By DAVE LEDER
News staff writer
Four years and countless issues ago, I landed in the Columbia River Gorge, entrusted with the challenge of revitalizing a small-town sports section that had reportedly fallen on hard times.
Today, as I leave behind this section and this town, I can confidently say that I did all I could to establish a new standard for Hood River sports coverage in the years to come.
But as I bid adieu to this beautiful Northwest oasis, I must admit that I am having some mixed emotions. Not about my decision to pursue a new opportunity as a daily sports reporter at the Roseburg News-Review; this lingering hint of emptiness has more to do with leaving the first-class people who live in this first-rate small town.
Never could I have envisioned a more perfect place to begin my journalism career. The tightly knit community, the well-rounded sports following, and the endless support from the readers have all contributed to my feeling of complete satisfaction, almost from day one.
It took a few months to learn where to go and who to talk to. But once I developed a solid rapport at the high schools and with the many small sports associations around town, it was smooth sailing from there.
After some choppy waters at first — which accompany every new job — I learned what was expected of me, and made it my mission to appeal to as many people as I could with every story I wrote.
Not because I wanted to score points with the readers or coaches; I did things that way because I felt like it was the right thing to do. In fact, I would say my position became just as much a community service as it was a job.
Once the community realized that I had no agenda other than making people look good, I often felt as though I could do no wrong. As long as I maintained a positive outlook in every article I wrote, the loyal readers were more likely to forgive me when I stubbed my toe.
And when I made their kids or grandkids shine, the good people of Hood River never hesitated to applaud my efforts with a letter, a phone call or a pat on the back.
I hope my replacement will one day experience the same enthusiastic support I received while sitting in this chair, because the many kind words I have heard around the community over the past four years have made this job all the more rewarding.
I would even say that the steady stream of support from the Hood River News readers is what caused me to stay here twice as long as my initial commitment of two years.
It has been a divine pleasure serving this community for the past four years, and while I wish I could stay longer, I feel like I would be compromising my future goals if I didn’t take the next step. The reality is, if you want to hit the big time in this business, you need to pay your dues at a small daily before a large daily will even consider you.
That’s ultimately what this decision came down to. Since college, I have aspired to write for a large daily, and if I’m ever going to land at the Eugene Register-Guard, Vancouver Columbian or The Olympian, I will need the experience I expect to gain in Roseburg.
One thing I’ve got in my favor by going to the News-Review is that it is regarded as the best small daily in Oregon year after year. Because of that high standard, they have sent a gaggle of writers on to the Register-Guard, Columbian and Oregonian.
I hope to add my name to that list in the next few years, although I would have to consider a return to Hood River if the Gorge Daily News idea ever materializes.
All hypotheticals aside, I just want to extend a huge thank-you to all my friends and colleagues here in town. Thanks for making the past four years so unbelievable for this big-city convert. I have truly experienced the sunny side of life, and it saddens me to leave behind something so rich and so pure.
There is no way I could mention all the people who have contributed to my happiness here, so I’m not even going to try. However, I would like to hand out a few individual awards (sorry, no medals or ribbons) to chronicle my time here.
Best Sports Story: A three-way tie between the Hood River Valley boys soccer team’s 2003 state semifinal run, Jacobe Krizman’s record-breaking sprint through the 2002 football season, and Christy Paul’s state cross-country championship in 2001. Honorable mention to Caitlyn Shortt for her state swimming title in 2002 and to wrestler Rocky Level, who reached the state semifinals in 2004.
Best Interview: A tie between HRV boys soccer coach Doug Beveridge and boys basketball coach Phil Vesel. These two fellas know their respective sports inside and out, and they always managed to pull out a few gems every time we talked. Honorable mention to HRV football coach Mitch Sanders. What a character.
Best Team Turnaround: The Horizon Christian basketball team went from four wins in 2004 to 14 in 2005, reaching the district playoffs for the first time in program history.
Most consistent program: A tie between the HRV boys soccer team and the HRV softball team. Both teams did nothing but win the entire time I was here, and I don’t expect that to change.
Most Loyal Reader/Fan: It would be hard to find someone more genuinely appreciative of the job I did here than Horizon Christian Athletic Director Oscar Stenberg. Talk about a class act. This man and his family are synonymous with all things good.
Favorite Athletes: It wouldn’t be fair to narrow this category down to one or two kids, so I’m going to go with the high-school athletes I got to know the best between 2001 and 2005.
I’ll remember all the kids I covered, but for some reason, these seven stood out: Rocky Level, Michelle Connors, Alex Ponce, Brian Stenberg, Anna Hidle, Dennis Methvin and Christy Paul.
I’m sure I’ve left out a few important names, but the point is, I will miss the HRV and Horizon kids, coaches and sports programs just as much as they will miss me. Best of luck and we’ll see ya’ on down the road.
Dave Leder begins his new job in Roseburg on Monday.