A couple weeks ago, I tried to map out a list of all the places I’ve covered games at during my two and a half years at The Era.
Of course, there were the hundreds of events at schools in our coverage area: I made it to every McKean, Elk and Potter County high school but Austin — sorry Panther fans — and was so much a regular down 219 or Route 6 that I could recommend the best slice of pizza or postgame beverage in pretty much every District 9 community.
There were also all of those trips to towns in counties over the state: places like Bellefonte and Wexford for state soccer games; Karns City, New Bethlehem, Slippery Rock and Strattanville, to name a few, to cover high school football; so many trips to Clarion and DuBois for high school hoops.
It’s a wonder that I only hit one deer during my time at the paper.
But when I think back to all of those postgame stops at Sheetz, holding my breath each time I passed through Johnsonburg, and all of those dark and snowy rides back to Bradford in the winter, I smile.
As the old saying from Mark Twain goes, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
Well, that streak — at least temporarily — ends for me today.
I’m saying goodbye to Bradford Publishing. I’m on to pursue the next challenge in Buffalo, but I have a few more inches of column space left to say my thank-yous before I do.
THREE years ago, I had no idea where the future would take me.
Recently graduated from St. Bonaventure University, I was living back home in Buffalo with my parents and working as a waiter at a restaurant and a stocker at a liquor store. Those jobs paid the bills, but I was eagerly looking for that next opportunity; my first writing gig out of college.
Fast forward a few months, and a sports reporting job at The Era came open and the rest, well, is history. By my math, I’ve written close to 600 stories, done a couple thousand interviews and spent more time on MaxPreps and school websites looking up the proper way to spell someone’s name than I can count.
But really, there was no other way I’d rather spend the last two and a half years.
J.P. Butler, the company’s sports editor, hired me back in November 2017 and took a chance on someone who needed a lot of polishing.
J.P. is probably what you’d consider a “hands off” boss, but in a way I learned much more from that than I would have in a micromanaging sense. I think there’s very few jobs, and it was certainly the first for me, where you can enjoy spending 20-25 minutes on the phone with your boss … but I had that with him.
He’ll now have to find someone else to rant at about coaches not returning his calls or having to scramble to write a Bona game story by our 11 o’clock deadline.
All joking aside, we had a solid relationship and I turned into a much better writer with his help.
Just over a year into my time in Bradford, I became a boss, though my title never really mattered as much to me as did putting together a product to be proud of.
When I was asked to lead the sports department, I had plenty of goals and aspirations.
After 17 months as sports editor, I can say this: pound-for-pound, I would put our sports section against any other similarly sized paper in the country.
Every single front page over the past year has featured a local feature, a game story, or a column. And most nights, the entire front page is filled with local articles and photos.
That’s something I’ll always be proud of.
PROBABLY the best decision I made as sports editor was hiring Joel Whetzel to take my old job and become our new sports reporter. If you haven’t met Joel yet, look for the guy decked head-to-toe in West Virginia gear at the next Bradford High School event. He’s a good guy, and the sports department is in great hands with him.
The thing Joel and I both shared — and the reason I think our sports department excelled — is that we didn’t care about working the long, grinding hours to get the job done.
If that meant going from Shinglehouse to DuBois to Kane in a three-day stretch to cover games, we did it. Joel and I worked very closely for about 14 months, but there were sometimes entire weeks that went by where we didn’t see each other. But, my goodness, did we have a blast doing it. So much so that it’s a miracle that we made deadline some nights.
I think other people noticed the effort we put in, too.
There were few things I enjoyed more than a coach in Coudersport or a parent in Ridgway coming up to me and saying that we were covering their teams more than our paper ever had in the past.
And for the people who criticized us along the way — including an angry email about our coverage we received from a federal prison (true story) — thanks for keeping me honest.
It was those calls and emails that pushed me to become a better reporter and editor and made me want to prove people wrong.
I got the chance to work with plenty of extraordinary people along the way to help me in that process: there was Nick Richardson, The Era’s sports editor when I first started — a very patient man working with a guy who had a lot to learn; Ron Kloss and Chuck Pollock, two Twin Tiers legends that have more than 100 years of newspaper experience combined but were always humble enough to be a phone call or a Tim Horton’s coffee away from helping me; the newsroom staff, which unfortunately, has seen too much turnover since I started but especially to Marcie Schellhammer and Ruth Bogdan — who have offered advice and have made the newsroom enjoyable in their own unique ways.
And finally, to Corey Dieteman and Ashley Steis, who know more about graphic design and layout in one finger than I’ll ever know. Thanks for turning my words and photos into four pages that looked great to our readers every morning.
I WAS born in Buffalo, some 70 miles from Bradford, but I feel like McKean County is a part of home now. I’ll definitely come back to visit often, continue to flip through the pages of The Era, and stay in touch with all of the folks from around here that I’ve developed relationships with.
For now, thank you to everyone that allowed me to tell their story. Without you opening up your life and talking about your experiences, there is no sports section and I don’t have a job.
Thank you for trusting me and to everyone who read them in the car on the way to a hunting trip or at the dinner table of Togi’s or on the bleachers at Parkway Field.
This area will always have a special place in my life. It’s where I really grew up and developed, both professionally and socially.
Thank you for coming on that ride with me.
(Anthony Sambrotto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)