Farewell West Point, it's a tough goodbye

By: 
WILL NATIONS
Sports Reporter

It has been three years since I started my position at West Point's Daily Times Leader (DTL). Today, Friday, Dec. 18, is my last one.
I have attended countless ball games. I have filled up infinite amounts of gas tanks to make road trips. I have interviewed multitudes of coaches, players and fans about the state of West Point's sports scene. I have experienced triumph, heartbreak and many more emotions.
One of the greatest emotions I have felt, though, is love for this community. I love West Point and Clay County – the sports scene, town and people. Though I am native of Clinton, Miss., I feel inclined to think I have earned my West Point citizenship in some fashion, developing roots here.
I have attempted to attend as many possible sporting events in the past weeks. This story has an interesting start, and I am saddened to have it come to a conclusion.
I was a 19-year-old college student who had moved into an apartment and needed some source of income. I interviewed for the open position and was only asked to be a stringer or on-call reporter. Fortunately, the DTL became a weekly source of income for me as I traversed throughout the Mississippi countryside and as far as Bessemer, Ala., keeping tabs on the Hebron Christian Eagles, who had a stellar 8-2 football season.
My first game I covered was during the second week of the season. Hebron battled the Victory Christian Eagles in Columbus. I arrived way too early to the game, ate a snow cone, it was some blue substance, and attempted to figure out how I would cover the game. Hebron won in a route and a vividly remember a Victory fan standing up in the crowd hollering that they should’ve subbed in more players though Hebron did not have more to do so. After the game, I approached Coach David Foster and talked to him about the game. At the end of the interview, I butchered the pronunciation of Pheba with a hard a instead of an e sound. Baptized by fire! To top it off, my first article in the paper had the wrong headline.
Though there was a handful of mishaps for me the first time covering Hebron, I have enjoyed my Hebron family, including Gary Vaughn, Johnathan Harper, and Bruce Franks, and always looked forward to my trips to Pheba, though I rarely had cellphone signal out there.
I was introduced to the West Point High sports scene really more around basketball season. Head Boys' Coach Brad Cox allowed me to conduct my first interviews with him, giving excellent quotes for my articles. Kendall Pickens and Dashmond Daniel on the girls' side did the same in the past four season. Nothing can top the 2013-14 edition of the West Point boys' basketball team. Man, were they fun to watch or what!
My introduction to West Point football was even more entertaining. I heard Bud Bowen, the long-time Voice of the Green Wave, on a Saturday night when the Greenies had traveled to Batesville to play the South Panola Tigers. With every play-by-play call of the game, I felt the urge to write about this Class-5A power. I got my opportunity, and I have cherished it ever since. Covering great players like Aeris Williams was a pleasure and getting to know Chris Chambless and the coaching staff has been even better. Thank you all for allowing me the opportunity to be around the program. I look forward to seeing the Wave and Lady Wave down the road at some point.
At Oak Hill Academy, a long-time girls' basketball coach, who had instilled his belief in so many former student-athletes, did the same for his athletes. Stan Hughey helped me gain confidence in my writing abilities and seek more ways to improve it. I wish I could have had more opportunities to cover Hughey, but I was blessed to give his eulogy this year – I will cherish that forever. The same could be said about current Oak Hill athletics director and former head baseball coach, Marion Bratton. Bratton is old-school and nothing beats old-school in my opinion. Tough as nails, Bratton is one of the good guys, and I will always find myself in his corner. Also, a thank you to Brian Middleton, Mitch Bohon and Chris Craven.
As I told many before, the high school and junior high coaches in this area are all worth playing for. I wish I could have suited up for them at least once. They are passionate and dedicated about their craft. They are the reason these students-athletes do so well.
Along with the high school coverage, I scratched the surface too when it came to sports. One of the more interesting exploits was playing and managing the Tibbee Ramblers. I had not played baseball since the 4th grade when Joe B. Amos was looking for ballplayers, a constant search, for the summer of 2013, and I somewhat fudged that I could play baseball. Little did I know I would hear the baseball's stitches whistle by in the second inning of a game. Dang, junior college pitcher. My 0-for-12 batting average and reaching base once on a fielder's choice followed by a run. My stats did not look good for me, but I built strong friendships with Joe B., Ken O'Neil, John Tally and Kool Papa/Lover Boy. So, Go Ramblers!
I have learned so much from this experience. I am grateful to every player, fan, coach and DTL reader that engaged with me during my tenure here. In my time of need, battling an ependymoma tumor during the Spring of 2012, I felt an unmatched amount of love toward from phone calls and text messages. Coming back from that and rejoining this community is the one of the best thing I was able to do in my life. I am definitely going to miss this position and everything that comes with it.
Finally, I would like to thank the DTL staff. To the three managing editors (Brian Davis, Mary Garrison, and William Carroll), thank you for giving an opportunity to better my craft as a young sports reporter. To Donna Harris, my self-proclaimed West Point Mom, I will miss the nagging and your caring attitude. To Josh Presley, thanks for insightful conversations and for being a lunch buddy. To Donna Summerall, thank you for allowing me to use you as a sounding board or an avenue for conversation. And to Cindy Cannon, thank you for your patience, I turned my time card in already! Y'all are the best.
In closing, I wish I could've thanked everyone in this piece, but know, I am grateful to have spent the past three years as a member of the West Point community. I start my teaching internship this springs semester in the Jackson-area. I plan to graduate from Mississippi State University in May. I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment spent in West Point and Clay County. I promise not to be a stranger. I will do my best to stay in touch, and I hope you all will do the same.

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