RICHMOND- A journey to greatness can last years. But that’s still a path for me to go.
The coronavirus has cancelled everything a college senior could want. But it did give me an opportunity to tell my story.
However, 21 years have passed and the journey I took, was one that you would not expect. In fact, it was a bit out of the ordinary.
From days of writing clues in my handy-dandy notebook, to delivering news stories through my website, the journey has been anything but smooth.
In addition to creating Sports Speaks and joining Last Word on Sports NFL, at one point in my life, this was the farthest thing from my own thoughts.
I once had thin skin, but it became thicker due to tough learning and in-field exposure, but what’s interesting is that I never thought I’d be in this field.
I wasn’t always into sports writing, even though sports were a part of my life. My story begins in elementary school back in 2004.
I began school as a curious mind under the guidance of Priscilla Maxwell and the late great Sue Goode. Two teachers who were very different than my parents.
I wasn’t the popular child growing up but as I got older and understood school, the one thing that helped me stand out was my writing.
If you took a good look at me, you would have laughed harder than you would have with a comedian who was actually funny. That’s how bad it got.
There were days where I skipped lunch just avoid trouble. Sat in the library and read. But as I say there one day, I made a promise to myself. I can’t get mad. I have to get even. But how?
In second grade one day, I was pulled aside by my teacher Laurie Karn. She told me something that I still use to this day. “Use your writing and make a difference”.
It was something she would repeat during the “words of wisdom” segments of our morning announcements.
It’s remarkable how one teacher could identify something inside of me that I never really thought about. I was always under the impression that math and science was my life.
And they were, I needed them both. But to me, writing was key because while I never felt confident as a child to say my thoughts but I felt the urge to write it down.
I was picked on heavily for being different. If I could go back and change anything, I’d probably change how I responded to those insults. Back then I lost it easily, now I look back and say, “I would handle it differently now”.
There were times where people lied to send me to the principals office if for no other reason but to use their privilege. Thankfully, the school usually sided with me because I could tell them the truth. But I always wondered why.
I didn’t do anything wrong. They just wanted a rise out of me and could get away with it. It was frustrating, but as the years went on, I officially learned that my promise to myself was coming true. Don’t get mad, just get even.
I learned most of those lessons from my 4th grade teacher Kathy Clifford. At first I laughed due to her love of Hello Kitty and Clifford the Big Red Dog. Boy was I mistaken. She was REAL TOUGH but she had the biggest heart.
To this day, I still go and see her and there was never an incident that people got on me for after the year with her. She molded me into a confident kid with a nose for the truth. She’s taught for so many years, no wonder it’s changed me.
But my biggest tests were in 5th and 6th grade. My science teacher, David Lin, was the funniest man ever. But he was also the strictest of them all.
If you did your job with a good effort even if you struggled, the man would praise you. Else, he’d be upset with you.
In 6th grade, I was taught by Kenneth Larson, the schools version of Mr. Ratburn from the children’s television show Arthur. To my astonishment, he said the same thing about my writing, that it was my best skill.
Mr. Larson was even impressed by a report I did on President Lincoln that he still asks me to this day about why I wrote anything when I could have just spoke about it and still conveyed the full message.
It was in 6th grade tho, that sports consumed me more than before. Up until then, I could watch and articulate well, but it was that year and during a single game of recess football that things changed.
I was writing in a book during recess when the school’s jock Forrest Wagner invited me to play football. I said OK. First play of the game, intercepted a pass and scored.
Wagner came up to me and told me that I could no longer write during recess and I had to play instead. Luck was changing for the better.
After leaving Floris, I ended up in Rachel Carson. The C-Team or C-Pod as they called it. My first classes were electives before I landed in history with Mr. Jon Baker. That was the jackpot. Not only was the man amazing, but the guy loved Jeopardy!
Every unit we would study before a game and a test, and my strategy to win was to write every note and word he said in a notebook. Then I would translate it into my understanding. It paid off with victories in every game of every unit.
But I was always asked, why not put that much effort into all your classes? Why only history? The answer was simple. You learn more facts there and comprehension and regurgitation of those facts is critical.
After 7th and 8th grade, it was on to high school. But that summer, I took a trip to India to visit family. It was there that news of the world became fascinating and I thought about being into that stuff.
When I got back, I attended Westfield and football was the king of the school. I met good people freshman year and through September everything was good, but then tragedy struck.
That morning in October was so gloomy when I heard the news that my best friend since pre-school, Matt Peterson, was murdered. By his own parent. I was devastated. I skipped classes, went down to the track where he ran and sat there.
