The first day I sat down at my desk in the Covington News newsroom, I just tossed out the number three.
Three as in, let’s see what this sports department looks like in the next three years.
Let’s see what our sports coverage looks like three years from now.
Let’s see how the local sports scene benefits from what we plan to bring to this area over the next three years.
There was no real rhyme or reason as to why the number three popped in my head. Maybe it’s the preacher in me who learned how to structure sermons with three points and a conclusion.
Maybe it’s just because I like to give myself milestone markers, and three seemed like a great place to stop and evaluate. Either way, it was a number that stuck.
In three years I wanted to see The News’ sports coverage go from an afterthought to a first option.
With respect to our competitor across the county border, I wanted people to think Covington News first and foremost when talking about following the Newton County sports scene.
In three years, I said, I wanted to mold our small town paper into one of the best small paper sports sections in Georgia.
Three years later I look back at the awards we’ve won, the stories we’ve told, the lives we’ve impacted and the aspiring journalists we’ve tutored and without a shade of arrogance I feel like I can accurately say, “Mission Accomplished.”
That doesn’t mean I’ve been perfect. I’ve been far from it. It also doesn’t mean our staff has gotten everything right. One thing about life: No matter how good you are or how good you think you are, there’s always room for improvement, and honestly, if a person can’t see that, that’s actually the first sign of knowing you need improvement.
But what I know is true is that since I came here in 2016, I’ve put every ounce of sports journalism passion and giftedness I have into making CovNewsSports the best it can be.
I can’t wait to see what the next three years will bring, although for these next three years I’ll have a different viewpoint.
I’ll be watching you from afar.
The saying, “All good things must come to an end” couldn’t be more accurate to describe how I’m feeling today. It’s true, even when you don’t necessarily want them to end.
I’ll be leaving The Covington News to embark on a new journalism/media adventure. I’ll still be seeking to penetrate the surface of life to tell deep stories that mean something to the subjects and readers alike. But instead of doing it on the sports competition fields of Covington, I’ll be doing it in Christian mission fields across the country and Canada working for a large Christian organization as it’s newest content creator, staff writer and editor.
Out of nowhere came this big job that offers a big challenge and a big step up in my career, but I can promise you that my time in Covington was no stepping stone.
I love it here because you all embraced me as your own. I love it here because you appreciated my ability to bring a unique brand of sports coverage to the area. I love it here because your thirst for all things Newton County sports gave us permission to push the envelope in ways no other sports staff around here had done.
I also love it because you didn’t mind letting me know when you didn’t agree or when I made a mistake.
Contrary to what some may believe, I don’t like having “yes” men and women around me, telling me how great I am and never offering up a critique. Criticism makes anyone who’s strong enough to take it better — even if you don’t always agree.
With that said, let me say thank you to a few folks who helped me get better.
First and foremost, I’d like to say thank you to former General Manager Hosanna Fletcher for hiring me and giving me the opportunity three years ago.
One thing she told me in our first interview was that she wanted someone who cared about the community and would reflect that in their writing and coverage. She also wanted The Covington News to be an incubator of sorts for emerging and aspiring journalistic talent. That always stayed with me.
I want to say thank you to owner Patrick Graham and former publisher David Clemons for coming in and giving us renewed vision and a much needed shot in the arm.
Big shoutout to current publisher Jackie Gutknecht for her patience, support and willingness to work with us to continue our same level of sports coverage.
Thank you to Walton Tribune sports editor Brett Fowler. Though he’s our sister paper’s sports editor, he’s been like a brother in sports journalism to me. Thanks, bro, for helping me stretch my horizons and for sharpening my iron with your skills, expertise and ideas.
My CovNewsSports crew: Man...I couldn’t have asked for a better group of young journalists and content creators. I love you guys and will miss you. Thanks for helping me make the vision a reality. Couldn’t have even come close to doing any of this without y’all.
To Cynthia Warren, the most dedicated sales directors/reps you’ll ever find. I’ve seen others from your department come and go for various reasons, but you’ve been stalwart in helping make our magazines and sections awesome. Again, without you and your work, there is no sports section. There is no football magazine. There aren’t any of the products our readers have come to expect from us and enjoy. Thank you for everything.
Anthony Banks. My brother. I’m really gonna miss working with you. You are a photographer extraordinaire, and the next sports editor will soon discover how much of a gem you are.
Amanda Ellington, our fearless circulation Director. You’ve been awesome to work with. Thanks for helping me broaden my knowledge of the industry by forcing me to think about how what I do affects circulation and subscription numbers, which is any newspaper’s bottom line.
Can’t forget to say thank you to all our area coaches and athletes. Without your cooperation and access granted, we would have no stories to tell. We can’t do our job without you, and I pray the next sports editor puts in maximum effort to continue building and fostering those relationships with you guys.
To Chris Giella and Chick-Fil-A Covington. You have been amazing! God bless you, not just for your work with us, but with your work in the community as a whole.
Finally — and last but not least — I want to give a big shoutout to our readers and subscribers. You’re who we truly work for. You’re who we really want to please. Forgive us for not being able to be everywhere all the time. Forgive me for not being able to tell every story I wanted to tell. But God knows we did try. You all are what made this job the most fun I’ve had to date as a journalist.
Although I’ll be taking my full time work outside the realm of sports journalism, I’m not totally leaving the Georgia sports scene.
I have some other plans in the works to continue doing sports journalism on the side which will allow me to continue telling sports stories the way I feel God has called me to tell them. I’ll also continue my work with the Georgia Sportswriters Association. And when I really need to scratch that itch, don’t be surprised to see me popping up at a game to freelance every blue moon.
One way or another, I’m sure we’ll see each other around.
Until then, be good to yourselves and to each other. Fill up Sharp Stadium every Friday night during football season, and every match day during soccer season. Load the gymnasiums up during volleyball, wrestling and basketball season. Cheer Eastside softball to a state championship! Root on the continued resurgence of Alcovy sports! Look for the next big time college football player to come out of Newton High! Love on your teams and sports programs and they’ll love you back.
Create awesome home court/field advantages for your teams. Support your athletes and coaches. Subscribe to the local paper. Michael Pope is going to be awesome in this role, and I believe he and the crew will take what we started to even higher heights. Be nice to him.
And last but certainly not least: always, always promote #FarEastTalent. Keep sounding the alarm so that folks will stop sleeping on the amazing student-athletes, coaches and programs that reside here in Covington and Newton County, Georgia.
It’s been real. It’s been great. It’s been challenging. It’s been fun. I’d like to think we’ve helped our sports scene grow a bit because of our presence. It’s kind of hard to end this column because of the finality that comes with it. But in closing, let me say with assurance, you all have helped me grow immensely as a journalist, as a person, a professional and a man, and from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for that.
Believe me when I say I love you and appreciate you, and I always will.
I’ll see you when I see you. Stovall out.
Gabriel Stovall has spent the last three years as sports editor at The Covington News. He leaves to take on a position as senior writer and editor at the North American Mission Board.