I walked into the Modesto Bee building on Sept. 1, 1992, a teenager with an optimistic glint in his eye.
I promptly got lost and had to ask the security guard for directions to the newsroom. And that Friday, I lost the first football box score I ever took over the phone (I think it was Fairfield-Atwater).
Things got a little easier since then.
I'll walk out on Friday 16 years, six months and 20 days older with more laugh lines and wrinkles, more hair on my chin, and a lifetime of memories.
For the last decade you've seen my ugly mug on these sports pages as The Bee's high school sports editor. And this is my last one. Friday will be my last day at The Bee. This is my choice; it's time for me to move on.
The stars were the kids. They were the ones playing for league and Sac-Joaquin Section titles. And they were the ones who shared their stories with me.
Before I clean my Superfund site of a desk, I'm going to clear out the memory banks one last time. Here are some of my favorite memories over the years:
The Ripon Christian girls basketball team, playing for a state championship in Oakland in 1995. After the Knights took a one-point lead with a handful of seconds left on two free throws, Christian of El Cajon star Stephanie Shadwell took the inbounds pass and heaved a halfcourt prayer ... that found nothing but net.
Nathan Costa vs. Escalon. Costa, a superstar quarterback for Hilmar, had one of the most dominant performances I've ever seen in the Yellowjackets' Trans-Valley League football game against Escalon in 2005. Costa rushed for 259 yards; he passed for 216 yards. And he scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard dive over the goal line as time expired.
The dominance of the 2001 Modesto Christian boys basketball team. A starting five of Chuck Hayes, Richard Midgley, Marc Pratt, David Paris and Bobby Cole II. All five would go on to NCAA Division I schools. That team was able to opt up to compete at the Division I level in the postseason, and they went all the way to the state championship game where they lost to an equally talented Mater Dei team. That MC team drew the eye of the entire valley; hundreds of fans followed them to every game, selling out Modesto Junior College in their NorCal games. Almost 14,000 saw that state final game at Arco Arena, and most of the fans were rooting for the Crusaders.
The adoration shown for Riverbank distance runner German Fernandez. Hundreds maybe thousands waited for the day's final race to see Fernandez break the Woodward Park course record at the state cross country championships in 2007 in Fresno. He shattered the record. Fernandez followed that up with arguably the greatest distance doubles in state track and field championship history when he won both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs. The 3,200 time 8:34.23 was a national record.
Whenever I'd write a story about Fernandez, I'd receive e-mails from people across the country. And he's doing it at Oklahoma State, too.
The persistence of Brian Hausburg. Hausburg has cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that left him with little strength in his legs. But he wrestled for Modesto High for four years and never won a match. But after his final match at the Modesto Metro Conference championships in 2007, referee Jerry Ford took him back onto the mat and raised his arm in victory. Hausburg is now an assistant coach at Enochs High.
And Derek Macias. Macias hit the only home run of his senior year in 2001 on his mother's birthday six months after she lost her battle with cancer. Macias called his shot to teammates in the dugout, then went to the plate and hit it out. I'll remember just sitting with Macias in the outfield grass at Downey as he shared his story.
There were many more stories, many more games, many conversations with coaches, parents and athletes, and many late night debates with my colleagues about the best songs from the '80s or the top sports movie. Every moment was noteworthy. Thanks to all of you for sharing your stories.
Will DeBoard is off to a new chapter in his life. Contact the sports department at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 578-2300.