Four years ago, I got to go back to high school.
In 2015, the Lexington Herald-Leader/Kentucky.com offered me the opportunity to become its high school sports reporter. This was on the heels of multiple retirements, including that of living legend Mike Fields, who captained our news team’s preps coverage for nearly 40 years. I’d like to say I was Joe B. Hall to Fields’ Adolph Rupp, but I was so much closer to Billy Gillispie — an under-qualified goober who was handed the keys to a Ferrari.
Somehow, I managed not to wreck, but it’s time to put it back in the garage: Effective immediately, I am no longer our dedicated high school sports reporter. I was approached during the winter with the opportunity to take over our University of Kentucky football beat and, after some deliberation, accepted the opportunity with the understanding that I would handle our preps coverage through the end of the 2018-19 school year.
When I took the high school reins from Fields, my response was blunt to anyone who asked whether I’d stay on the beat for as long as he did: “Not a chance.” Now, as I follow in the footsteps of another terrific journalist, Jennifer Smith, the handoff is bittersweet.
After working in behind-the-scenes roles at the Herald-Leader through college and up until taking the preps job, I learned to be a reporter on the fly; I switched from journalism as a major following my first semester at UK, leaving me with very minimal boots-on-the-ground experience when I was hired for the high school gig. There remains so much more to learn, but thanks to Kentucky’s high school athletes, coaches and all who enable and support them, I am better educated than ever.
My dream since elementary school was to write for a living, and Kentucky high school sports allowed that dream to morph into reality. Grateful doesn’t begin to describe the feeling I have for every person and team whose stories I’ve been allowed to tell over the past four years, and for the people in our office — sports editor Mat Graf, who gambled on a greenhorn from Martin County, chief among them — who have afforded me a platform and helped me share those tales.
It’s hard to pick favorites, but some of the most memorable experiences I’ve had covering high schools include …
▪ My first event on the beat: The 2015 Kentucky-Indiana girls’ all-star game at Transylvania University’s Beck Center. I was terrified.
▪ Taking in back-to-back thrillers in the 2015 state football semifinals — Pulaski County at Highlands and Lafayette at Simon Kenton — on the day after Thanksgiving.
▪ Getting to witness Paul Laurence Dunbar soccer coach Todd Bretz become the state’s all-time wins leader, and to profile him ahead of the milestone. (And, I should say here, gaining a better appreciation for soccer, and our city’s excellence in the sport.)
▪ Meeting Emma Young, who had one of the more unlikely success stories you’ll find in sports and life and continues to succeed as a Division I athlete.
▪ Paul Laurence Dunbar winning the 2016 Sweet Sixteen championship (How many people can say they got to cover a title-winning hometown team and a future Mr. Basketball winner in their first year on the job?!)
▪ Getting to be involved with the first full sports year of Frederick Douglass, Lexington’s newest high school, highlighted by the football documentary series “Opening Drive,” in which I played a small role (Alex Slitz and Caitlyn Stroh did the heavy lifting).
▪ Paris’ run to the 2017 All “A” Classic state championship, the last one won in the Frankfort Convention Center before it was demolished later that year. I still believe that team could have won the Sweet Sixteen if things had broke its way in the 10th Region Tournament (they were the first of several victims on “The Jake Ohmer Show” that postseason).
▪ West Jessamine’s back-to-back state championship runs in girls’ soccer in 2016 and 2017; the only thing more entertaining than the ways they won during those runs is Kevin Wright, their firecracker of a head coach.
▪ The Sweetest Century: An award-winning series of stories that Mark Story and I collaborated on leading up to the 100th boys’ Sweet Sixteen. Having a one-on-one phone conversation with Bruce Pearl as part of this was a career highlight.
▪ Speaking with the late Bill Miller, Kentucky’s all-time wins leader in baseball, after he guided Pleasure Ridge Park to its sixth baseball title while he battled cancer.
▪ The annual trek to Owensboro from 2016-2018 to cover the state softball tournament (and all the heat delays and Moonlite BBQ meat sweats that came with that privilege).
▪ Sharing the story of Harrison County volleyball coach Bill Faulkner, who’s also a dentist (and who two years earlier was among the first coaches to reach out to me, unprompted, when I got the job).
▪ The three-overtime thriller between Bryan Station and Madison Central in the 2018 11th Region Tournament, one of only two basketball games about which I’ve written two unique game stories (the other came soon after, when Scott County defeated Lexington Christian Academy for the title in that tournament).
▪ Pikeville’s incredible three-overtime victory as an underdog over John Hardin in the 2018 boys’ Sweet Sixteen, which occurred the night following the shooting death of Pikeville police officer Scotty Hamilton.
▪ Writing a retrospective about Lexington’s high school volleyball scene in recognition of the sport’s 25th anniversary in the city.
▪ In addition to Slitz and Stroh, getting to work the sidelines with some visual geniuses. Our photo/video staff and freelancers always make magic happen regardless of circumstances. A huge “thank you” to the following folks, especially, for making my stories look so much better than they were: Charles Bertram, Mark Cornelison, Marcus Dorsey, Ron Garrison, Ryan Hermens, Matt Goins, Gary Landers, Mark Mahan, Silas Walker and Tim Webb.
▪ Being in the house for the *official* 1,000th win of coaching legend Billy Hicks (the actual 1,000th victory, he’ll contend forever, happened earlier).
▪ Watching every game of Tates Creek’s 2019 baseball postseason run, fueled by one-and-done exits each of the four years before, that ended in a state title for another hometown team.
▪ My last event on the beat: Male’s completion of an undefeated season, and a strong case for the title of “Kentucky’s Greatest Softball Team.” I was much less terrified.
It’s been so rewarding to share highlights with you on Twitter. I’m gonna miss that as much as I’ll miss telling your stories (the Southeastern Conference and ESPN aren’t as friendly as the Kentucky High School Athletic Association when it comes to that sort of thing, unfortunately). I promise you’ll be served well, though, and encourage you to welcome the new @HLpreps — the Twitter handle will remain the same — with open arms and warm hearts. Jared Peck will be taking over high school sports coverage. You can now reach me at my new Twitter handle, @JoshMooreHL.
It’s new territory and comes with different challenges, but at the end of the day my mission and that of the Herald-Leader remains unchanged on the UK football beat: tell some awesome stories about something for which people have unwavering passion. I want to make you laugh and cry. I want to answer the questions you want asked, and, yeah, probably some you don’t. I want to be someone you trust to cover the Wildcats thoroughly, fairly and with perspective that keeps you coming back well after the games end every Saturday.
I also hope to not be completely out of preps — I’ll still be helping out with our high school football coverage in some form, given the amount of high-profile recruits the state has made a habit of producing, and I’ll absolutely still be trying to weasel my way into Rupp Arena for as many boys’ and girls’ Sweet Sixteen tournaments as possible.
If nothing else, during the four years we’ve spent together I hope every boy and girl I’ve covered were all made to feel like their accomplishments mattered as much as those of athletes like LeBron James and Alex Morgan, because they did, even if ESPN didn’t talk about them. You all are awesome, and my life is richer for spending the last four years with you.
Now, time to graduate again.