Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
It’s 10:22 a.m. on Monday and the end of today’s deadline work schedule looms with a bittersweet aura of finality.
When my fingers strike the last key to assemble the final photo caption for The Leader’s Sept. 18 print edition, I will complete my final action as a sports reporter/photographer for the Oakdale, Riverbank and Escalon communities.
On Tuesday, I begin work at the Roseville & Granite Bay Press Tribune, where I have accepted a position as Sports Editor.
The transition North is a necessary step for my career and finances, but hails from a decision shrouded in somber admission of what I will leave behind.
Covering sports in Oakdale and Riverbank was a privilege. Your teams are terrific, your athletes are talented and the community support that follows these programs is simply inspirational. I was so lucky to be a part of it.
After following these teams for five years, it’s impossible to depart this area without leaving a bit of myself behind, bound and stacked in archive rooms, stretched across scrapbook pages and lined across the floor of bird cages (not on my mug shot, Tweety!).
Recalling memories that have influenced me the most during my employment at the Leader and the Riverbank News, I’ve scattered my lasting impressions into an A-to-Z format as my last will and testament.
A - I have Oakdale football coach Trent Merzon to thank for an increased sense of accountability in my writing. Whether I was awarding Manteca’s defense a snuggle sponsorship, looking ahead to the postseason or running controversial quotes, I learned to own what I write.
B – I leave a newfound admiration for the work it takes to build a baseball program with Oakdale coaches Hondo Arpoika, Nate Gregory and Joe Peterson. Oakdale’s varsity baseball team won a section title every year that I covered them. They were sensational.
C – I somehow convinced officials at the Oakdale Golf and Country Club to surrender a round of golf to my father and I on Father’s Day, dedicating a column and full-page issue to what more importantly was an excuse to hit those spectacular links. After watching Oakdale golf coach Lee McGhee drain a chip-in from the bunker on my first trek to the course, I knew I had to bring pops for a round.
D – There were so many fantastic programs at Oakdale High, but none dominated like the OHS wrestlers, who easily snared at least two team section titles (team dual and the Division IV championships) each season I covered them. The Oakdale wrestling team is annually one of the best in the state. They were a thrill to watch perform.
E – After covering a dramatic attempt by Riverbank Unified School District trustees John Mitchell and Steve Walker to retaliate against fellow board member Ron Peterson by shunning his son, Kirk, it’s my opinion that the lines have been drawn in the upcoming race for three seats. If Mitchell and Walker get even one same-minded trustee to join the fray, they will likely leech money from the district by voting back their own ridiculous benefits and continue to put themselves before the community they serve. With that in mind, I strongly endorse Elizabeth Meza, Susan Taylor and Suzanne Dean for the upcoming election. In my opinion, a vote for Patrick Hagan or Charles Neal is a vote for Walker and Mitchell.
F – The future of Riverbank’s football program is in good hands. The Trans-Valley League is incredibly tough, but I believe in the RHS coaching staff and the contagious momentum about campus that has followed third-year coach James Oliver. He has an excellent staff and they are going to make Riverbank better as a program each year.
G – The last thing Riverbank’s girls and boys soccer programs need is another gopher, but I am going to leave them one anyway, just for fun. The field is a notorious land-mine of tunnels and ankle-hazards but I’m hoping one more gopher somehow levels the playing field.
H – One day, someone will explain to me why the word ‘harrier’ refers to both a small breed of hound and a cross country runner. Until then, I will continue to use the word in headlines and stories with reckless abandon. Between Riverbank’s sensational runners in both cross country and track, and Oakdale’s dynamic track program and depth-laden cross country teams, it’s been fun to cover local harriers each year.
I – During Oakdale’s football game I got two last guttural war-cries of “Iiiiiike” from Mustang alums Miko and Hondo Arpoika. I will keep an eyeball on Fresno State’s walk-on competition in 2014 as these two inspiring athletes attempt to play college football for the Bulldogs.
J – No matter what transpires in Roseville, I will be a little jealous of my successor at the Oakdale Leader. He or she will have the pleasure of covering Oakdale MMA, the friendly owner/operator duo of Tom and Lori Theofanopoulos and the No. 3 ranked bantamweight in the world, Michael McDonald. Covering this tremendous fight team has been a rare and rewarding honor.
