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Thanks for the memories

Andrew Conrad
(Photo by Nancy Hostetler)

Back in the winter of 2001, my career as a high school sports reporter began at age 22 covering a wrestling match between rivals Hammond and River Hill. I walked into the River Hill High School gym that evening with a notebook and pen, excited and unsure of what to expect. I knew just enough about high school wrestling to understand that it didn't involve turnbuckles and body slams.

I was completely out of my element, but on impulse I decided that introducing myself to River Hill coach Earl Lauer before the match would be a shrewd maneuver. With his team warming up on the mats in front of him, Lauer distractedly shook my hand as I stammered through my timid introduction. The venerable coach probably wondered who I was, where I had come from and why I was so darn nervous to be covering a midseason wrestling match, but bless his heart for helping me through it. After River Hill's lopsided victory, I went back to my parents' Ellicott City home with fresh quotes in hand and wrote the story on my 40-pound, top-of-the-line Dell "laptop."

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As I approach my final day with the Howard County Times on Aug. 21, it's amazing to reflect on how much has changed since 2001 in terms of technology, social media and the world around us. Yet, at its essence, covering a high school sports contest is still as exciting and fun as it was almost 15 years ago.

My first high school sports story contained some embarrassing lines, but it also revealed what would play out over the following decade: that I had a passion for writing about sports.

It was not my first foray into sports reporting. I had written some sloppy swim meet recaps for my school newspaper as a member of the Loyola College swim team. After college, I took my first job as an editorial assistant with The Columbia Flier, and when the sports position opened, I jumped at the chance to move on from writing obituaries.

Over the next several years, I became more confident in both my writing and interviewing skills, and even learned what a Granby roll was in wrestling. I also expanded my portfolio to include softball, tennis, volleyball and cross country, among other sports.

In the spring of 2004, I succumbed to wanderlust like the idealistic 20-something I was and left to spend 5 1/2 months hiking almost 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail. It was a life-changing experience, and when I returned — after almost two years working at a mind-numbing data entry job — I was eager to rejoin the Howard County Times in the spring of 2006.

In my latest stint at the paper I have written thousands of stories about a wide variety of sports, including luge (see story in this section). Covering football and baseball, sometimes at the professional level, has expanded my audience engagement to the point that I have been treated like a local celebrity in the community.

It has been a thrill to blog to a national audience about "The Walking Dead," review concerts and festivals, and have my stories published in The Baltimore Sun as part of the Baltimore Sun Media Group. Working downtown in the Sun building has been a childhood dream come true, but my life has undergone some major changes in the last few years.

Every young journalist is told that they should never expect to get rich in this line of work. I assumed that meant I would have to settle for a Hyundai instead of a Lexus.

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Two years ago I started walking dogs to supplement my income during the summer offseason, and a fun part-time job has grown into a successful business. Around that time, I also met a young woman from Mississippi named Emily with whom I am planning a future.

I am not sure exactly what that future will hold, but I know I will always be a writer — and that sports will always be a part of my world. It is an exciting and uncertain time, but it is the right time for me to take a leap of faith and see what else is out there.

While I will no longer be working full-time for The Baltimore Sun, I will still be living in the area, and can still be reached @ACHoCoSports and andrew.joseph.conrad@gmail.com. I also hope to cover Howard County high school sports as a freelancer sometime down the road.

To every coach that I've ever worked with, every athlete that I've ever interviewed, and all the wonderful coworkers I've had: You have all been an important part of my career and have contributed to memories that I'll enjoy for the rest of my life. I hope that my words and stories have added something positive to your lives.

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