No one came looking for me. No one wanted to. But I was just upset. I look up at the sky, and I heard his voice. “Don’t do it for me, do it for you bud”. I didn’t leave until the busses came.
I then made it my mission to not only be great for myself, but to do it for the people that I loved and cared about. Sports helped me ease into a softer recovery.
But it was in my junior year where journalism took over. My first class? Had to write a story on a game to see what level I was at.
So, I decided to write about how my Patriots lost Super Bowl 42. Sucked to recall it but I had to deal with it. Can’t be a bunch of rose petals in a rough field
The teacher, Anthony Whitten, then was impressed enough that he asked me if I could write about football for the paper and I said yes. My peak that year was covering Westfield’s 42-41 upset over defending state champion Centreville.
Westfield went on to win the state title in 2015 and 2016 for basketball. I got to cover both and they made the front pages. That alone got me an email from VCU that they wanted to have me.
But then I received a really harmful prank about an admission to football powerhouse Alabama. Cruel and mean joke by jealous individuals. Those who wanted me to suffer and look bad, ultimately got fed a XL plate of crow, on the house.
VCU’s Jeff South, soon to retire, took a chance on me and offered me the dream of going to school in Richmond and I applied and got in easily. RVA, I’m coming.
A former laughingstock was headed to college. My journalism journey was about to begin. I left nova for a new challenge. Pen clenched in hand with my eye set on a future. Bring it on.
I lived in Brandt Hall during freshman year. I met many people on moving day, albeit while sweating under the hot sun. Met roommates and crazy next door girls. This was going to be tough, but bring it on.
But I wanted to continue my journalism path. Then, a roadblock hit. The Peppas Band. I joined them for a year, but I left knowing that my heart was in the wrong place.
Year 1 came and went. Year 2 started and I joined WVCW Radio. It had been a while since I joined and it was great. I did a great basketball season but during baseball, I forgot the rules of commentating and turned into a fan on the air.
The new star, Ben Malakoff, now the director knew that I wasn’t a bad kid on the air but I couldn’t broadcast baseball anymore. I knew I messed up but at the same time, VCU athletics knew I was a good kid and deserved a fair shot again.
I couldn’t broadcast baseball, but I could have my own show and express my opinions. That was the best thing that could have happened to me and I owe WVCW Radio a great deal of gratitude, including my man Jon Carpenter, who taught me well about the radio life.
My other side was being a student and I had great professors to work with. Alix Bryan, Reba Hollingsworth, Bill Oglesby, Jeff South, Mallory Perryman, the list goes on.
But the best one of all was in year 3 under Angie Miles, the only woman who basically considered me as her “son”. Yes indeed, she was somebody who loved the fact that I found a passion for writing.
I loved to write about sports mostly, but that was just fine. I could cover any sport in both professional, collegiate, and high school. Hence the website.
But I also wanted to be on TV. And there was no one better to teach than Dr. Tim Bajkiewicz and Gary Gilliam. Two guys who I have tremendous respect for and who grilled me daily on how to survive in the news world.
I even decided to create my own reporting platform to speak the truth on sports as opposed to hot-take bias from many members in the national media. Enter Sports Speaks.
Finally, I got to join Last Word on Sports NFL and now I’m a contributor/writer. It’s a start but I got in the door of something. It’s only a matter of time.
Now on my last wheels as an undergrad, my ride has been one tough hill after another. I’ve made fiends, rivals turned partners, etc. The biggest source of inspiration however were my classmates.
There were 20 of us including myself that I considered elite status because our bond was so strong.
People like Alyssa Bernier who showed me not to be serious all the time, Christina Burgess who showed us all how to be professional on the air. Zach Armstrong who was the definition of “know a story when you see it”.
Guys like Jason Devisser who was my bud from Day 1 in mass Comm classes, Shaun Njovens who was a basketball whiz, Morgan Macenka, who to this day is my biggest competition albeit probably my best friend. The list goes on and on.
And then I go to the radio crew where my success is largely tied to Jacob and Justin Sexton. Two guys who took me under their wing and brought me up in success.
Guys like Adam Cheek, Jason Boleman, Malakoff, Noah Flieschman, Ryan Yirka, Jackson Krug etc. might have butted heads with me on and off the air but only pushed me to become stronger.
Last but not least, the Brandt Hall crew including my radio show partner Sravan Sattiraju. They were my first exposure to college and I’m grateful for it.
The journey to this point is well documented. Yet there is still more that lies ahead. What does the future hold for me. I’m taking my pen/pad and recorder with me to find out.
Coronavirus may have set me back a bit, but if I could overcome a not so easy childhood and grade school experience, I can handle this.
The race is not over, the journey is not over, it has only begun, and I’m still in it to win it.