Good Sport: The year I didn’t belong

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jeffby Jeff Laughlin

If you saw me in Target on Saturday, you saw a metaphor for my whole year in a nutshell. I wore an outdoor basketball starter kit: long Celtics mesh shorts, a T-shirt with an outdated and obscure internet joke on it and some scratched-up glasses. In December.

I had a friend in town and we planned on shooting some ball — the perfect weather mitigated our awkward athleticism. When he arrived, I realized I no longer owned a basketball. We were losing the light outside. So we rushed over to Target to buy a ball, looking like the last two humans on Earth who should be playing sports.

That’s my year in writing. I don’t feel like I belong here. Only two years ago, I’d never written for a paper in my life. I went back and read my first couple of articles — yikes. I’ve learned an entirely different way to tell a story since then. Several ways, actually.

The two young gentlemen wearing comically oversized cowboy hats with unbuttoned shirts to reveal their bare chests taught me how to write when “they won’t no damn racing.” I had never written about what didn’t happen at a game before. Having too many cars and not enough track at Bowman Gray helped me get there.

Golfer Johnny Vegas taught me how to walk away when the chips were down. As he self-destructed to start the back 9 at the Wyndham, I got the chance to watch one of my favorite golfers win the tournament with some beautiful iron play.

Jerzy Janowicz taught me how flashiness can be misconstrued for confidence. He looked so convincing during the Winston-Salem Open tennis tourney that I really believed he would make a difference in the upcoming US Open. But his petty foibles — emotional breakdowns I mistook for drive and competitiveness — did him in very quickly in New York.

Travis Thompson taught me how to talk about basketball without avoiding the tragedies that befall humanity.

He taught me that sports are not always an escape.

He’s still recuperating and still won’t let me ignore the grotesque beauty we all witness. I need to go visit him more.

High Point taught me that on a tight deadline, I can always talk ball. High Point University’s women’s basketball team just dropped two games to high-caliber opponents, including a ranked Nebraska team. They begin the meat of their conference schedule with a record of 6-5.

The NCHSAA taught me that rules, no matter how pointlessly they get broken, are serious. We still don’t know if Dudley High football would have gone undefeated this past year. We’ll never know.

The ACC basketball tourney taught me that we gotta be diligent to get seats. I know that now. My dream of press row for the men’s tourney remains on hold.

My people taught me that it can be a family affair. I’ve gotten to work with my sister, a photographer, on a lot of assignments. That has meant the world to me.

I consider my editors friends first and bosses second. They’re family, too. They’ve let me learn and offered some great advice on how my column can evolve.

No matter who taught me and what I learned, I got to live a dream this year. Getting to watch sports and write about it fulfills part of me and I hope that was evident in the stories I shared.

I still don’t feel like I know what I am doing — that I am an outsider posing as a sports journalist. I still feel a little guilty standing with athletes and eating the occasional free press meal.

I don’t feel like I’ve earned it yet.

So I’m wandering around a department store looking for the right equipment, the expression on my face one of bewilderment to see all the weird items people buy and care about. The only certainty gratifies me though: I will find what I am searching for even if I lose the light to shoot.

I’ll chance looking weird out there so long as I can tell the story. Sometimes the search for the story becomes the story, but sometimes you just wander around until you find it, not matter how stupid you look in the process.

Thanks for reading in the meantime. Here’s to 2015.