It makes no sense when you consider the salary and hours, the occupational hazards and reduced life expectancy, but young men and women fresh out of college are engaged in an everyday battle royal to get into this profession.

They would be flabbergasted, probably even infuriated, to learn that I stumbled into it while loitering in the lobby outside the Monmouth Academy gymnasium, avoiding physical or mental exertion during winter carnival my junior year.

A cherished teacher and dear friend, Nancy Morris, handed me a slip of paper with a phone number and the name of Charlie Pomerleau, then sports editor of Sun Journal’s Sunday enterprise. Charlie sought a “junior sports clerk,” a vague job description that ultimately entailed transcribing Lewiston Raceway results by phone, turning high school baseball box scores into five-paragraph summaries, shoving glossy photographs into a file cabinet and stuffing pizza into our mouths.

One after-school interview on Thursday, March 9, 1989, and I was in, at a clip of $5.50 an hour. “We’re not going to make you rich,” Charlie, still possibly the coolest guy I’ve met in the business, deadpanned, “but it’s two bucks more than you’re going to get at Burger King.”

Charlie also sagely counseled me not to waste my energy studying journalism. “You already know how to write, and I’m teaching you how to be a reporter. Learn something else in college.” As one of the employees navigating the impending merger of the “Sun and Journal,” as so many locals labeled the daily and evening editions, perhaps he was prescient that the business as we knew and loved it wasn’t long for this world.

Of course, in J-school, they do teach the importance of maxims we’re all compelled to embrace if we wish to survive more than a day or two as newspaper people. One such admonition even has trickled into every-day, American parlance: “Don’t bury the lead.” It means drop the flowery language, spare me the anecdote and get to the point. You can fill in the blanks later.

If you have indulged me thus far in this particular piece, you might consider me chief of sinners in that regard. OK, time to swallow hard and tell the hard truth.

Today’s column represents the final work of my full-time career as a sportswriter for this publication. I am retiring after 27 years, 1 month and 24 days (but who’s counting?) to pursue other life goals.

See, I took Charlie’s advice, albeit a quarter-century late and after two or three epic dropouts, and completed my degree in psychology from the University of Maine system this past December. I will be pursuing my Master’s and perhaps Ph. D in professional counseling, because those who cannot do, teach. And those of you who have spotted me shivering and cursing at a hockey game or ski meet over the years won’t be surprised to hear that I plan to do all this in a more temperate, year-round climate.

Whether you receive this announcement with a Bronx cheer or a bucket of tears, be warned: You cannot completely get rid of me that easily. I have accepted the offer to provide a twice-monthly column, to run Mondays for the foreseeable future. This industry is not unlike the “Hotel California” given musical immortality by the Eagles. Checking out is one thing. Leaving requires a completely different set of skills. I’m not sure I have that ability. Once a writer, always a writer, and you will seek out and create opportunities to exercise those chops until the day they drop you in the dirt.

That said, I am completely at peace with the decision to walk away from this comfortable existence, its unbelievable perks, its oddball schedule, and its unique stresses that nobody outside the fraternity can fully appreciate.

Journalism has become a young person’s game. The challenge of staying relevant is no longer won by attending a game, taking good notes, having one or two nice conversations, writing 700 words, cracking a beverage and enjoying the rest of the night with your family. The 24/7 news cycle demands people who can flip the switch at any time, accept constant contact from bosses and readers, and adapt to the new manner in which technology compels us to tell stories.

Some idealistic young buck with high energy and low blood pressure is thrilled to take the baton, run with all his or her might, and regale you with the local sports coverage you deserve. I know this because I have counseled dozens of students over the years who inquired because they believed, rightfully, this was a pretty cool gig that I had.

We all know when it’s time, and it’s my time. “But aren’t you going to miss it?” Of course. Nobody thrives in this environment for two-thirds of their natural-born years without loving it on a deep level.

I will miss the places: Griffin Field in Livermore Falls in October, Augusta Civic Center in February, Harlow Park in Dixfield in May, Oxford Plains Speedway in July and August. I will miss the people who let me into their homes and lives and allowed me to help fill two generations’ worth of family scrapbooks.

Nineteen schools scattered across five counties and a brick-and-mortar building at the corner of Park and Pine represented my “office” for as long as I’ve had one. I will miss those places, along with countless colleagues, coaches, athletes and parents who made each of those haunts feel like a second home. And I forever will be indebted to the Costello family for letting Charlie take a chance on a gangly 16-year-old with glasses and a dream.

And to my readers: Thank you.

Thank you all, from the depths of my being. Without you, none of this would have been possible. I love you. I’ll miss you. And I’ll be talking to you soon.

Kalle Oakes held every job in the sports department during his 27 years at the Sun Journal. His column will return in June. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @oaksie72 or sendhim a friend request on Facebook.


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