Final thoughts are good memories

July 04, 2002|by DAN SPEARS

Somebody somewhere in the Tri-State finally got his wish. OK, maybe it's a lot of somebodies all over the Tri-State, but it's the thought that counts.

And by the way, how fitting that my final column in The Herald-Mail appears on Independence Day.

Yes, I'm leaving. I have a new job with the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle and my last day at The Herald-Mail is July 13. Sorry that it's not Sheetz or McDonald's or another fast-food joint, as some of you so desperately have wanted for me in the past, but that's the way life goes.

So the desk-cleaning process begins, and I've started looking back on some of the wild and wonderful things I've seen here:

  • Clear Spring's Jeff McCauley losing a perfect game when a swinging third strike bounced off the plate and over a 12-foot high backstop. He shrugged it off as one of those things. His coach, Jim Hutson, just couldn't believe it.

  • Shepherd football's upset at Indiana (Pa.) in the 1998 playoffs, when the Rams won the game on a blocked extra point they returned for two points. And watching Damian Beane run again, and again, and again or James Rooths returning another punt for a touchdown.

  • Jermaine Thomas making anyone and everyone look a step slow: Paint Branch, every team at St. James, Magruder, this reporter in interviews. I know I've written so many good things about him before, but the point can't be driven home enough.

  • My first impressions of Steph VanBrakle - as a volleyball player - during her sophomore season. Everyone said she was an even better softball player, which I had a hard time believing. I watched and was a believer. Then I talked to her and found out she's a talented athlete and a teenager with a great sense of humor. To have more people like her or Jermaine would be a good thing for coaches, fans and journalists alike.

  • Players like Sharew Hailu, Jess Valentine, Nathan Wingerd, Katie Spoonire, Eric Stoner, Ashley Bush, Allison Palank and the many others like you ... players and young adults that you know will go on to good things in life, just because of the way they handled themselves in good times and bad.

  • More coaches than I can name here: ones willing to let me in on a secret every once in a while, younger coaches with enthusiasm to last for days and a willingness to tell me how they really feel, older coaches that showed me guile and a little bit of old-fashioned grit go a lot farther than glitzy gameplans and upper-echelon talent in big situations. For putting up with a guy that gets a little scatter-brained every once in a while, thank you.

  • Four of the best people in the world you can work with: Mark Keller, Bob Parasiliti, Al Ditzel and Dan Kauffman, listed, naturally, from left to right in Fearless Forecasters order. These are guys that know their business better than anyone I've ever met, and make sure to give you the business when necessary.

They've even allowed my soccer bug to catch on a little. Can't argue with that.


Those are all good things, events and people I'll look back at happily. But someone asked me what I'll remember most about Hagerstown and working at the paper.

That's easy.

I hope that over my 4 1/2 years here, I've made you, probably the most loyal readers of a newspaper, think. That I've shown everyone there's a whole world outside the borders of Maryland and that rose-colored glasses should not come in the form of orange birds or turtles.

I've never been a person to hold my feelings in (ask anyone that knows me), and I'm proud that trait carried over into my career. When I said Cal Ripken should retire (in 1999), or that a bad play in a high school game was the key to a win or loss, or that county soccer coaches had dropped the ball one time or that the University of Maryland basketball program needed a refresher course in class - I meant it.

Every time one of those columns ran, a friend would ask, "Who (messed with) your Cheerios yesterday?"

But I've never said anything just to get a reaction or to rile people up. I've said things because that's what I believed, whether it was popular opinion or not. And I've always stood behind what I said and never backed down, even when people threatened me bodily harm or cursed me in public, and both of those actually happened.

I hope I've altered people's expectations a little bit. I hope you will try to look at both sides of a story now. Realize we "furriners," as I was also called at times, know a thing or two about what's going on.

Whoever replaces me has some interesting shoes to fill. If they're treated half as well as I have been, he or she will love this job and the people that come with it. But if they get half the hate mail I got ... well, that's probably a good thing, too.

So to all of you, farewell. And thanks.

Dan Spears is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. This is his final column. He can be reached, until July 13, at 301-733-5131 ext. 2334 or

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