The Times West Virginian


June 15, 2014

DEFABO COLUMN: A farewell to Fairmont

FAIRMONT — Well, they say you aren’t supposed to bury the lead, so I’ll just come right out with it.

This will be my last story in the Times West Virginian. If you haven’t heard yet — and I know word travels fast in Fairmont — I have accepted a new position at the Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake, Illinois.

I’m looking forward to the next adventure and the opportunities that will come with a new job and a new city. But still, that doesn’t make this decision any easier.

When I came to Fairmont just over a year ago, I was taking a pretty big risk. I didn’t know a soul, and my knowledge of your town and your sports was limited to what I could find on Wikipedia.

But as football season turned to basketball season and then basketball to baseball, I made many lasting friends, saw some unbelievable performances and — most of all — tasted a pepperoni roll at every concession stand across Marion County.

Looking back, I have many fond memories that span the entire spectrum of human emotion.

I’ve seen triumph, like Jacob Bolander’s no-hitter against Fairmont Senior. And I’ve seen despair when East Fairmont’s softball seniors hugged their coaches after their final playoff game.

I’ve seen thrilling victories, like when North Marion’s Taylor Trowbridge collapsed across the finish line to win a Big 10 relay by .04 seconds. And I’ve seen nailbiters lost, like when Fairmont Senior’s basketball team battled through three thrilling overtime periods before losing to Robert C. Byrd.

I’ve written stories about a female kicker, a Muscle Car Mafia, a coach’s grandma, a punishment hill and even one about a rock.

From Charleston to Wheeling to East-West Stadium and Husky Field, the stories have taken me all around the state, as my car’s odometer can confirm. Every mile of the journey, in its own unique way, helped shape me as a writer, as a reporter and as a person.

I want to sincerely thank you — the athlete, the coach and the reader — for opening your community up to me and sharing your rivalries. I’ve tried to represent all teams and sports in this area to the best of my ability. As you opened the paper each morning, I hope that I entertained you and kept you well informed about the news of the day.

But the truth is, while it was my job to keep you informed, I was learning even more from you. My job gives me the unique opportunity to talk with coaches and players immediately after some of their highest highs and lowest lows. In these unguarded moments, I’ve learned many valuable lessons about the human condition.

I’ve stored each one in my memory bank, just as some of you have clipped my stories from the paper for scrapbooks. I could fill this entire sports section with those conversations, but I’ll share just two of my favorites.

I’ll always remember Fairmont Senior linebacker Ryder Skarzinski’s words just after he realized he had played his final down in a Polar Bear uniform.

“Just keep reaching your goals,” he said. “If people aren’t laughing at your goals, then they aren’t big enough.”

 He’d be happy to know my goals in journalism are big enough that they surely would keep a comedy club laughing.

I don’t know where that journey will take me, or if I’ll get there. But wherever I go, I will always remember Fairmont as the place that gave me my start. For that, it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Now, as I wrap up my final paragraphs in Fairmont, the most fitting quote to sum up my feelings comes from North Marion’s longtime cross country coach Larry Mason.

“The greatest thrill in athletics is the ability to compete,” he said. “One of the things I tried to emphasize with the kids was that at the end of the season, whether we won or lost, it was going to be a sad moment because the competition was over.”

Follow Mike DeFabo on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.

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