There’s something about those Friday night lights.
The first high school football game I ever covered for a newspaper was Walnut Grove at Woodland in 2013. I was a senior in high school on assignment for The Walton Tribune. Having played football myself since I was in fourth grade, it was surreal spending my Friday night in the press box instead of on the field, but butterflies were still occupying the pit of my stomach.
They were just a different breed of butterflies than I was accustomed to having.
Instead of being amped up for a night of crashing pads into an opponent, I found my right leg bouncing as I mashed fingers onto keys and raced toward my deadline. As esteemed poet Marshall Mathers once composed, my palms were sweaty, my knees were weak and my arms were heavy.
I loved every second of it.
My favorite subject in school was English. My hobby of choice was athletics — both watching and playing. Could it really be that I was now getting paid to watch a sporting event and then write a story about it? I felt as if the job had been designed specifically for me.
I went on to study sports journalism at the University of Georgia, intern with MLB.com in Pittsburgh and serve as sports editor at the Times-Georgian in Carrollton before landing here in Covington. But no matter how much time goes by, at the start of every football season I think back to my first night on the gig at Woodland High School.
This fall marks my seventh season covering high school football for a media outlet. To kick things off, I’ve spent the past two Friday nights bunched inside the press box at Homer Sharp Stadium as I covered county rivalry games between Alcovy, Eastside and Newton.
The storylines were plentiful. The passion was palpable. The action was intense.
I loved every second of it.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the chaos that 2020 has provided, it’s to treasure every moment that I’m allowed to do something I enjoy. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always afford us the luxury of knowing in advance that we’re about to do something for the last time. In some instances, the halt is far more abrupt that we’d ever want.
As a result, I’ve found myself stopping to smell the roses, so to speak.
Each of the past two Fridays, I’ve arrived at Homer Sharp Stadium exactly two hours prior to kickoff. I’ve strolled up and down the length of the field. I’ve taken in the scenery from several different points of view high atop the stands. I’ve watched the teams warm up, break down and lock in for battle.
I do this because I know when I leave the stadium that night, with the cloud of uncertainty continuing to hover over the season in the midst of a pandemic, there’s no promise that I’ll be able to return the following Friday.
And I want to enjoy every single second that I can.
Seven years have passed since I covered Walnut Grove’s season opener against Woodland. A lot can change in a seven-year span, and much has for me. But through all the change, one thing has remained constant all this time.
There’s still something about those Friday night lights that keeps drawing me back in for more.
Mason Wittner is the sports editor of The Covington News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @mason_wittner.