I can vividly remember my first trip to the Twin Tiers back in 2019.

Without visiting beforehand or knowing a single person in the area, I had accepted my job here at The Era and was on my way into town to meet my soon-to-be bosses, J.P. Butler and Anthony Sambrotto.

It was a cold, mid-March day — which I came to learn was actually a pretty standard — I was driving in from my girlfriend’s place in Erie with her in the passenger seat.

As we trekked across I-86, we were struck by how similar to my hometown back in West Virginia this place is. In fact, her first comment on the scenery was, “I’m glad there are mountains here, because you’ll like that.”

She was right. The scenery — and more so the tremendous people I’ve come to meet — made it really, really easy to call the Twin Tiers home since April 2019. Little towns like Port Allegany and Emporium are almost identical twins to my stomping grounds of Romney, W. Va., and that made the transition here pretty much seamless.

Since then, I’ve had a ton of fun doing this job. I’ve been to close schools like Bradford and Smethport, as well as some farther away like Redbank Valley (New Bethlehem), Punxsutawney and Bald Eagle Area. Those road trips are some of my favorite memories from on the job, because each town has something unique.

But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Friday night’s game between Bradford and Northern Potter over in Ulysses marked my finale with The Era.

The decision wasn’t an easy one. Bradford is a special place to me, and the communities we cover have treated me like one of their own every time I’ve visited.

But, we all have dreams to chase. My dream, since joining the sports journalism profession, has been to cover Division I college basketball, and now I’m getting my shot.

On Monday, I’m joining the Tribune Chronicle in Warren, Ohio. I’ll be covering the Youngstown State Penguins men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as the local high schools.

Before I depart, however, I have some folks to thank.

First, a huge thank you to Anthony, J.P. and Marcie Schellhammer for having faith in me and bringing me on board. I had no ties to the area, but each of them took a leap of faith.

An especially big thanks to Anthony, who I consider to be a good friend now. I followed in his footsteps as editor of the Era’s sports section after his departure last summer, and he’s allowed me to still lean on him for guidance and advice.

Also, thanks to Patrick Kotnik, who we brought in as our No. 2 guy in the Era’s sports department. He came aboard back in September, and has done a tremendous job of learning the ropes in such a wild, chaotic school year. He’ll continue pushing this section to be its best.

Thanks, also, to all of my colleagues both here and elsewhere, but especially Bob Parana at the Ridgway Record, Chris Wechtenhiser and Rich Rhoades at (DuBois) Courier Express and the folks over at D9and10Sports.com. They’ve all helped me in some way, shape or form at some point, and their work is tremendous.

And, finally, thank you so much to each athletic director, coach, player, fan and reader I’ve come to know in the area over time. I can proudly say I’ve been to every PA Big 30 school at least once, and each of them has something unique plus great people.

As the final curtain drops on my time here in the Twin Tiers, I can’t help but grin and think I’ll surely be back down the road for a visit or two. But for now, I’m off to my next adventure.

(Joel Whetzel can be reached at jmwwvu@gmail.com.)

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