The Watering Hole: This one is dedicated to you, Punxsutawney

"Are you still interested in interviewing for the position? Let me know, and we can set something up"

That was the end of an Email that I received on July 17, 2013, from The Punxsutawney Spirit's editor, Zak Lantz.

Two days later, I was offered the job of sports reporter at The Spirit, and since Aug. 5, 2013, I've made the daily drive up Interstate 80 and Route 36 from Clarion to Punxsutawney.

I was asked Thursday by a co-worker if I'm sad to leave them today, and I said yes.

They joked, saying they could tell I was being nice, but in all honesty, I will miss Punxsutawney a lot.

You see, it's not that I wanted to leave, but as I explained two weeks ago, passing up on an opportunity to move to a place I've always wanted to go, with the person I've wanted to go with and with a job at a newspaper for both of us is way too much to say no to.

I had different newspapers reach out to me during my time here at The Spirit.

All were great publications, but to be honest, if the job wasn't in Oregon or at a major company, I didn't want to leave Punxsutawney.

For the past three months, I drove around town before working, scoping out different possibilities for an apartment once I decided to move to town.

And when I started, I had no idea that I would ever consider moving to the place that is known only for having a groundhog, at least, in my mind.

But from day one, the people around the area have been nothing but kind to me.

I started the week before the football team started its two-a-days up at the football field.

In my first article, which discussed the quarterback battle between Dakota Thomas, Ryan Jones and Matt Burkett, I misidentified Thomas as Dakotah Byers.

What a great start, huh?

Graciously, both athletes were more than kind when I offered my sincere apologies, and head coach Alan Nichol told me no sweat, letting the kids know that I was "A WPIAL boy who loves football."

He summed that up just right.

Nichol was the first coach here at Punxsy who I really got to know fairly well with our weekly Wednesday chats.

You can bring any football mind you want to the table, and if there's ever an Xs and Os question I have about the game, I'll go to Nichol.

He's truly a football mind, and he really cares about those kids.

After Christian Falgout rushed for 1,000 yards in the season-ending loss to Northern Bedford, I could see the emotion in Nichol's eyes, and could hear the sincerity in his words when he spoke about how proud he was of his team.

Now, mind you, I can honestly say that there wasn't one coach this past year that I have one bad word to say about, but because of scheduling, there were some I got to know more on a personal level.

Phil Shenkle and Heather Good fit that mold.

At first, I was intimidated by Shenkle, because I could see how passionate he was about the game of soccer, and how badly he wanted his group of seniors to go out on top.

But throughout the season, Shenkle and I got along very well while the boys looked to grab the D-IX title from Bradford.

Even at the banquet, Shenkle came up to me, and he told me to come sit with him and his family at the table, knowing that I didn't know anyone else in that room.

Good was the same way, as she realized I knew some volleyball, but there were some terms I was struggling with.

As a sports writer, you cover every event that you attend fairly, but man, did I love seeing volleyball on the schedule for the upcoming week.
Good — along with Glenn and Lisa Good — also told me to grab a seat at their table during their banquet.

Throughout volleyball, junior high volleyball and the current junior high track season, it's been a pleasure working with her.

In the winter, it was nice to have only three sports, because it allowed me to get to know the coaches on a more personal level.

I've explained time and time again my early confusion for wrestling, only to find myself enjoying it by the end of the year.

Both Eric Eddy and Buddy Young are great guys, and I remember after Punxsy's first match of the season with Marion Center, Eddy called down to apologize if he came off as being harsh, since it was right after the match.

Truthfully, he wasn't at all, but that shows the type of individual he is.

And what a season it was for the boys' and girls' basketball teams.

Both teams made it to the District-IX title games, with the boys walking away with their second title in the past 20 years.

After the girls lost to Bradford, Randy Reitz shook my hand, told me great job and he hoped I would be back next year.

I told him that I hoped to be, and I really meant it.

As for Dirk Neal, after his team lost in the first-round of the PIAA playoffs, he said similar words as Reitz to me.

I said it after that game, and I stand by my claim, that Neal is one of, if not the classiest person I've had the pleasure of working beside.

The coaches instilled that in their players too, as all year long, the players would also wave and say hello.

But their true character showed when three juniors — Shania Painter, Nicole DiPietro and Alyssa Reitz — put together "Shooting for a Cure" night to raise money for cancer awareness.

In my 10 months here, that was still my favorite event that I covered — just ahead of any game where Cory Geer decided he wanted to run point on a fast-break.

When I decided which clothes I wanted to keep, I packed up my pink shirt to take out west, and I'll wear it proudly.

Great job, girls.

I can say the same about Al Pifer, Mike Dickey, Rose Graffius, Josh Conrad, John Smith, George Wehrle, Barry Young, Darrin Kriebel, Steve White, Amanda Setree, Seth Carlson, Bridget Rheaume, Todd Heigley, Bill Burke, Bill Vassallo, Mike Carlson and more, but I have to make sure I leave some room for some actual sports news in today's paper.

So, to all of the coaches and administration, thank you for your help and cooperation during my stint here.

As a newspaper writer, you expect to get angry letters and calls, which do happen.

But for every one bad call or letter, there are 25 positive ones.

Thanks to great parents for raising great kids, and for being nothing but courteous.

Also to Larry, Matt, Destiny, Dan, Megan, Adam, Eddie, Zak, Tracy and the rest of the staff at The Spirit, — it's been great working with you.

It's been a pleasure, Punxsutawney, and I now know that Punxsutawney is more than the home of Punxsutawney Phil and Groundhog (not hog's) Day.

It's a small-town community, filled with great sports, great eats and even more importantly, great people.

While I'll be over 2,600 miles away, I'll still be hearing the random cheers in my head, thinking of the football team on a Friday night or the basketball teams during the winter.

Let's Go Chucks.