This is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. It is, instead, the end of the beginning. — Anonymous

Thursday marked my two-year anniversary at The Cullman Times. It was also my final day.

Next week I start my new job at the Galveston County Daily News, the oldest newspaper in Texas. The paper is roughly three times larger than The Times and is definitely a big step in the right direction toward my dream job as a beat writer for the Chicago Cubs.

But I’m not leaving Cullman without plenty of great memories — thanks to the talented athletes and coaches I have had a chance to cover over the past two years.

There are a few in particular I want to thank:

- Thanks to all the coaches, especially the ones that took the time to call in every game, win or lose.

I thought our basketball coverage this season was the best in years because of the wonderful effort put forth by the coaches. The Times is here to celebrate the accomplishments of athletes in Cullman County, and anytime a coach took the time to call us with results, we made sure to get them in the paper.

I hope that relationship can continue this season, giving all the athletes a chance to feel proud seeing their names in the paper.

- Thanks to the Cold Springs Lady Eagles basketball team.

I’ll admit, girl’s basketball was my least favorite sport to cover entering this job, but the talented ladies from Bremen showed me how exciting and entertaining the game could be.

I was even more excited about girls basketball than the boys entering this season.

- Thanks to the Cullman Bearcats baseball team.

Never before have I felt more like an actual beat writer than I did when I was covering the Bearcats this season. Coach Bryan Bowen let me sit in the dugout during the playoffs, where I was able to see all the ins-and-outs of the most successful baseball program in north Alabama.

Even though Cullman missed out on the state title, I would still have to say covering its run to Montgomery was the most fun I have ever had on the job.

- Thanks to my co-workers at The Times.

I came to Cullman as a recent college graduate, unsure of my abilities as a writer. I’m leaving as a seasoned veteran with all the confidence in the world.

Thanks to Matt Perdue for helping me produce the best sports section in the state. Thanks to Gail Crutchfield for helping me to put out the section on time every night put out the section. Thanks to the rest of the newsroom for keeping the atmosphere loose and making this a fun place to work.

I need to give an extra thanks to Lionel Green. He took a chance on me even though I wasn’t the most qualified candidate available. I hope I’ve made my mentor proud of my accomplishments.

Looking ahead

I’ve seen plenty of good things in Cullman County sports in my time here, but there are still a few areas I think need improvement in the next few years.

- E.C. Gibbs’ mural needs to go up on the gymnasium wall at Cullman High School.

In my two years at The Times, Gibbs was the most remarkable athlete I saw perform. His many gold medals and Gatorade Player of the Year award show he was definitely more than hype.

To me, going up on the wall is the highest honor a Cullman athlete can ever receive. Gibbs deserves to be up there with the other greats, not just because of what he was able to accomplish with Cullman proudly displayed on his chest, but for helping lead the school’s track program to new heights.

Cullman has an unbelievable group of youngsters coming up through the track program and Gibbs is a big inspiration for them.

Don’t wait until he is racing in the 2012 Olympics in London. Put him on the wall at Cullman’s season opener in basketball.

- Find a way to give the cross country coaches in the county a supplement.

I’ve seen the numbers for the Cullman County Board of Education. I know money is tight. However, cross country is one of the best ways for kids in Cullman County to receive athletic scholarships.

I was so impressed with Cold Springs’ Clay Campbell, Fairview’s Hobson Hite and West Point’s Leslie Hembree. These coaches volunteered their time to not only give their school recognition, but to help their runners get a college education. None of these coaches received a supplement for their efforts.

Let’s find a way to reward them for their unbelievable dedication to the successful cross country programs.

- Let St. Bernard play in the Cullman County basketball tournament.

The concerns about letting a private school into this great tournament are understandable, but let’s be honest, St. Bernard probably isn’t going to turn into Madison Academy just to win the gold trophy.

Letting St. Bernard in would not only add another gate to the tournament, it would also bring even more excitement to the event. Even if it is just a one-year probation period, find a way to let the Saints join in on the fun.

- Finally, find a way to make the rivalry between Cullman city and the county schools become more friendly.

The hatred that seems to exist between many of the county and city fans was one of the most disturbing things about this job. Rivalries can be fun and exciting. At the high school level there shouldn’t be so much disdain.

Now I won’t blame one school’s fan base for the problem, because honestly both sides of the rivalry do nothing but add fuel to the fire.

I think this season, the rivalries can take a step in the right direction with Cullman playing Hanceville in football and playing in the same area as West Point in basketball and baseball.

No more “I hate Cullman” T-shirts. No more bragging about superiority on the Internet message boards.

Let’s see a lot of good sportsmanship and respect on the playing field. I think if the players and coaches involved can show how fun and respectful the county-city rivalry can be, it will start to have an effect on the fans.

Final thoughts

Over the past two years, I feel like I’ve made a lot of great friends, but I know I’ve also made a few enemies.

I know there were some who felt they were being slighted or that I brought too much attention to the negatives, but throughout my tenure at The Times, I tried to be as fair as possible. Hopefully, I was able to accomplish my goal.

So, before I say good-bye, let me first thank everyone in Cullman County for all the great memories. I may be 700 miles away, but I will always be a fan of the players, coaches and programs I have had the privledge to cover over the past two years.

It’s been an experience I’ll never forget.

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