Note to readers: This week's column is along a very personal note. After nine years, I'm leaving the Sports Editor's desk at my newspaper and moving into advertising. My weekly column will continue, but I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on what has been such a big part of my life for nearly a decade. As I've mentioned before, I think of my readers as family. I've shared the loss of my father, birth of my children, neutering of my dog &

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166; and I'd like to share this as well.




It was around this time nine years ago that I first stepped out onto the sidelines as the new sports editor for the Siuslaw News. My first game was a rainy one, with cleats chewing up the old Hans Peterson Field and turning the ground to muddy fudge. I stood in my rain slicker and watched players finger clumps of turf from the gaps in their face guards before hustling back out for the next huddle, their uniforms so smeared with mud they were nearly indistinguishable from the opposing team after the snap. Once the ball left the center's hands, there was a blur of dark figures clashing beneath the yellowy stadium lights, with the impact of soggy shoulder pads and cracking helmets echoing across the field beneath a hard rain. As I stood there trying to capture the images with my camera, I distinctly remember thinking to myself it was the last place I ever imagined I would be &

and how lucky I was that fate and imagination don't always consult us about their plans, particularly when those plans drift from the expected and take us in a direction we may not have chosen for ourselves.




It was near the end of that game, with two minutes to go, that I realized I had not put any film in the camera. I checked my watch and realized I could a) still leave town with my family before the next edition, or b) use the next two minutes to shoot as many rolls of film as I could and pray that one of them would be in focus &

not an easy task considering my heart was in my stomach and my hands were shaking from the cold and what I believed might be the initial stages of a stroke. Three rolls of 36-exposure film canisters came back to me the next morning. As I shuffled through them I began to panic; so far, I had 60 pictures resembling a photo essay of an abstract art exhibit. Taking a deep breath, I opened the last sleeve and on top of the pile was a miracle: Two mud-caked Vikings, perfectly lit and in focus, embracing in the rain following their overtime loss.




I placed it on my first page as the new sports editor with the headline "Mud, Sweat and Tears."




Over the course of the last nine years I've had the privilege of roaming the sidelines and hardwood, talking with players, coaches and parents from Siuslaw and Mapleton, sharing in a common experience making up the tapestry of our two local communities. While the roar of the crowd has been an indelible part of covering the Vikings and Sailors, it's the quiet conversations and revealing moments in the after glow of a loss or win, when the crowd has thinned and the band has begun to pack its instruments, that I will look back on with quiet reverence in the years ahead. In those moments I've witnessed true character and found myself inspired again and again, year after year, by the words of a coach, the emotion of an athlete, or just a simple handshake given with admiration between two opposing players. These are things that pass unnoticed by the crowd leaving the stands, things that don't make the printed page; but they are things that will live on long after the scoreboard goes out.




Thank you coaches, players and parents for allowing me to be a part the experience. Nine years ago, I showed up on the sidelines with a camera without film. Nine years later, I'm leaving the sidelines with a memory full of snapshots.




Fate &

I like it.




You can write to at ned@nedhickson.net, or at the Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, OR. 97439. Visit his website at /blog/