E.A. Sports Today

A personal tale

Latest Jax-State-WKU game new twist in this writer’s journey from proud alum, to journalist covering the Hilltoppers, to covering their opponents.

JACKSONVILLE — So, Jax State plays host to Western Kentucky on Tuesday night in the latest meeting between my professional past and present.

Joe Medley, Editor

Between my stints with WKU’s College Heights Herald and the Bowling Green Daily News, I covered WKU nearly 12 years, before that proverbial train stopped at Career Change Station in 1996.

It felt weird, watching that train pull away without me. I followed that story for so long. 

Uprooting and chasing the unknown was scary, but I knew it was time to make a move. Probably past time.

I moved to Alabama in November of ‘96, and I have worked in Jax State’s market area for 27 years. Jax State was a regular part of my coverage universe for my last 15 years at The Anniston Star, and it’s part of my universe in my new incarnation, with East Alabama Sports Today.

Covering WKU’s opponent is nothing new. During my 12 years covering Auburn for The Star, Auburn and WKU played twice in football and twice in basketball. As The Star’s sports columnist, I covered WKU’s football game at Alabama in 2016.

I’ve covered all five WKU-JSU football games, dating back to 1992, and I’ll never forget my first chat with Bill Burgess. As sports editor in Bowling Green, I called him for an advance story, and it felt like a conversation with Jerry Clower.

Their ‘94 game marked my first-ever visit to Calhoun County,. Aldi and Bojangles now occupy the space where my Oxford hotel stood.

The ‘96 game came with quite a personal backdrop. I interviewed for my first job at The Star that same weekend.

I heard about the opening that Wednesday, FedEx’d resume and clips Thursday morning, interviewed with then-Star sports editor Ken Patterson on Friday night, had brunch with then-Star executive editor Chris Waddle on Saturday then covered the game.

The drive back to Bowling Green that night came with a mix of excitement about how well interviews seemed to go and sadness. Leaving all I’d known felt imminent, real. 

I accepted the job the following Tuesday and submitted my notice Wednesday, Oct. 16, 1996. It all happened in a week, and how cool it was that my former employer unknowingly paid for me to interview for my next gig.

That ‘96 game also marked Burgess’ last win at Jax State, and I’ve treasured every interaction I’ve had with him. For my last several years at The Star, I kept six voicemails saved as new on my work extension, so the system would never delete them. I listened to them on the tough days, days when I needed reminders of why I do it. 

Bill left two of those six messages, and his words brought needed smiles on more days than I can count.

Seven years after covering Burgess’ last win at Jax State, I froze in L.T. Smith Stadium’s open-air press box for the Gamecocks’ 2003 playoff game at WKU. I also had my first experience as a visiting writer there.

Talk about feeling awkward.

How appropriate it is that the twists of conference realignment would put Jax State and WKU in the same conference, just in time for my first football season in life beyond newspapers.

I know of no one currently involved with WKU’s program who was involved during my time in Bowling Green. Heck, Smith Stadium grew a whole second side and enclosed end zones since I last saw a game there.

I’m always grateful for the career that WKU’s journalism school made possible. They teach the journalistic way there. It can be a lonely way, but I always felt like the best way to honor my alma mater was to take the journalistic way seriously. That meant covering the bad news as willingly, aggressively and thoroughly as the good news. 

I worried, at times. Am I tough enough on my alma mater or unfairly tough, trying to be tough enough? I don’t know if I ever felt like I found the sweet spot.

When I moved to Alabama, I learned what it was to cover people, places and things with which I have no personal history. There’s something to be said about being able to write it and forget it.

It’s always some kind of something, though, when my sports writing past and present mix it up on the same field. I’m blessed to still be able to say I haven’t missed a Jax State-WKU football game.

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