This is it, folks. I’m leaving The Sanford Herald. It’s been fun working with and serving all of you. Thank you for the opportunity. It was incredible. Please don’t forget about ol’ Ryan!
Here is the final column that was published in the Sunday, Nov. 7 edition of The Sanford Herald.
The odometer of my 2008 Blue Chevy Cobalt currently reads 64,569 miles.
Subtract about 20,000 miles for useless trips to Greensboro, many trips home to Durham and several fun trips to Waxhaw (which is near Monroe in case you’re wondering) and that leaves 44,659 miles.
A lot of those miles were driven to give you readers the best local coverage possible from Lee County, Southern Lee, Grace Christian and Lee Christian athletics.
Some of those miles were spent going to Broadway Optimist, Northview Optimist and Tramway Athletic Park to cover several little league baseball and softball tournaments. A few miles were spent driving back and forth to the Sanford Municipal Golf Course to see three consecutive Brick Capital golf tournaments.
Many miles were spent driving to and from The Herald office to all of the home and away football games for the Lee County Yellow Jackets in 2008 under former coach Jody Stouffer, who helped over 20 Yellow Jacket football players earn scholarships at the next level, and in 2009 under coaching legend Burton Cates. Even in some tough losses last year under coach Cates, the Yellow Jackets earned the respect of many in the Tri-9 Conference. This year, the Yellow Jackets are on their way back to the 4-A playoffs for the first time since 2006 as the program seems to be headed in the right direction.
About 300 miles were spent driving to Raleigh twice, Rockingham, Lee County High School and Wilmington combined for the Yellow Jackets’ magical run to the 4-A East Regional final in the 2010 state baseball tournament. The Yellow Jackets came so close to getting back to the state championship for the first time since 2001 as they lost in a best-of-three series to Laney 2-1. The outpouring support of Yellow Jacket fans outnumbered the number of fans Laney had show up for the regional final, which took place at their own school. An entire community came out and supported Lee County head coach Charlie Spivey and his Yellow Jackets. That’s what high school sports are all about. One moment I’ll always remember from that series is when Lee County principal Greg Batten, decked out in a Yellow Jacket windbreaker, hugged Spivey for about three minutes following the loss in game three.
A lot of miles were added when I covered the 2008 Southern Lee soccer team’s heartbreaking loss to Triton in the third round of the 3-A East playoffs, which came down to penalty kicks after 110 minutes of play wasn’t enough to determine a winner. The match didn’t go the way Jason Burman and Southern Lee had hoped, but they showed a lot of heart and class despite the loss. In 2009, the Cavaliers lost in the third round again for their first and only loss of the season. This year, Burman has his boys in the playoffs again as they survived a 5-3 victory over Southern Nash in the opening round. Bring it home this year, boys.
The Southern Lee basketball team has established itself as a legitimate contender in each of the past three years. I’ve had the privilege of driving out and seeing players like Akeem Richmond, Chad Taylor, Julian Martin, Ace Chalmers and Josh Mellette tear it up on the hardwood and lead the Cavaliers to many victories. Head coach Gaston Collins is a true class act and works well with that team and is the best dressed coach in all of high school basketball. I’m honored to have met such a classy individual.
A lot of miles went beyond Lee County and extended into Harnett and Chatham Counties as well. In Chatham County, I spent some time covering Northwood High School’s football and basketball teams. In Harnett County, I drove to a few football games at Western Harnett and one at Harnett Central.
At Campbell University, I made the 28 mile trek to Buies Creek to witness the Camels’ first football game in 58 years. The Camels hosted Birmingham-Southern for their first game at Barker Lane Stadium and gave it everything they had and more in their 12-6 loss.
Thirty-five miles were put on my car in 2008 when the Northwood Chargers, coached by Russ Frazier, made it to the 2-A state championship in basketball. The Chargers put up quite a fight against Shelby in the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill in an atmosphere that I’ll never forget.
I also put about six miles on my car driving from my apartment to Grace Chapel Church in Sanford to embark on a missions trip to Brazil, which ended up being the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life. Not only did I turn professional acquaintances with Grace Christian girls basketball coach Joel Murr and boys basketball coach Tim Murr into lifelong friendships, I also got saved and made the greatest decision I could’ve ever made because of those two men. I also came back with 11 other brothers and sisters and rekindled my love for the game of basketball.
