‘Are you the new writer for the Lumbersonian?’
A chance encounter with someone at L&M Convenient Mart in Fairmont on my first afternoon at The Robesonian ignited my fire a bit in August 2009. On the way to report on the early progress of the Golden Tornadoes’ football team under new coach Keith Wood, I stopped to grab a drink in the dog days of summer.
Speaking with an older man at the counter, the local was shocked Robeson County’s newspaper had sent a writer ‘from the city’ to cover a 2A program in the sticks.
“If you get lost out here, here’s my number,” he said, handing me a wrinkled card from his wallet. “And we appreciate the coverage. Be nice to us.”
I quickly learned folks felt the same way in St. Pauls, Red Springs and Rowland — closely-knit communities in need of a voice. We had five athletic programs in addition to Lumberton — one of the state’s largest 4A high schools — in the area and all would get the same play as long as I was employed as a sports writer.
Every athlete was equal and that would soon be recognizable in print, potentially altering the county-wide stigma the newspaper had received as ‘The Lumbersonian.’
That impromptu face-to-face interaction, the first of many over these last five years with locals, succinctly sums up the enjoyment I’ve acquired from bringing you the news and becoming a member of your lives.
Rarely do I struggle putting pen to paper, but this one’s tough.
It is with great appreciation I announce my departure from The Robesonian this month to pursue a long-awaited opportunity covering college football 365 days a year in the Southeastern Conference.
You, the reader, has helped me climb the ladder and for that, I am grateful. Relationships I’ve developed with parents, coaches and players within the community are long-lasting and it’s the primary reason I encourage others to embrace community journalism.
Thank y’all for buying papers, interacting with me at games and furiously click breaking news whether it’s on our web site or social media. My stories and tweets have always been primarily for your enjoyment, to keep you posted with what I know circulating within athletic departments, in the locker room or what people are saying after the game.
Thank you Donnie Douglas, a knowledgeable editor who believes in the product, serves the community and cares about grooming his writers for bigger opportunities. He has greenlighted any story idea I’ve ever had and has never once questioned my reasoning on why an issue needs to go to print.
To neatly wrap this up, I wanted to mention some of Robeson County’s brightest in athletics, leaders within a community too often given a black eye by the over-saturation of crime rates, poverty issues and single-parent homes.
To Glenn Patterson: I’ve always admired your admiration for the game of basketball and what you bestow on your family. The officiating during your team’s playoff loss at Pender in February 2010 still grinds my gears.
To Jason Suggs: If there’s anyone who enjoys county sports as much as I do, it’s him. I value our friendship and appreciate the historical and biographical you’ve provided on our athletes during your time as athletic director. I almost feel like a Robeson County native because of you.
To Nancy Britt: You won’t find a better representative of this area or someone who’s always willing to help others. I’m a better human being because of you and will savor our time together. Our conversations about baseball and life kept me at ease in a situation that wasn’t always easy.
To Mark Heil: My personal tie to both Cumberland County and Purnell Swett football will always be my relationship with your late-son Mark, my best friend for many years upon arriving in North Carolina as a kid. We both wanted to be sports writers and I know he’s smiling today. Your family holds a piece of my heart.
To Ben Miller: UNCP hit two grand slams in one inning when you were hired six years ago to turn around a struggling basketball program. You’re a pro, an expert on the game but most of all, a Christian instructor who goes about things the right way. As an alum, you along with Paul O’Neil and John Haskins, are some of the best ambassadors the university has to offer.
To Paul Hodges: Despite personal hardships, you’re one of the strongest men I’ve ever met, the perfect role model for athletes under your direction at Lumberton High. When your time on the diamond is up, the Pirates will sorely miss their brightest star.
To Chris Floyd: An inspiration for us all. Never a complaint, never condemnation. His disability isn’t a factor in his passion for local sports. Next time you catch yourself whining over something trivial, think of Chris.
To Todd Anderson: People have commented on my own work ethic, but it pales in comparison to what you’ve established as the voice — and backbone — of athletics in Pembroke. You’ve been a personal friend of mine since Day 1 and have always said the future was bright.
To Michael Baker: The most decorated prep coach — in any sport — I’ve ever covered, your welcoming spirit and 24/7 availability was always appreciated. Good luck at the all-star event in Greensboro this summer. You certainly deserve the recognition for your 30 years of service.
And lastly, to the athletes: From Jalaquon McNeil, Glenn Patterson Jr. and Ethan Clark in the early years to most recently Alex Britt, Malik Livingston and Blake Greene, I’ve enjoyed getting to know each and every one of the players in our county.
Reach Brad Crawford on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.