Well, I took the scenic route, but here I am, nonetheless: your new sports editor.

I was the community editor at The Mountaineer for all of three nanoseconds. Now I’m back where I started my journalism career: behind the sports desk.

Since most of you may not know me, here’s a quick, bite-sized bio: My first journalism job out of college was as a sports editor for my hometown paper, The Powhatan Today, located 40 minutes west of Richmond, Virginia. I was there for a couple years before slingshotting down to Austin, Texas, where I worked as a steady freelancer – and an espresso-slinging barista – for another two years.

Yada yada yada, moving right along, and now I’m in Haywood – and happily so.

The one piece of advice almost everyone gave me after taking this job was, more or less: DON’T SHOW FAVORITISM FOR TUSCOLA OR PISGAH. A short anecdote: The other day, during a conversation around the office about the Pisgah/Tuscola rivalry, I inadvertently said “Piscola.” The room fell silent.

“Better watch yourself,” said one of my coworkers. “That’ll get you in trouble.”

I have no doubt that it would. Loyalties run deep in this county.

With that in mind, I don’t intend to be biased in any way. Being an outsider, I have no dog in this decades-old fight. However, I am human, and thus fallible. If you find the equilibrium of my coverage off in any way – or if you catch one of my inevitable mistakes in print or online – please let me hear it. Critiques are not just tolerated, they’re encouraged.

Fridge.

The fridge.

With all of that being said, I can’t discuss my newfound position without mentioning my predecessor, Chuck Fierbernitz. His are big shoes to fill – literally and figuratively. Chuck was large in stature and personality.

Stories about the prime of his career have been passed down to me like fog rolling over a mountain. Tales of him lighting up cigars in his office, his feet presumably propped up on the desk, the phone most likely pinned between shoulder-and-ear as he hammed it up about some hot-button sports issue. I’m assuming the top two buttons of his shirt were undone, too, just for good measure – the living embodiment of a freewheeling, larger-than-life sports editor.

Who knows if these stories are true? I certainly don’t. I only spent a few weeks working with him before he rambled back East. As many of you may know, before I showed up, he had a heart attack, right where I’m sitting now – 100-percent blockage, mind you – but managed to finish his pages before dragging himself to the hospital.

Haywood Legion

The Haywood Legion team from six decades (?) ago.

To steal a sports adage, that’s what you call playing through the pain.

Yes, it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s myth. All I have to go on are things left behind in his old office – see: everything – which I have inherited. Thirteen years of memories covering nearly every corner of the room: A black-and-white photo from a Haywood Legion team dating back to what looks like the 1950’s. High school hats pinned across the top of the wall. A 2014 Western Carolina football poster on the door. A wood-panel miniature refrigerator I made the grave mistake of opening.

There’s also a large stack of yellowing newsprint on a shelf by the window. Yesterday, I pulled one from the middle. It was from Nov. 12, 2017. The front page read:

Pumas’ speed bumps Tuscola out of 3-A West

And then, the subhead:

Early turnovers and Asheville’s distinct speed advantage end the Mountaineers season.

Who in Haywood remembers this game, I wonder? How many headlines did Chuck write in his Mountaineer career? How many will I write? Will my stack of sepia newsprint tower as high as his?

Memories

Memories from yesteryear

Slowly, progressively, I’m sure this office will start to feel like my own. His stack of papers will find a new home and mine will grow daily. The posters will be pulled down, perhaps replaced. The hats, eh, they might stay. But right now, amidst all this otherness, I feel like I’m living in someone else’s abandoned-yet-still-furnished home.

How to make it my own? Maybe I should light up a cigar and burn one for Chuck.

On second thought, the last time I smoked a cigar I vomited in a toilet on the 29th story of a skyrise apartment in downtown Austin. I was cool as a cucumber for about 20 minutes before the nausea hit. Then I turned green.

I’ll just have to be myself. At the end of the day, that’s all any of us can do.

Follow The Mountaineer Sports on Twitter @mountaineersprt.

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