Realizing it was my last game to shoot for the university, I held back tears as I walked from the March Madness stage to the press conference area.
As I listened to head coach Joe Golding talk about the experience and the three seniors express gratitude for the program, the tears started to flow.
I couldn’t tell you exactly why, but looking back on four years of coverage – wins and losses, empty stadiums and full ones– made me feel lucky to end it on the biggest stage of collegiate athletics.
When I transitioned from a high school whose identity was so rooted in how well our sports teams performed – state championships and athletes like Myles Turner – I was shocked when I came to ACU and most of the chairs were empty.
To be blunt, none of the teams were great (or winning, for that matter), but the senior class now arrived in the middle of the Div. I transition, so I expected the common excuse for skipping was how boring it was to watch each team lose so often. I’m pretty sure the chapel bat had more consistent attendance than the student body, except for when SGA was giving away iPads and flat-screen TVs.
I quickly found a way to hop on the Optimist staff and cover games, giving me a way to continue doing what I loved. Attending the games of each sport was an easy passion, especially because I got to do it alongside great friends.
The first football game I covered was at Shotwell Stadium against Southeastern Louisiana, the last of the season. Of course, the stands were relatively empty, but there was such a thrill getting to be back on the field with the best seat in the house, experiencing the emotion of the sidelines firsthand.
Not every experience was as glorious as that. It got boring shooting the same games every single week, and sometimes I dreaded spending my evenings in Moody watching the Wildcats take the L. But I did it because I knew how unique the ACU experience is.
An experience so unique, in fact, that I’ve gotten to be part of historical moments in the university’s history. To administration and the student athletes: thank you for letting me leave my mark.
Thank you for the opportunity to shoot basketball games, so that I could take photos of coach Goodenough cutting down the net with her team in our last year of postseason ineligibility.
Thank you for the opportunity to shoot tennis matches so I could take pictures of Paul Domanski excitedly yelling after a victory, only to eventually win my first award working at the newspaper – a moment that truly affirmed that the work I was doing would pay off.
Thank you for the opportunity to witness the transition from Shotwell to Wildcat Stadium, so that I could cover a historical change, both within athletics and on campus as a whole.
Thank you for the opportunity to cover the football team’s incredible fight against Baylor (by far the most fun I’ve ever had shooting a game), so that we could highlight the drastic improvements of the program.
Thank you for the opportunity to drive 14 hours in a day to experience the soccer team defeat Stephen F. Austin in the conference championship, and then get to cover their appearance against Baylor a week later.
Thank you to Allen Ward, for making me (and us… I’ll speak for Max too) feel seen, valued and talented in the very short time we’ve gotten to know you, and thank you to Lance Fleming for putting up with four years of annoying emails and ridiculous mistakes, and offering so many opportunities that no other college students come close to experiencing.
And now, thank you for letting me close out my senior year in happy tears as I walk off the court, pack up my gear and hope I find a place that offers a fraction of the ACU experience.