Almost two years ago, Triad City Beat published my first column for this sports section. I may be the only one who recalls it was a scene about playing a semi-annual game of capture the flag out at Doodad Farm in the far-flung easternmost reaches of Greensboro with a legion of friends.
Perhaps it’s fitting that I should bookend my sports writing tenure with another iteration of capture the flag.
I’ve decided to step down from my weekly contributions to Triad City Beat. This was not the easiest decision to make. I feel as though I owe Brian Clarey, Eric Ginsburg and Jordan Green a debt of gratitude. Under their tutelage, I rapidly developed professionally and personally. They became my friends, as did the rest of the staff.
Hell, I met my girlfriend thanks to the paper, asking her out after TCB’s anniversary party last year.
I owe TCB a lot, but facts are facts: I got a full-time job with Furnitureland South as their copywriter in early December. For a while, I thought I could do both. But the grind quickly wore on me. Perhaps I heaped unrealistic standards on myself, becoming my own worst critic, but I felt as though my product for this paper became unsatisfactory.
Regardless, around the turn of the new year, Ron Swanson’s immortal words from “Parks and Recreation” rang through my mind: “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”
I’d whole-assed TCB for two years. It wouldn’t feel right to half-ass it.
My friends who’d assembled for capture the flag seemed disappointed by the news.
“I’m going to miss reading about things you do with us,” my friend Rachel Rossabi said. For her part, she also appeared in a piece last year about the spelling bee at Raleigh’s Daily Planet Café. Other friends agreed.
Journalism, like many public services, can be something of a thankless job, and at the very least one wherein you must survive without much direct validation. This felt like a funny time to receive such an outpouring of it.
My declaration may have been bittersweet, but the day it came to those assembled friends was a perfect day to play capture the flag — clear blue sky, just a bit breezy, not cold enough to freeze your toes off but chilly enough to warrant layers of camouflage.
By 12:30 p.m., we’d gathered in No Man’s Land at Doodad Farm, roughly 20 in all. Riley Driver, whose family owns the land, refamiliarized us with the rules, the terrain, the multiple patches of barbed wire. We divided into teams — red for Damn Commies, blue for Dirty Liberals.
This time, I’d be a Damn Commie.
We tested out rounds of 45 minutes at first. While this idea quickened the pace, that length proved too short to make any real moves on the flag from either team. Four members of the Dirty Liberals wound up in the Reds’ jail, but in the final moments of the first round, a daring jailbreak led to their freedom.
The next round ended strangely enough with a loophole befitting of the capitalist pigdogs. Hamish Jackson, a Brit on the blue team, literally plunged into the creek with their flag and chucked the banner close to the borderline before getting tagged. Liberal Vivian Taylor wound up using a stick to drag the flag over to their side.
We Reds begrudgingly took the dubious loss. But the Damn Commies steeled themselves for victory.
In the final round, I worked my way up the creek bed to conduct recon, only to be sussed out before making a move toward the flag and dashing back to friendly territory.
As the sun sank lower behind the poplars, with precious little time left and multiple Commies in jail, the Liberals made plays on the flag. The same daring Brit who’d slogged through the creek wiped out on barbed wire, bloodying his mouth in the fall and taking himself out of the game. They soon drew the flag close to their border but lost plenty of teammates in the process.
It was our turn to make a move.
Unplanned yet synchronized, four of us moved in on the Liberals’ flag, now only featuring two blue defenders. I was part of the frontal assault, with a runner named Matt Trower moving in from the rear on the left flank.
“If any of them comes at you, go for the flag!” Riley shouted continuously in distraction as the defenders spread out further from their flag.
Our diversion worked.
Matt dashed for the flag and burst out of the woods. The rest of us formed a barrier against the straggling defenders. Matt didn’t quite make it, and we all got tagged.
Suddenly, Suquanna Butler, a Red who’d been momentarily sidelined, dashed for the flag and brought it to our territory for a proper score.
This victory too was bittersweet: The land where we play capture the flag will soon be converted into a tree farm. The poplars, fallen pines and brambles providing all the cover and confusion over the past few years would be stripped out and replaced with orderly rows of trees.
It would likely be the last time we’d meet on the old battlefield. But, as with every major transition, we’ll learn to adapt.