In 2009, I spent many miles driving back and forth to Lee Christian School covering Robert Sandidge, who led the nation in goals scored during his only season with the Falcons with 62 goals and 31 assists. His play made a significant impact as the Falcons advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCCSA 3-A state tournament for the first time in school history.
One car accident and five new tires later, I regret to inform you faithful readers that I will no longer be spending those countless miles covering the many sporting events in this region.
The rumors are true, Sarda is leaving The Herald.
While it’s unfortunate, this is the beginning of a new challenge for me. Some of you might be upset, some might be mad and some of you faithful Heralders might even be glad that I’m gone, but nonetheless, it’s been a pleasure serving all of you and bringing you the best local sports coverage that I could.
The other day, a very close friend of mine asked me what I would miss the most about working at The Herald. Without hesitation, I looked at her and told her that the biggest thing I’d miss would be the relationships I’ve made. Relationships with my co-workers, with coaches, school administration, officials, student-athletes and other members of the community, I’ve met some incredible people in this community and I will hold all of them in my heart forever. Some of these relationships have evolved into lifelong friendships, which is something I’ll always cherish.
And I’m going to miss them all.
To you die-hard Yellow Jacket fans, I respect your passion and your love for Lee County athletics. Even though a lot of you have attacked The Herald and have written numerous letters to the editor about our “biased coverage” this football season, it’s been an honor serving you. You can write all the letters you want and say what you want about our coverage, but there is something you need to know.
I have always been pro-Southern Lee.
I’ve also always been pro-Grace Christian, pro-Lee Christian and pro-Lee County. I’m darn proud of it, too.
Even though I’m supposed to remain objective when I’ve attended games, I’ve often found myself rooting for the Cavaliers when they’re succeeding on the soccer field, the basketball court or on the diamond. When head football coach Tom Paris coached the Cavaliers to their first victory since 2008 with a 51-48 win over Western Harnett earlier this season, I was thrilled for those kids, who had been through the pain of losing and the inconsistency of having to play for four head coaches in as many years.
I couldn’t help but root for the Crusaders when head coach Chris Pratt guided them all the way to a third place finish in the state in soccer during the 2009 season. I find myself cheering for the Crusaders on the basketball court, the baseball field, the cross-country course, wherever Grace Christian is playing. I want to see those kids and all of their coaches succeed.
Nobody wanted to see Eric Davidson and the Lee Christian Falcons succeed more than me when the Falcons reached the quarterfinals with Sandidge leading the way. On the hardwood, I had the opportunity of establishing a relationship with Jon Lineberry when he hit the game winning three-pointer in a game against county rival Grace Christian.
When the Yellow Jackets are in a tight situation on the football field, I find myself on the edge of my seat secretly wanting quarterback Carson Wilson to connect with wide receiver Dequon Swann with offensive lineman Victor Ingram (I told you I’d get your name in the paper) delivering a huge block that leads to a 55-yard touchdown reception late in the game to put the Yellow Jackets ahead. When coach Spivey and the baseball team were just two innings away from going to the state championship, I was on the edge of my seat wanting the Yellow Jackets to get there. I found myself in a state of shock and disbelief when they couldn’t pull out the win over Laney.
You can call it unprofessional if you want, but I look at it as me showing a true passion for what I do. I’ve always been pro-kids and pro-success. Anytime I can see a student-athlete successful on the court, the gridiron, the soccer field or wherever, it puts a smile on my face and it’s enjoyable to write about. Being able to report on the success of high school students in this community, no matter what uniform they were wearing, has been something I’ve always loved doing.
I’m sure new sports editor Jonathan Owens and my former sports editor Alex Podlogar would say the same thing. Seeing local kids succeed at the high school and college level makes our job entirely worth it, despite the long hours, the low pay and the holidays and nights it took to put the paper together.
So with that, it’s my time to go and find a new, exciting challenge in my life. I don’t know what that challenge is going to be just yet, but I do know that God’s got something big planned for my life and I’m excited to find out what it is.
To my Herald co-workers, I love you all and I’ll miss you dearly. You gave me a fun, friendly working environment and made going to the office enjoyable. Jonathan and Alex were two of the best bosses a man could possibly work for. I learned so much from them and they’ve helped me grow as a writer and as a reporter. R.V. Hight and Josh Smith helped give me words of encouragement when things got tough and were always there for me. Billy Liggett is a great editor and the rest of the newsroom staff is lucky to have him as a boss.
While my journey at The Sanford Herald has officially come to an end, I can honestly say that it’s been well worth every single mile.