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Second String: Bidding you a fond farewell

Second String: Bidding you a fond farewell
Flintridge Prep's girls' soccer's CIF Southern Section Division III championship in 2018 was the last covered by former sports editor Grant Gordon. (Dan Watson)

“I’ve always had trouble explaining myself and my principals. I believe in hard work; I believe in fighting all kinds of domination. I believe in steering clear of the big shots. I believe in total honesty. I believe in compassion.”

- American newspaperman Ben Bradlee in a letter to student Shanon Fagan

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In the afterglow of perfection sat a scribe atop a metal bench, punching away the heroic tales of others upon deadline.

Upon the euphoria of it all, a skinny gunslinger who had made magic a reality with his gifted right arm strode away from the celebration of it all.

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A CIF Southern Section championship in hand and a lifetime of memories in his back pocket, Crescenta Valley High quarterback Brian Gadsby walked up to some sports editor. Knowing Brian, he might well remember what he said, but I don’t. He shook my hand with a smile and I embraced him whether he wanted this guy’s poetic bear hug or not.

The grandest of memories; some are so bright; some are dim and hard to stomach. But it’s those memories that are the real currency that I leave this job with.

Following 14 years as a writer for Times Community News (it’s a mouthful, I know, but that means the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and La Cañada Valley Sun), I’m walking away. For 12 of those years I was the editor of the News-Press, with seven atop the Leader and Sun and two more for the dearly departed Pasadena Sun.

As I leave, names fly past of coaches, players, teams, parents, colleagues and on and on.

From Trevor Bell to Trevor Beer my career has gone.

Tori Baldridge to Breena Koemans, Audrey Andrade and then Baillie Kirker before Caitlyn Brooks and “Smilin’” Sammy Fabian. Dietrich and Posthuma, Gadsby and Davo and so many more that I should have never started naming names.

It’s the memories, though, and it’s usually the brightest that burn foremost.

I was there just in time to see the 2014 Burroughs High cross-country team claim its school’s first CIF championship. It was a group of grinning kids smiling about doing something no other team, no matter the sport had ever accomplished in the chronicles of Indians in Burbank. Normally stoic, coach John Peebles asked me for some time. I believe I’m a decent writer, but there aren’t words in my vocabulary to describe the emotions of a man that proud and so happy to be brought to tears he could not control. To this day, it’s one of the stories I am proudest to have written.

When tiny little Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy’s soccer team won a Division I title, I was there. Frank Pace, then the coach, has impacted my life as positively as anyone, if not more so, who I have met in my tenure here, and on that starry night, he was firing off his hand guns at me; overjoyed in accomplishing what was once unfathomable for a little all-girls school that could. A tiny team from atop a hill emerging from a gauntlet of Orange County powerhouses with a Division I plaque.

Edmond Tarverdyan, who has endured more than his share of bad press over the years but has never ceased to treat me fairly and has gone out of his way to do so, was the starting point of these papers’ coverage of boxing and mixed martial arts. He’s the reason I met the likes of Alberto Crane and Karen Darabedyan, who I covered through ups and downs like many others but was thrilled to do so each and every time. And with Tarverdyan, I was privileged to be able to cover the career of Ronda Rousey. Rousey’s meteoric rise brought notoriety to my byline and the News-Press the likes of which may never be seen again. UFC 157, when Rousey defeated Liz Carmouche in the first UFC women’s fight to retain her bantamweight championship, stands as the most important sporting event I have ever attended, much less covered. Though the narratives have often changed in regards to Rousey, she should still be remembered and regarded for being the true trailblazer and historical figure she was.

Alas, memories aren’t always those of triumph. For any team to end its season in ultimate victory is so rare, though that’s an aspect of the game so rarely realized.

On a fateful night at Friedman Field in the midst of arguably the greatest big game, high school atmosphere I have ever been a part of, St. Francis High’s football team took part in what was most certainly the most riveting high school football game I’ve ever seen. On this night, though, St. Francis lost to Rancho Verde via a last-second field goal that fluttered across the goal post, leaving Golden Knights coach Jim Bonds to hug tight to his players, consoling them, rather than celebrating them. Just three years earlier – almost to the day – I shook Gadsby’s hand after he, coach Paul Schilling and an undefeated Falcons squad beat Downey for a CIF title. Smiles and tears, separated by so little.

It’s been 14 years of writing, covering, editing and designing the good, the bad, the ugly, the mediocre and oh-so thankfully the spectacular.

I’ve been liked and loathed, loved and hated. Through it all, I just wanted these papers to be the best they could possibly be.

And along the way, I got rich with these memories and so very many more.

My philosophy was always a simple one: spread everyone thin, cover as much as possible and be as comprehensive as possible. Chris Cicuto and the ascent of the Glendale Community College baseball program is one of the most impressive tales to play out during my years here and it deserved its telling. Providence’s Andrew Bencze and the success he has maintained warranted its space, right along with the seemingly never-ending glory achieved by the girls’ and boys’ cross-country dynasties at Flintridge Prep.

I likely demanded too much of myself and certainly those who worked alongside me; and I thank them all for their efforts. Ever self-conscious, I know I was colored as a hard-ass and I realize I am.

You all impacted me mightily.

As I leave here, I hope these sports pages will carry on and prosper; I wish the teams, players and coaches I have covered great success. Albeit, I leave here quite biased as the one outcome I really, truly care most about is that Jim Bonds will triumph in his current fight — which I have no doubt he will.

It would be folly to write that I do not leave here a bit bitter at the changes and the direction of these sports pages that I called home for so long, but I guess that’s just the way of the business. And as someone whose opinion I hold dear recently told me, “It’s OK if you’re bitter for a little. You just can’t stay that way forever.”

So I’m looking back at it all with a smile — and a prideful one at that.

I dedicate this to my father, Skip Gordon, along with Jim Delzell and Tom Fry, three great men who passed away during my time here who I had the heartbreaking honor to write about following their final days.

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I thank you all so very much for allowing me to be a part of telling your stories; I am a better man for it.

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My heart is full. Good bye.

That’s just the way I saw it, playing second string.

Grant Gordon was previously the Times Community Newspapers North sports editor. He can now be reached at ggordon5050@sbcglobal.net.

For Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and La Cañada Valley Sun sports, please contact jeff.tully@latimes.com or charles.rich@latimes.com.

Getting a chance to cover, write and get to know Olympian Kate Hansen was one of the highlights of former sports editor Grant Gordon's career.
Getting a chance to cover, write and get to know Olympian Kate Hansen was one of the highlights of former sports editor Grant Gordon's career. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)
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