Matt Tait: From the first story to the last, work has been a dream come true
Eighteen years ago, when former Journal-World Sports Editor Tom Keegan showed up to work for his first day on the job in Lawrence, I fired off an email that would change the next two decades of my life.
In it, I explained to Keegan who I was, why I was emailing him and how, for as long as I could remember, I always had aspired to write for the Journal-World and cover sports in the town in which I grew up.
It was a sappy email, full of hopes and dreams and over-the-top pleasantries, and, after he hired me, Keegan occasionally liked to pull out the email and read it to me for a good laugh.
It always delivered, and I never really could tell which one of us laughed harder. Probably him, though.
Of the two of us, the letter definitely was more of an embarrassment to me. But it’s also something I’m glad I wrote, because, as I sit here and write my last story for the Journal-World, that email serves as a wonderful reminder of everything my time with the paper provided me, personally, professionally and as a kid who grew up with a dream.
In short, I was lucky enough to do everything I told Tom I wanted to do in that email and so much more.
There are far too many people to thank individually, so I won’t do that here. But my sincere hope is that all of you, from athletes and administrators to coaches and parents to scoreboard operators and maintenance workers, co-workers and so many more, know how much I appreciated and enjoyed my time with you, however short or long it may have been.
I covered countless games at the high school I attended, often interviewing some of the same coaches who were teachers at Lawrence High back in the 1990s when I was a student there. What a thrill.
I wasn’t a part of the LHS-Free State rivalry as a student, but I came to absolutely love it as someone who covered it for a living. Lawrence is one of the greatest sports towns I’ve seen, and the feud between the Firebirds and Lions on game night, along with the crosstown friendships that exist before and after the battles, is truly special.
During my 17 years at the paper and 22 with the company, I did just about everything one could imagine, from laying out pages and coordinating coverage to taking photos, writing blogs, stories, columns and briefs, traveling the world and interviewing some of the biggest names in KU sports history.
All of it helped me grow as a man and a journalist, and I’ll forever be appreciative of the opportunities I received here, growing in my job and in my life without ever having to leave home.
I came across countless athletes who I’ll always remember fondly and I befriended a lot of their parents, as well. That was both at the high school level and while covering KU. See, for me, the relationship aspect of the job has always been the most important part.
If you can get people to trust you, they’ll open up to you and tell you their stories. It’s then your job to turn those stories into something worth reading, and it was an absolute honor to do that for so long in such a wonderful place.
I don’t know the exact number, but after a quick count I’m pretty sure I worked with more than 200 coaches during my time with the paper. And, no, they weren’t all KU football coaches.
Those coaches mentored hundreds of athletes, and I had some of the best experiences of my life while representing the Journal-World.
Five NBA drafts. Four Final Fours. Dozens and dozens of KU basketball victories. A handful of state titles and school records. Countless road trips with entertaining colleagues. And more than a few memorable meals, stories and front-row seats for incredible games in New York, Chicago, L.A., Maui, Rome, Milan, Las Vegas, Miami and more.
To sum up all of them would take forever, so I’ll trust that those of you who were a part of any of them, however big or small, saw clearly how much pride I had in being the sports guy at the local paper.
For many people, a job is a job and it provides you the means to live your life. I was one of the lucky ones who spent the past two-plus decades doing what I love to do for a living. My job was my life, and while that wasn’t always the best thing for me and my sanity, it sure seemed like it on most days.
It’s not easy to say goodbye. I honestly thought I’d write here until I retired. And I know I’ll continue to be one of the paper’s biggest supporters because of its importance to our community. I hope you’ll join me in that endeavor.
But I’m also thrilled to head off to tackle the new challenge of covering athletes in the name, image and likeness world for Perpetual Sports Network and the Mass Street Collective. And I’m thankful that my new gig will give me the opportunity to stay in Lawrence and continue to write, albeit in a slightly different way than I did for the Journal-World.
Packing up my desk this week was a surreal experience. I found things I didn’t remember I had, tossed out things I never needed and had several wonderful memories come rushing back from every drawer and pile I went through.
The boards above my desk were covered with credentials and photos and other memories from my life as a sportswriter. I always thought it looked cool and it always made me smile. It also made me look like a teenager with an over-decorated locker. Oh well.
With everything boxed up, I came across four Chinese food fortunes that I had taped up above my desk. I don’t really remember why I put them up, but one of them caught my eye. It read: “You have clearly loved every minute of your job.”
I hope it was clear. I know it was true.
Thanks for reading.
Editor’s Note: The Journal-World will have a new sports editor joining the staff in the latter half of May. Look for more information at that time.