Now, it’s time for a new adventure. I’m heading back east with no set plans, but several options once I figure out the path I want to take. I will also be taking back many treasured memories from my time at the Sparks Tribune.
The Sertoma Football Classic Friday night was my final assignment for the Tribune. I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be. The last time I felt the way I did Friday was when I told my college baseball coach I was done. I guess when something is part of your life for a long time, it’s hard to see it come to an end.
I was hoping to see more coaches face-to-face in my final week in town in order to say goodbye, but it’s difficult with it being the summer, so think of this as my goodbye and thank you.
I first want to thank the three football coaches.
I met Rob Kittrell on my first day of work. He asked me if I was a Yankees fan. I told him I hated the Yankees and I was more of a Red Sox fan since most of my extended family lives in the Boston area. He said that was even worse. In all honesty, I really just cheer against the Yankees.
There have been some tough losses for the Sparks football team since I’ve been here and I felt bad having to talk to Rob after some of those games. But despite all the struggles, he truly loves coaching his players and it’s nice to see a coach that’s invested in his players’ growth on and off the field.
Ernie Howren was the second football coach I met after moving out here. I covered Reed’s loss to Hug in the first round of the playoffs. That was also the last time the Raiders lost in the regional quarterfinals. In fact, they came back the next year and won the North and have been a perennial power ever since. Ernie is one of the nicest and most accessible coaches around. I understand how busy football coaches are and how stressful the job can be, but Ernie always found time to talk to me.
I didn’t cover Spanish Springs football that much, but Scott Hare has always been straightforward with me and I appreciate that.
I’ve also met some great kids during my time at the Tribune.
During my first experience with the Nevada sun and no sun block, I slowly burnt to a crisp while covering a Spanish Springs softball doubleheader — back when the Cougars were losing games by double digits. While my face was a nice purple shade for a few weeks, Holli Vre Non had been nice enough to share some of her apple with me in between games. It was kind little gestures like those that made the adjustment to a new place easier for me.
The past three years, I’ve watched Spencer Empey go undefeated on his way to winning three state wrestling titles. Wrestling is a sport where many athletes are cocky, but he is the polar opposite. Spencer had every reason to be full of himself, but he is the most humble and grounded kid I have ever talked to. I expect he will do quite well in his future after he is done wrestling.
Ryan Butler is probably the most polite kid I have ever interviewed. Obviously his parents did a good job raising him. I still keep in touch with his father. He is one of the parents who is thankful for what I’ve done for the kids around here. I’ve had a McQueen mom email me over the years because we met when her son played in the Babe Ruth state tournament at Golden Eagle. She bought me a couple waters that day, and five years later, she told me how her son is playing college ball. When you can foster relationships with people like that, this job truly becomes rewarding.
I didn’t become a sports writer to get rich. I did it because I wanted to find a way to stay involved with baseball. But I also did it because I know how nice it is being recognized for your hard work and talent when you’re a kid. I enjoyed it when I was in high school, and I felt like this was my way of giving back.
Many newspapers got away from covering the local sports and news. That’s why I liked the Tribune because it recognizes people who should be recognized but normally wouldn’t be by a bigger paper.
The first Little League game I covered, I saw Tanner Denham throw a no-hitter for Sparks National. How many 12-year-olds are able to be quoted in a newspaper after a no-hitter?
There have been plenty of memorable moments like those during my time here. My favorite team to watch was the 2005 Sparks boys soccer team. It was clear the Railroaders had a negative reputation to overcome. A lot of calls didn’t go their way and they didn’t get much respect.
There was also a large talent gap between Sparks and teams like Truckee and North Tahoe. Considering how lopsided the regular season matchups were between those teams, I never would have predicted Sparks coming away with its first boys soccer regional championship. That’s exactly what it did by stunning North Tahoe and Truckee in a couple of intense and entertaining playoff games.
What Frank Avilla, Joel Martinez and Chava Espana have done with that program over the years is admirable. Frank is the coach I’ve talked to the most over the years, simply because he never stops coaching at Sparks High. I admire how much effort he puts in with his kids even during the offseason, making sure his players keep their grades up and holding them accountable. He even teaches his players about current events and is a father figure to them.
My second favorite team to watch succeed was the 2011 Reed volleyball team. I watched the Raiders that entire fall and had no expectations of them winning the North. Then, all of a sudden it just clicked for them and they truly embraced the underdog role. After they won the regional tournament, I interviewed the seniors the following Monday. That was the most fun I’ve had doing a story. They were hilarious.
It was also good to see the Spanish Springs volleyball team pull off two upsets and win state this past school year after losing to Reed in the regional final a year earlier. When teams come together on the volleyball court, it is fun to watch.
I won’t forget the crazy times in the press box at SSHS soccer games thanks to Melissa Taveira and the Hosfords. I also won’t forget being a 23-year-old, walking through the halls of SSHS and being told to take off my hat. To be mistaken for a high school student when you’re a year out of college is good times. Trust me.
And yes Charlie Walsh, it was my Fresno State hat. Even though he’s at Wooster now, Charlie still hassles me about that (insert negative adjective here) hat.
The story that had the most impact on me emotionally was a prep spotlight on Sarah Droege. Not only was Sarah extremely nice, but talking to her mom and hearing how proud of Sarah she was, it was hard not to be emotional. Sarah’s mother was able to see Reed win the Northern girls soccer state championship that year, despite being in hospice care for cancer. She passed away shortly thereafter.
I also want to thank all the people like Paul Gray, Jon Foss and Ray Charles, who even after they stopped coaching for teams we covered, they would still talk to me whenever we ran into each other years later.
I really enjoyed getting to know Ric Fehr better this past year. He and his wife have a great success story. I still remember trying to get a hold of Ric after a wrestling meet my first year here, but his wife was giving birth to their youngest son.
Jason Saville is one of my favorite coaches. He’s a funny guy to interview and very opinionated. If I never get married and have children, it’s because he told me not to a couple years ago. I’m sure he was kidding.
Frank Sandomenico’s passion for Spanish Springs kids, whether they play for him or not, is unmatched. He’s always been good to me as well, much like Dale Moss, who always says hi when he sees me around Reed High even when it’s not track season. And I can’t forget Gregg Shugar, even though he labeled me as the Tribune’s “B team” whenever I covered Sparks basketball.
Athletic directors Ron Coombs and Art Anderson have always been helpful and appreciate what the Tribune does for their respective athletes. It was funny watching Ron and athletic secretary Cindy McDaniels tease each other constantly and somehow I always got dragged into it. It’s nice when people are genuinely interested in my back story and Cindy was one of those people. Paul Gray was another. I sat in his classroom for an hour one time and we just talked about my plans. Five years later, I think I’m finally acting on those plans.
It’s a good thing I didn’t leave back then. I wouldn’t have had a story for the grandkids. I’m usually worried about having to catch foul balls, but this spring I caught an elderly woman who passed out in front of me at a Reed softball game. From what I heard, she ended up being OK.
I want to say good luck to all the coaches and players. And thanks for everyone who made my job easier and more enjoyable. In the coming months, I’m sure I will check to see how everyone is doing and if the Sparks athletic director ever fires the football coach. They must really get along.
Aaron Retherford came to the Sparks Tribune in October of 2003. He started as a sports writer and was the paper’s associate editor before stepping down last week to explore other career opportunities.