K – I won’t soon forget getting killed by Bryan Ching of Oakdale Fitness Plus during grueling morning workouts, even though I departed the program far earlier than I should have. I leave Bryan a bit of sweat and tears, along with a story I never brought to fruition on two of his more successful clients (inspiring weight-loss stories). Someone tell the person that replaces me to get on that.
L – I leave Oakdale Leader paginator Laura Morgan a ticket to Mars. Partly because she’s already equipped with her own her space suit (you can find a photo of it from Burning Man at laweekly.com) and mostly because it’s cheaper to promise her a ticket via this column than it is to purchase a real one to anywhere else. I leave Laura a little piece of my heart as well. She’s adorable.
M – To the sports crew at the Manteca Bulletin, good riddance. Just kidding. I learned so much about professional journalism from Jonamar Jacinto, Hime Romero and James Burns. It will be tough to go Fridays without your updates and Fourth of July’s without James’ neat trick with a lit Piccolo Pete. Good luck with your respective careers, fellas.
N – No one knows racing like NHRA writers Mike and Jeff Burghardt, who graced the pages and online edition of the Oakdale Leader with countless rundowns of high-level racing events. These stories made for interesting reads and were a pleasure to host. I hope you both continue to appear in the pages of the Oakdale Leader.
O – I leave the rest of the office all my respect and well wishes. It’s been a blast to work in such a fun environment. I will probably swing by every now and then to poach a Christmas gift or Thanksgiving plate. Until then, thanks so much for the memories.
P – The program. It’s Oakdale High football and it belongs to the entire community of Oakdale. My first Oakdale sporting event was an Oakdale football game (at Central Valley in 2009) and plenty of my favorites also involved the crimson and gold uniforms on the gridiron. Nothing compares to Oakdale football. The community makes it so.
Q – It wasn’t every week, but typically after my stories were finished, I would get phone calls from Oakdale Leader editor Marg Jackson with a few questions. Which spelling is correct? Why do you call Kelsey Kesley? Are you out of your mind with this column?
R – It became a tradition. At an Oakdale Leader staff meeting, Marg would ask me if I had anything planned for our upcoming tab. My response – “It’s not my first rodeo.” It was five years ago, but I’ve grown to admire one of the only hard-nosed sports remaining on my list of coverage.
S – Somehow, some way, the Oakdale softball program is responsible for more college scholarships than any other program in the area. It’s made for some unique coverage of players destined for bigger things and offered a glimpse as to why the program routinely makes a run deep into the section playoffs.
T – Thanks to Oakdale’s Ryan Vilmur, a former classmate of mine at Ripon High, I found my own brand of teamwork on the Oakdale sidelines. This year Ryan shot video for our Sports Spotlight features, while he managed defensive statistics in 2012. Ryan made the long treks not so grueling and was a welcome sight at weekly games.
U – The coaching prowess of Riverbank basketball coach Jeff Jennings is way underrated. With a population pool that really has no business competing at a high level, Jennings has managed to turn the RHS basketball program into a section power. They play tenacious defense, shoot with deadly accuracy and will compete for a section title this season.
V – I leave Riverbank News writer Virginia Still a big bag of candy, considering she’s given so much of it to me from her stash in that bottom right drawer. She’s a devout Oakland Raiders fan, but we all have flaws and apparently a sweet tooth.
W – I had barely heard of Water Polo when I began work at the Oakdale Leader. Now I really enjoy the sport and admire the Oakdale teams who play it with passion and success. The Oakdale teams will make treks up to Roseville each postseason and I look forward to seeing the Mustangs in action.
X – The X-factor for Oakdale High football was a little group known as the ‘Red Cup Brigade’. They made official introductions after Oakdale’s contest against Oceanside in 2012, but made themselves known with boisterous support of the program. Off the record!!
Y – The success of local prep programs ties directly with the strength of youth programs in the area. Most prep teams have tremendous feeder programs that support their growth. It’s the behind-the-scenes reason for most local prestige.
Z – It’s hard to imagine the zeal of local sport fans repeated in any fashion across the globe. It’s a beautiful pairing of dedication and desire with rallying support and loyalty. I will miss it.
Ike Dodson is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.