I first realized I’d really like this sports journalism thing the night of Nov. 18, 2015.

It was my first “big” assignment as a mere freshman, a top-15 women’s basketball matchup between Duke and Texas A&M before the wheels came off during that star-crossed season for the Blue Devils. Duke lost in overtime, and I submitted my recap probably a moment too late for our then-sports editor Ryan’s liking before strolling to the media room in Cameron for what remains my favorite press conference I’ve attended as a reporter.

After referencing Duke’s team full of McDonald’s All-Americans, Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair said, “I’ve got a lot of Burger Kings, but they’re pretty good and I’m not trading them.”

That quote has stuck with me ever since, and not just because it combined two of life’s greatest joys—sports and burgers. I think it also describes the work of The Chronicle’s sports department and the newspaper as a whole.

We’re not the McDonald’s All-Americans of the profession, the reporters with decades of experience from ESPN, CBS Sports or The Athletic who fly across the country to cover every major basketball tournament and sporting event all year. 

But my team of full-time students who don’t get paid a dime for journalism makes up for it with countless hours of hard work to provide coverage of Duke sports as thorough as any other organization out there.

When I had the privilege of covering the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Ore., on Thanksgiving break last fall, the championship game against Florida started at 8 p.m. on the West Coast. By the time I finished my story and pasted it into the next day’s print paper remotely, our other writer, our photographer and I were the last three people in the Moda Center’s media room at 1 a.m. after all the national media had called it a day, and it was 4 a.m. in The Chronicle’s office in Durham. 

The rest of our leaders were still up there in 301 Flowers at that hour while our sports managing editor and blog editor, Mitchell Gladstone and Ben Leonard, printed out and checked the pages for any mistakes. I’m pretty confident we were the only newspaper east of the Mississippi to fit that game in Monday’s print edition, and that’s just one of many testaments to the staff I’ve worked with for three years.

After a childhood that revolved around my sports teams, I certainly wasn’t good enough to continue any sort of personal athletic career into college, and I needed to find another team to occupy my time. The Chronicle has exemplified all those qualities that make my life fulfilling—teamwork, unity and dedication to a larger purpose—and when I had the opportunity to lead the department where I had carved out my niche here at Duke, it was a challenge I happily accepted.

I knew I was taking on a new full-time job as sports editor, but it usually didn’t feel like work, mostly because of the co-workers who have become some of my best friends. They made my workspace in 301 Flowers feel as much like home as my dorm room or the house I grew up in, and I was happy to spend the better part of a week in the office at the end of May last year, consumed with preparing our summer send-home issue as a nice diversion after both of my childhood dogs died in my first three weeks of summer. 

I found comfort and encouragement from my Chronicle teammates time and time again as the year went on, even when I made mistakes that inconvenienced everybody else. Like the night in September when I put our fall sports preview together and didn’t realize I also had to fill a three-page sports section in the regular paper until it was after midnight.

The blank pages looking back at me on InDesign were all my fault, but nobody in the room complained or scowled at me. Our news department adjusted their front page so I could have a lead story to put in sports, we dropped in some other content that had never made the print paper and we made it work, even if it was a later night of production than everybody involved had planned.

So no, things weren’t always smooth sailing in this job, and moments like that made it the most stressful year of my life.

It was easily my most rewarding year as well, though. The Chronicle has given me opportunities I couldn’t have dreamed of when I went to Duke games growing up in Durham in Cameron’s upper bowl, getting me courtside seats and a ticket to the postgame locker room for ACC tournaments, this year’s home game against North Carolina and more.

But the biggest reward of all was the honor of captaining such a resilient and caring team of Burger Kings who have done so much writing and editing behind the scenes to make my job possible for a year. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

Hank Tucker is a Trinity junior. He served as sports editor of The Chronicle’s 113th volume.