Thank you, Southwest Louisiana.

By the time you read this, I will once again be a Texas resident. After almost two years working as the McNeese State athletics beat reporter for the American Press, I am stepping down to take a teaching position in the Lone Star State.

This will be a long column because there are a lot of things I want to touch on.

First and foremost, I have to thank Publisher Tom Shearman, editor Crystal Stevenson and sports editor Scooter Hobbs. In 2018, I had all but given up hope of getting back into the sports journalism industry. I applied to countless positions, and got a handful of callbacks, and even fewer actual interviews. By the time I got the call about applying for this position, it never hit me that I could actually get it.

But I did get it, and the rest as they say is history.

Second, let me say that even though I am stepping down, I might contribute stories to the paper on a freelance basis. I know some people won't like seeing that, but oh well.

The American Press has allowed me to grow as a sports reporter, giving me the autonomy to cover McNeese athletics in the way I saw fit, and never really telling me that I couldn't write a story. The newspaper supports McNeese, but I was never once told by my higher ups that I had to pull back on my reporting to appease the university or athletic department.

I have also been allowed to make mistakes, which comes with the job. When you make errors as a reporter, it's all in the public and your name is on it. I don't mind that, and I have never been too proud to say that I am wrong about something when called out on it.

To Crystal: You are the best boss I've ever had in my time as a professional. I wish I could take you as my boss everywhere I go. I enjoyed going into your office and just talking about whatever came to mind for a few minutes before getting to work. You also listened to some subject matter that was probably not the most comfortable to deal with, and you were great at it. I can't thank you enough.

I also have to shout out Warren Arceneaux, the person I've sat next to the whole time I worked for the American Press. We don't agree on everything, particularly how he's so anti-Dwyane Wade and thinks the 2006 NBA Finals were rigged. But it was so fun sitting here and just talking about random subjects. You definitely taught me some of the tough Louisiana pronunciations like Iowa, Bossier, and Many.

And how can I forget that you never let me call Louisiana-Lafayette the "University of Louisiana," and you explained to me how Tulane University is the original University of Louisiana. Your agony of being an Arsenal fan made you say you'd give up on the squad when I knew that was never going to happen. Now look, they won the FA Cup and will probably keep Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. You're welcome for the parting gift.

There's so many more people to thank in the newsroom for making my time at the American Press what it was. Thank you to Heather, Rodrick, Donna, Nick, Jerry, Marlisa, John, Rick, Kirk and everyone else from the people who print the paper to the janitorial staff.

As for covering McNeese, I may be biased, but I think this is one of the best Football Championship Subdivision beat reporter positions in the country. The paper allowed me to cover the program like it was a Power Five school.

I got to travel to every football game, and that took me places I had never been before like Stillwater, Oklahoma, and Abilene, Texas. I even got to cover McNeese basketball on the road at some big-time opponents like Texas and Wisconsin.

Not everything went perfect as far as my relationship with the McNeese athletic department. We definitely butted heads, but most of the time they let me do my job.

Thank you to Matthew Bonnette, Pam LaFosse and Ryan Landry for the work you all do in the sports information department. It's a thankless and time-consuming job, so we kind of see eye to eye in that respect. But you all were so helpful and that made my job that much easier.

Thank you to McNeese State University President Daryl Burckel as well as the coaches, players and administration who I came across in my time covering the school. It was a pleasure writing about all of the teams.

I may have to dedicate an entirely separate column to my favorite memories covering McNeese, but I know two at the very top are the baseball team winning the Southland Conference Tournament championship in 2019, and Dru Kuxhausen's four-point play to send the men's basketball team to the SLC Tournament earlier this year. There are a bunch others, but those stand out to me.

To the McNeese fans, thank you for your passion. I know that I wrote stories and columns that some people disagreed with, and that's fine. My goal was never to get everyone to like me, it was to produce quality stories and journalism.

And to the multiple fans who emailed me mad that I did not, "support the team," like you wanted me to, that was never my job.

And having written stories about non-revenue generating sports like golf, track and field and tennis, I feel like I did a better job of supporting the athletic department than I was given credit for, even though that was never the purpose of it. Those teams work just as hard as football, baseball and basketball, and deserve recognition.

When I first started working at the American Press on Oct. 2, 2018, I could only guess what I'd be in store for in the next two years. I obviously never expected COVID-19 to wipe out a good chunk of coverage; my last game story was the men's basketball team's conference tournament loss to Lamar in mid-March. But hopefully I can attend more McNeese games.

So again, thank you Southwest Louisiana, Lake Charles, the American Press and McNeese athletics for everything. I will miss you all.

I hope that I left this position better than when I got here.


David Berry covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at dberry@americanpress.com

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