A FOND FAREWELL: After 6.5 years of memories, it's time to step away

Cody Dalton
Sports Editor

After writing hundreds of stories during the past decade or so, the next fourteen words are perhaps the hardest I’ve ever had to type in my entire journalism career.

Today is my last day as the sports editor at The Observer News Enterprise.

I’m leaving the newspaper to become the sports information director at Catawba Valley Community College, but not before I offer one last farewell to the community I’ve grown to love and embrace as my own.

I made my first-ever visit to Catawba County in early December 2010. Dressed in the most ridiculous outfit (I looked like an Irish bartender with my newsboy hat and sweater vest), I interviewed with former O-N-E Publisher Michael Willard and Editor Ladonna Beeker for this vacant sports editor position. I poured my heart out to both of them in the interview, and I guess what I had to say was enough to convince them that I was the guy for the job.

When I moved from my native Virginia at the end of that month in the middle of a snowstorm, I was a scared 24-year-old kid who had never lived on his own without family or close friends nearby. I honestly didn’t know if I would make it on my own.

I can honestly say that It’s been through your help, love and support these past few years that I was able to not only survive, but thrive in my profession.

I’ll never forget my first-ever high school sporting event in Catawba County — Newton-Conover at Hickory basketball. I remember just how loud Craft Gymnasium was that night — especially the cheerleaders for both schools. That was my first glimpse at the passion everyone has for high school athletics in our area.

I want to thank former local sportswriter Allen Haynes for helping me acclimate to the area. He put me under his wing starting with the first sporting event we covered together — the first-ever Catawba County swim championships at Lenoir-Rhyne University. I consider Allen a dear friend to this day.

In the past 6.5 years at The O-N-E, I’ve met and worked with some incredible players, coaches, administrators and parents — all of whom have helped me to gather information and photos so that I can better inform the community.
I’m forever thankful to Gene Leatherman, my current boss Seth Mabry, Michelle Thompson, Darrell Stewart, Scott Huffman, Tonya Holmes and others who sent me countless numbers of photos of our area athletes — free of use — so that I could highlight their athletic achievements.

I will be eternally grateful to my late friend and fellow photographer Kurt Barkley, who was such a kind and genuine soul. Despite a lengthy battle with cancer, you’d never know he struggled one day in his life. He taught me so much about myself and about placing an emphasis on what really matters in life.

Through telling Kurt’s story and sharing our experiences together, I was able to win my first of two North Carolina Press Association awards in 2014. I will forever by thankful to his family, especially his wife Jackie, for allowing us to spend so much time together at sporting events during his final years on Earth.

I want to thank God for giving me such an amazing opportunity here at this newspaper and in this community. I know it was His plan to bring me here to this area, where I’ve lived all of my wildest of dreams.

Last February, despite a lack of funds, I attended and covered the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 with all of the money for my trip being raised by everyone in this community through donations on a GoFundMe webpage. I was and still am truly humbled by your charity and for giving me the experience of a lifetime, which included flying for the first time in my life.

The Super Bowl was just one of many amazing experiences I’ve been afforded here at The O-N-E. I’ve also taken photos in Victory Lane at a NASCAR race, covered the NBA playoffs, driven a Ferrari on the infield road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway and twice served as a working member of the press for my favorite Major League Baseball team — the Atlanta Braves.

This past winter, I was on the field when my favorite college football team — Virginia Tech — battled in the largest college football game in history against Tennessee at Bristol Motor Speedway, faced rival Virginia for the Commonwealth Cup and also when the Hokies had their largest comeback in school history in a 35-24 victory at the Belk Bowl against Arkansas.

I’ve been able to interview countless names — from World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner to National League MVPs Dale Murphy and Johnny Bench to WWE Hall of Famers Booker T, Jerry “The King” Lawler, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and Sgt. Slaughter.

I’ve been face-to-face with all three of my childhood heroes — Michael Jordan, Chipper Jones and Hulk Hogan — all because of my job, and this past April, I was able to check off one of the biggest (and possibly silliest) goals on my “bucket list” — attending Wrestlemania 33 in Orlando, Fla.

With all these perks aside, when I think back to my tenure here at the newspaper I am most proud of the fact that I was able to share a small moment in the lives of many children in Catawba County. Whether it was a game-winning score, a record-setting performance or a life-changing athletic signing, I tried to treat each of these moments with care and responsibility.

I’ve been able to follow our county high school teams and individuals on their way to winning state championships, and I feel blessed to have been a part of each of their journeys.

Perhaps the most humbling experiences for me have been when a student-athlete comes up to me and asks for a picture with them or when they tell me that I’m their role model and they want to learn more about what it takes to work in my profession. I’ve learned that you just never know the impact you can make on someone.

While it’s taken a lot of effort and sacrifice on my part, none of what I’ve been able to accomplish would be possible without God. There were times I thought many of my dreams were impossible, but God helped make them reality. Through my struggles, I can honestly say my relationship with God has grown and become stronger, and I hope that what I’ve done in 30, almost 31 years of life has glorified Him.

I can’t say that all of successes didn’t come without my share of doubts. There were times I nearly gave up and moved back home to Virginia and other times when I thought about leaving writing and sports altogether.

However, I followed the words of one of my closest friends, Fore Rembert, who told me to trust in and follow the process and let the results come. I didn’t know exactly what that meant at first, but as time has gone on, I’ve gained a deeper understanding.

That process took a long time, but a couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by CVCC Athletic Director Nick Schroeder, who behind the actions of CVCC President Dr. Garrett Hinshaw, offered me the chance to not only stay involved in local sports, but also change my life. I am thankful to both of them for the opportunity.

After receiving the news, I felt like my hard work had finally paid off, but I knew leaving The O-N-E would be bittersweet. On one hand, I would finally have a stable income and benefits for the first time in my adult life, but I’d also be departing something I am so passionate about.

They say it takes a community to raise a child, and that’s true, but it’s also a community that creates a winning environment. That’s exactly what we have here in Catawba County. I’m hopeful that I’ve had a small part in helping build and grow that sports excellence, and I have faith it will continue to prosper as I transition to the next stage of my life.

Before that happens, I want to tell each of you how thankful I am. You’ve allowed me to be a small part of your life for the past 6.5 years and gave me the honor and pleasure of representing, informing and hopefully entertaining you.

As for what’s next for me, I start my new job at CVCC on Monday, but I don’t want you to think I’m going away for good. I still plan to stay around the county high school sports scene and freelance as a writer and photographer from time to time. Journalism is in my blood, and after 10-plus years of being involved with it, I can’t completely stop.

I plan on spending more time with my loved ones, especially my parents, my brother and girlfriend — all of whom I’ve sacrificed time away from in order to be the best sports editor I could. Without their love and support, I would not have made it as long as I did.

In the meantime, don’t be a stranger. Come by CVCC, say hello, watch the Red Hawks play and let’s talk some local sports.

This isn’t goodbye. It’s see you later.

Cody Dalton has proudly been the sports editor of The Observer News Enterprise since December 27, 2010. His last day is today.