Prep Zone: Thanks, folks! It’s been a fantastic ride (2024)

As you grow older, memories get blurry unless they are truly pivotal moments in your life.

One that remains crystal clear to me was the best phone call I ever made.

It was around Christmas 1988 and my wife, Beckie, and I were at her parents’ house in Crystal Lake. I read the Northwest Herald when we came to visit and I liked its style, its layout and its treatment of high school sports.

Chris Juzwik, the sports editor at that time, had my résumé and clips from several months earlier. This call was to just check in, hoping if a job opened up later, Chris would remember I cared enough to call.

To my shock, and delight, a position was open. The Herald, then a six-days-a-week publication, was adding a Sunday edition in March of 1989. I had worked at two daily papers for a total of seven years at that point. I felt like I had a lot to offer to the Herald sports staff. Fortunately, Chris agreed.

So, in January of 1989, we moved to Crystal Lake. Beckie was back close to her family, while I, who had been a copyeditor at my previous paper, got a chance to get out and see more things and tell stories myself.

It was a win-win.

It was the beginning of an amazingly terrific ride of 35 1/2 years that is coming to its end.

Prep Zone: Thanks, folks! It’s been a fantastic ride (1)

July 8 will be my last day as a full-time writer for the Herald, where I have seen and shared so many fantastic, breathtaking, poignant and compelling stories over 3 1/2 decades.

I have witnessed the thrill of state championships, the devastation of heartbreaking losses, the power of human will in overcoming adversity, humorous moments that sports sometimes provide and more uplifting, feel-good stories than I can remember.

I feel like I answered my calling. I was a complete sports geek as a child, the son of a high school basketball coach until I was in the fifth grade. I was constantly looking at baseball and football cards, poring over boxscores, memorizing every lineup and ingesting any statistic available.

My mind is wired different than most. I remember jersey numbers and all kinds of weird stuff that seems like minutiae. I often referred to my brain as a fountain of useless information, although some facts occasionally proved useful in my line of work.

I can tell you that Crystal Lake South’s Eric Nawracaj and Huntley’s Amanze Egekeze’s last high school baskets were dunks. And Cary-Grove’s Quinn Priester, now a pitcher with the Pittsburgh Pirates, homered on his last high-school swing.

I remember Prairie Ridge’s Michael Heesch threw only 67 pitches when the Wolves beat Neuqua Valley in the 2008 Class 4A Baseball State Tournament semifinals. Prairie Ridge won the championship the next night.

Marian Central quarterback Jim Hartlieb was 14-1 in playoff games in the 1980s, and Richmond-Burton allowed 30 points total in winning the Class 2A football state title [six in each of the five games].

Prep Zone: Thanks, folks! It’s been a fantastic ride (2)

I was there in 1991 when McHenry got its first football playoff win ever on the best botched snap in school history. The Warriors’ snap on an overtime touchdown was high, but it took a perfect bounce on the frozen ground to kicker Stacy Dadian, who tossed a pass to fullback Mike Gonzales for the two-point conversion. Jefferson had to go for two after its ensuing touchdown and missed, so McHenry won 29-27.

My eyes tear up when I think of the night Marengo dedicated Homer “Bill” Barry Gymnasium. The smile on coach Barry’s face as he sat in his wheelchair, battling Parkinson’s disease, could have lit up the gym. Coach Barry died six weeks later, but that night was one of life’s perfect moments. I can still see him sitting at halfcourt, pumping a fist as the crowd sang Marengo’s fight song.

Believe me, I could go on and on. These only scratch the surface.

A few years ago, someone asked me how many stories I had written through the years. I hadn’t really thought about it, so I devised a formula: I usually worked 200 days a year and I figured I probably averaged one story a day. So, over the course of 42 years, that comes out to something in the neighborhood of 8,000 stories.

I realized decades ago that my byline will be in a lot of people’s memory books for the rest of their lives. How cool is that?

What a great way to start the indoor track season with retiring Northwest Herald sports writer & champion of HS sports- Joe Stevenson playing the anthem on his trumpet & letting us honor him for ALL his great work. Congrats Joe!! @nwh_JoePrepZone pic.twitter.com/RbUNHE9POl

— Huntley Athletics (@HHS_Athletics1) February 10, 2024

I have to thank my beautiful wife Beckie. She is my rock, my biggest supporter, and it wasn’t always easy for her. Our lives were different than that of most couples because I usually worked nights. She rolled with it, didn’t complain, did a lot of solo parenting of our daughters and was amazing at it all. She’s the best.

I have to thank Chris Juzwik for the opportunity. He hired me from the Quad-City Times, then left five years later to become sports editor at that very paper. He was the player to be named much later in that trade.

Thanks to all the wonderful people I worked with through the years, the other writers who inspired me with their efforts daily and the copyeditors who consistently kept my mistakes from reaching the pages of the Herald. I tried my best to never leave them anything to clean up, but when there was something, they caught it.

Thanks to Shaw Media for providing a great place to work for more than half my life.

And thanks to so many people over the course of this last year who wished me well and thanked me for my work. It was a labor of love.

Not many people make it 42 years in this business. I take pride in reaching this finish line and smile at all the things I saw along the way.

I had the best seat in the house. It’s been a blast.

• Joe Stevenson is a senior sports writer for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached by email, for a short time longer, at joestevenson@shawmedia.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @nwh_JoePrepZone.

Prep Zone: Thanks, folks! It’s been a fantastic ride (2024)
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