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John League - 12/30/01

January 02, 2002

Rooting for an old friend to get back into the lineup



By John League


A business friend of mine is about ready to retire, and I asked him what he would miss most when he stopped working.

He told me that the one thing he loved about his job were the conversations he had with employees. Not during meetings. But the casual talk you have about your wife, your kids, your hobbies. The conversations we have at the coffee pot and copying machine. Where you get to know folks.

I got to thinking about that, and my friend Darrell Kepler.

Darrell is a copy editor at the Herald-Mail.

Darrell has worn a number of hats here. He was sports editor of The Morning Herald when I started here as a reporter in 1979.

Years ago, the Herald editors would put the paper to bed, then head over to the old Antietam Tavern about 1:15 a.m. for a beer. That's where I got to know Darrell.

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I love talking sports with him. In those days, his passions were the Baltimore Colts and the Orioles.

As sports editor, Darrell would always have an inside story to tell, stories that I found fascinating.

At the time, Darrell and I were among of group of nightside newspaper employees who would gather before work to play basketball at Hellane Park. We expended more energy than talent. But it was always fun.

It was basketball where we cemented our friendship. Darrell grew up following the Baltimore Bullets, and so did I. Earl Monroe. Gus Johnson. Don Ohl. Archie Clark. We remembered them all.

We loved to recount the classic playoff games the Knicks and Bullets seemed to have each year. And how that rivalry never seemed the same when the Bullets abandoned Baltimore and the Civic Center for new digs in Landover.

Every year, I knew that at least once, I would make it a point to find Darrell shortly before the NBA playoffs and get his prediction. Throughout the playoffs, I would seek out his analysis.

Darrell was a great sports editor. He left the job in the mid-1980s, moving to The Daily Mail as a copy editor. I don't think Darrell ever wanted to leave the sports job. But the lure of day work,and two young children to raise, made the decision easier.

Since then, he's worked in our circulation department, and eventually landed back on the Herald desk, where he frequently was A1 editor. He had a major hand in The Morning Herald's redesign earlier this year.

Darrell is universally liked by Herald-Mail employees, especially his colleagues in the newsroom. He never has a bad word to say about anyone. He is always willing to help. Before Nike ever developed the phrase, Darrell's motto is "just do it."

I would like to say that the point of all of this is that Darrell is retiring after a long career at the newspaper, and I'm about to wish him well.

But that is not the case.Instead, he is fighting the battle of his life. His opponent is cancer.

At this time of year, when we often reflect on the simple gifts that life gives us, my conversations with Darrell are among the little things that I once took for granted but I have come to cherish.

I am hoping, and praying, that my good friend can make it back to the Herald-Mail copy desk. And soon.

We miss him.

John League is editor and publisher of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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