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Sports Column | Derek Brightwell: Goodbye Southern Illinois

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Derek Brightwell

Most weeks, I won’t know what my column will be about until the day before I sit down to write it, sometimes not until the day of. This one, I’ve know the subject for almost two weeks and it still doesn’t make it any easier to sit down and write it. That’s because this will officially be the last column I write for The Southern Illinoisan as I will be starting a new job back home in Kentucky next week.

My debut at The Southern wasn’t exactly as smooth as I would have liked for it to have been. I walked into Carterville High School’s beautiful gym and was immediately awestruck by it and then quickly realized I didn’t have any service in the gym. When Nashville and Breese Central went to overtime, I realized I was going to be in big trouble trying to get the story filed on time and had to run to McDonald’s immediately after the final horn to find an internet connection.

Luckily, the Hornets gave me more opportunities to write better stories about Southern Illinois basketball as I got to follow them on their journey to a Class 2A State Championship, a memory I’ll never forget.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to avert disaster, more or less, since then and I have come to love this area and the people I’ve met there. I’ve appreciated every email I’ve received from a reader – especially the ones in response to my first column where I was told, quite emphatically, that I’d get in some trouble for stirring the Lincoln birthplace pot – and I’ve cherished every conversation with a coach, player and parent at the various ballparks and gyms I’ve been to. In my short career as a high school sports writer, I’ve learned the importance of telling good stories about the local athletes and I have to thank all of the members of the community for trusting me with those stories.

I also have to thank the staff at The Southern and especially my editors who indulged me a lot this summer, allowing me to get weird with some of the stories I pursued. Never in a million years would I have believed I would get to write a story about pro wrestling and I ended up getting to put three in the paper, and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu story for good measure. As much as I love covering high school sports, I think those will be the stories that I’ll never forget. The passion everyone I talked to for those pieces had for what they were doing was truly inspiring and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.

And the athletes, oh my God, y’all got some athletes down here. My biggest regret as I leave is that I won’t get to be on the sidelines on Fridays watching what I can only imagine is some of the best high school football I’d get a chance to see. When I put together the athletes of the year stories, I got to look back on all of the talent I saw in every sport and it was truly awe inspiring.

I know my time here wasn’t as long as some of you all would have wanted (and maybe too long for some of you). It certainly isn’t as long as I would have liked either. Even though I’m returning home, there will always be a piece of me that belongs to Southern Illinois and that will call it home as well. To the coaches, parents and student athletes I’ve met over the last half-year, I wish you all nothing but the best of luck. Even if it’s from a distance, I’ll still be keeping up with you all and, if you ever find yourselves up in my neck of the woods, don’t be a stranger.

Thank you and I will miss all of you.

Unleashing football here.

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Derek Brightwell is a prep sports reporter for The Southern. You can reach him at Derek.Brightwell@thesouthern.com or on Twitter @DerekBSports

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