I was on vacation in Fort Walton Beach, Florida when the call came in from Gregg Parks, longtime sports editor, former Press-Herald publisher and the man I chose to intern with for two weeks after my senior year.
“I’m being promoted to publisher, and I want you to come be our sports writer,” he said.
Pretty heavy stuff for a college student who still had a semi-loose grip on laundry and doing the dishes, but I told myself, “how often does an opportunity like this come around?”
I interviewed and was hired the week I returned home and embarked on a journey that let me be around what I love, afforded me entrance to world-renowned venues, gave me access to the minds of coaches and athletes, taught me valuable life lessons and changed me forever.
Along the way, some cool stuff happened: I rubbed shoulders with Les Miles, Ed Orgeron and Leonard Fournette; I had a front row seat and personal relationship for the prep career and recruitment of Devin White; I interviewed a black belt named Coleson Shaw whose life touched the hearts of thousands across northwest Louisiana; I was able to follow Lakeside baseball to Sulphur for the Class 2A state championship (twice), witnessed one of the best teams in Minden football history in 2016, saw countless walk-off hits and buzzer beaters and more outstanding accomplishments than I can shake a stick at.
The best part of it all? I got to share these moments and experiences with our readers and be the voice for those who either did not see them or wanted to relive them.
And it wasn’t just sports. I was able to pick-up the Lions Club beat – which is, for my money, the best in the business – and work with the absolutely angelic volunteers who organize the Minden St. Jude Auction. I got to trace this event to the very beginning one afternoon with Mrs. Cora Lou Robinson who welcomed me into her home; what a treat that was.
I would be a fool to forget stories of sacrifice penned for the Press-Herald’s Home of the Brave section, the first-responders and police men and women who worked tirelessly to make Webster Parish better and safer or the business owners who let me inside to spotlight them for Webster Profile edition.
I’ve gained more wisdom and felt enough emotion to last a lifetime, and it happened in four unforgettable year.
But much like the call that led me to the Press-Herald, I received another life-changing call last week.
It was from John Ware, head coach of the North Webster Knights football team, giving me a chance to interview for an opening at the school. Once again, I thought to myself, “how often does an opportunity like this come around?”
So, it is with mixed emotions that I would like to announce I am leaving the Press-Herald, the place that raised me. I will be joining North Webster High School as a U.S. History teacher and an assistant coach for the football and basketball team.
Anyone who knows me well will tell you this has long been a dream of mine. From the time I was old enough to pick up a pencil I’ve drawn pictures of football and basketball players, which turned into drawing my own plays by age 10. I am joining a tremendous school, starting at the top with Principal Jeff Franklin and working down through Coach Ware, head basketball Coach Tad Davis and the rest of my new colleagues.
I am trading in the solace of the Press-Herald newsroom for the calamity of a classroom filled to the brim with teenagers; maybe I’m crazy.
I would like to thank David Specht, owner and co-publisher of the Press-Herald, and fellow co-owner Tina Specht for treating me like family over the past four years. You made coming to work every morning easy and allowed me to be my own man, do the job how I best saw fit and learn from my mistakes.
To Gregg Parks, the man who thought of me as worthy replacement, I hope you know how much it meant to me to follow in your footsteps and share a newsroom with you. From story suggestions, to helping me with football previews, The Blitz, the 318 Mix and Friday lunches, you always had my back and made sure I wasn’t overwhelmed.
To the rest of my Press-Herald family, continue to do the phenomenal work that you do. It’s not going to be the same without you.
To our readers, I’ll miss you perhaps the most. It always brightened my day to walk into a business or school and have someone tell me they loved a story, or that they agreed with my perspective on an issue or outcome. I did not always get it right and I was not perfect in my role either, as many of you would remind me via email or voicemail; but thank you for caring, if not about my words, than for the people I wrote about.
Webster Parish is an unbelievable place to cover sports. No, we don’t have the bright lights of the big city or a professional/college team. What we have is much more pure than that.
Football season is around the corner and with it the Press-Herald’s next sports editor will take over as your lifeline to local sports. I hope he will be welcomed in with open arms by our community and give you all I was able to and more. I urge our readers to never stop supporting local journalism. We are NOT fake news, we are YOUR news.
It’s been an unbelievable ride. I look forward to seeing some of you around, and wish all of you the very best life has to offer.
Blake Branch served as sports editor for the Press-Herald from July 2014 until August 2018