My favorite part of journalism has always been the opportunity to be a storyteller. History was my top subject growing up, and in this job I’ve been able to help record so many interesting tales and moments from around the Chippewa Valley.

One that stands above the rest to me is Chippewa Falls/Menomonie girls hockey’s state championship last winter. This was a program that struggled to win a single game in the Big Rivers a few years prior. But with determination and a focus on creating a positive culture, the Sabers completely turned things around. On a cold March afternoon in Wisconsin Rapids, Joey Schemenauer scored the overtime goal to lift CFM past University School of Milwaukee for the program’s first ever state crown.

“Coming from a losing background and then taking it all the way to a state championship is just amazing,” Ms. Hockey winner and Leader-Telegram all-area player of the year Sidney Polzin said after the game. “I think it has to do a lot with our culture. This group of girls is amazing. To finally do it, to hang our banner at home, is amazing.”

It was a reminder to me, and I’d like to think us all, that things can change quickly if you put your mind to it. And now, it is time for me to make a change, too.

This is the final edition of the Leader-Telegram I will put together, ending my three-year run in Eau Claire as the paper’s sports editor. I’m ready to start a new chapter, one that brings me back to my alma mater of Marquette and the city of Milwaukee.

I’m never going to forget my time here. Who could, given how wild and unpredictable it has been?

Since I arrived in Eau Claire our coverage area has seen five team prep state titles – Eau Claire North and Boyceville baseball, McDonell volleyball and softball and those CFM Sabers. That’s before mentioning numerous individual state champions in sports like track and field, cross country and wrestling. Oh, and don’t forget UW-Eau Claire’s volleyball and track and field national titles either.

I’ve been able to meet incredible people, including some of those titlists. Others have left an impression even if their seasons didn’t end with the completion of the ultimate goal. Fall Creek’s Ethan Wright experienced a horrific car accident, but less than two years later he was back out on the football field again. I didn’t know at the time how much I should appreciate my interactions with Eau Claire Memorial’s Ryder Woodworth, who lost his life in an accident this summer. It was an honor to memorialize him and share stories of his impact on Old Abe soccer.

I take pride in our locals going on to do great things. Watching Sam Stange and Zach Urdahl skate for Wisconsin men’s hockey reminds me of my many nights in Hobbs Ice Arena watching them show their talents against Big Rivers rivals. It’s a fulfilling feeling to know that you were a part of telling those student-athletes’ stories in some of their earliest moments.

I was entrusted to lead the sports section through unparalleled times, a phrase used so often these past few years it has nearly lost its meaning. Can we live in paralleled times again, please?

I expected to face many challenges in this profession. All sports stopping for months wasn’t on the list. But when the world shut down, Spencer Flaten and I got together and brainstormed as many feature ideas as we could possibly think of. It pushed the limits of our creativity, and I believe made us better reporters in the long run.

There’s a prevailing idea that the media has become some sort of “elite” conglomerate. I hope you understand that’s absolutely not true, especially at the local level. Sports coverage in a mid-sized market can be a grind. We work most nights, and weekends are rarely open. During the fall, definitely say goodbye to Fridays. You’ll be writing stories and typing up football box scores until well after midnight.

But I was reminded why I love being a journalist every time I got to leave the office and interact with someone new, got to tell another wildly interesting story.

Thank you to all the athletes, coaches and administrators who have taken the time to talk with me over the last three years. I hope you enjoyed the way I wove your tales, because I certainly enjoyed writing them.