From The Sideline: It’s been a fun ride

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I need to be honest, I was reluctant as I made the 30-minute drive from UMass to The Recorder office on Feb. 7 for my first shift as a sports intern.

I’m a second semester senior, now weeks away from graduating, balancing three night classes and 19 credits. I’ve been the sports editor of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian at UMass since December 2015 and already work there until 1 or 2 a.m. two nights per week. So, this was just another assignment I had to balance on an already full plate.

Going from covering Division I football and men’s basketball for three years to Franklin County high school sports and rushing back to the office or finding the nearest McDonald’s to write from was a bit of culture shock. I was now frantically keeping track of my own stats — they look more like hieroglyphics if we’re being honest — to interviewing unfamiliar players and coaches, who, an hour before the game, I knew nothing about. It was different to say the least.

But the more I was going out to cover these assignments, sometimes writing multiple stories in one night, I quickly remembered the grind and the passion of why I became a sports writer in the first place back when I arrived at UMass four years ago.

It was about the people, the athletes and the look on their faces when they realized they were going to be featured in the next day’s paper that made it so rewarding. It quickly became fun. Tuesdays and Fridays became days where I could escape the stress and anxiety of my other commitments, just completing new assignments in a new place that allowed me to clear the mind of a graduating senior

The sports guys — Jay Butynski, Jeff Lajoie and Gary Sanderson — instantly made me feel like a regular that had been working there for years, even though I was only in twice-a-week guy. Not once did I ever feel like an intern. No, they made me feel like just another member of the staff.

I went from wishing I was at my apartment dedicating more time to school work and enjoying the few remaining months of freedom I had to looking forward to the random conversations we had about Geno Auriemma losing in the Final Four, UMass basketball’s coaching conundrum, tales from our own college experiences and everything in between. If there’s one thing we all have in common, it’s that we like to chat, kinda like sitting in a dugout.

I’ll never forget all the stories Gary told me about people I’ve never heard of before, him calling Butynski “Big Boiczyk” and Lajoie “The Anchor,” or all the times when the phone rang hearing “Sports! Jay!” echo throughout the office. These guys all taught me so much about the Franklin County and history of the different schools, answering every question I had.

Franklin County and covering its sports could not have been more different than what I experienced while I was a teenager in high school. My graduating class had over 400 kids plus an additional 100 attended the multiple private schools in the area. All told, Franklin High School’s enrollment was north of 1,600. And that was just one town.

I still don’t know where everything is up here, and the first game I covered at Turners Falls High School I put a Montague dateline on the story. Butynski saved me from making a lot of enemies that night, but everything was just so new that and I had no idea how incorrect that was. I deeply apologize for the mistake that never was.

If there was one thing that was clear from my short stint at the Recorder, it’s the sense of community I found at each of the schools I visited. Whether it was Greenfield girls’ track and field coach Pete Conway telling me stories from the 1960s and introducing me to one of his former athletes who’s now in his 60s, or Turners Falls’ Tionne Brown handling himself like a professional basketball player after a loss in the Western Massachusetts Tournament, the people were always good to me. And for that, I thank you.

I had no more than 20 bylines in the Recorder, but the experiences and people all made each of them significant. I would continually come in for my next shift asking what the reaction to my latest story was, Butynski almost always delivering good news.

On Friday, I’ll be making my final ride home from the office on Hope Street — my outlook on this experience much different than my first ride here up here in February. I don’t know what the next chapter in my life will bring, with graduation looming just 16 days away, but I’m happy the Recorder made an appearance, even if ever so brief.

I’m not sure if or when I’ll ever return to the upper Pioneer Valley, but I’m I glad I decided to reach out to George Forcier over winter break, asking if they could use some help — and, boy, they sure did.

I hope the next intern has just as much fun as me.