otherwise complicated answer like this – I got the creativity and the kick in the rear end from my mother and the undying love for sports from my father. I couldn’t have done this or anything else without either one of them.
But as the last 40 years and some change have gone by, my dad’s time and energy for game-watching has dwindled. He always makes time for the Mountaineers, but where once he explained sports to me, I now keep him up to date on everything locally and nationally.
Now, I hope he has the time to get back into sports or just do whatever it is he enjoys. And as one of my numerous New Year’s resolutions (I’ll also take any input on how to drop 30 pounds), I plan to make more time as well.
More for him. More for fishing. More for the conversations we have on the river or the lake that have taught me most of what I know about anything. For all the kids out there that may be reading this, I invite and urge you to do the same.
Recently, I became a stepfather to an 8-year-old girl who isn’t much into sports yet (I did buy her a ball glove for Christmas and I may have been more excited than she was), but still waits every evening for me to read her a chapter from Harry Potter or play a game or watch a movie, no matter how long the work day has been. I’m exhausted and yet there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
And though I’ve started to appreciate what a parent will do for their kids; I’ll never be able to understand the full scope of what he did for my family. If I make a mistake here, we run a correction the next day and I apologize to around 3,000 Twitter followers. For 40 years, if my dad made a mistake, he lost his life and possibly put several others in jeopardy.
Running machines at the edge of a cliff in pitch dark, climbing telephone poles in ice and heat – it’s a wee bit more perilous than any press box I’ve worked in. Even more so than the media conditions on the Class AA-A field at this year’s state soccer tournament, but that’s a whole other column in itself.
My dad worked a job he hated for two-thirds of his life to give me an opportunity to do a job I love. And right now, a lot of you playing sports for your high school and stressing over what to wear to prom, have a parent that is doing the exact same thing. Thank them. Thank them every day.
So, this one is for you, Pops. Thank you, congratulations, I’m proud of you and I love ya.
And if you see Rick Pritt out and about, buy him a Miller Lite, tell him where the fish are biting and drop him a kind, congratulatory word.
He deserves more of them than you can give him and more than this column space could ever hold.
OK, a new year and we’re just going to pretend the opening three Kenny Earl Barker Memorial Locks of the Week were tune-ups. For the record we did go 1-1 last week, winning on LSU and losing late (and controversially) on Ohio State.
One New Year’s bowl in particular caught my eye. Georgia is giving Baylor five points in the Sugar Bowl. Both teams ride solid defenses and both are questionable on offense. The difference here, is that after harboring playoff hopes, Georgia was once again thwarted in the SEC championship game. A year ago, again in the Sugar Bowl and in a similar situation, the Bulldogs were heavily favored, yet beaten by a Big 12 opponent as Texas registered a 28-21 win. I’m thinking it happens again as nothing could cap off Baylor’s epic turnaround story like a major bowl win. I say the Bears come in hungry and they eat. Give me Baylor not just with the points, but straight up. Score – Baylor 29, Georgia 24.