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A year to remember

It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

Not for me, not for the millions of high school and college seniors that will never get their final semesters back, not for the college athletes that never got to finish their seasons. This was supposed to be a column trumpeting the best 12 months of my life. Instead, my year as sports editor of The Chronicle—the greatest honor a young sports junkie could imagine—was left incomplete, just like the rest of life in the spring of 2020.

That’s not to say that the past year didn’t produce memories that will last a lifetime. I went to Nashville, Tenn., for the NFL Draft, covered R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson’s NBA Draft journeys, and of course sat courtside for the men’s basketball game against North Carolina in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

There are countless things I loved about this role, but the best part was getting to see each and every of our two dozen writers grow as reporters and people. Our meetings and GroupMe have always brought laughs and smiles, something that I am so proud of. 

I have always loved to write, and produced some of the work I’m most proud of this year. In my first week back on campus, I wrote a feature on Duke men’s basketball assistant and former star guard Nolan Smith and spoke to Jay Bilas on his experience with a young Mike Krzyzewski. I chronicled the rich coaching tree of Coach K, traced the long rise of Duke football into national prominence, uncovered the Madison Square Garden scorekeeper confusing two white guys on Duke (we’ve all been there) and called for the cancellation of the ACC tournament, earning the title of “unintelligent and embarrassing” from one of my fans on Twitter.

Though the article itself was absolutely nothing special, I will always remember my brief on Daniel Jones earning the New York Giants’ starting job, as it was written and published from my phone from the Wilson Recreation Center StairMaster. Yes, I did celebrate the feat with a “healthy” smoothie from Red Mango.

Our supplemental issues were a joy to work on despite the late nights and arduous layout. The football preview was my true introduction to the horrors of InDesign, though it did feature my favorite centerspread of the year. I will cherish the men’s basketball preview forever, especially considering that there were no NCAA tournament preview or national championship supplements. Our Rivalry Edition with The Daily Tar Heel was tremendous as well, though admittedly the quality of the Tar Heels’ 2019-20 squad made that paper a little less special.

My first full month on the job was the craziest. After escaping to Nashville during the reading period before my Microeconomics final, I got to write about a historic May for Duke sports. I made the dreaded drive from New Jersey to Long Island for the Blue Devil men’s lacrosse team’s win against Notre Dame to secure a Final Four berth, dusted off the old family camera to take photos at the men’s lacrosse Final Four and wrote about Duke women’s golf’s seventh national championship, the school’s first national title since 2015.

That May showed me not just the thrills that come with being sports editor, but also how much of a grind it would be. I remember setting my alarm for 5:30 a.m. while on a family vacation in order to crank out a baseball preview and downing a second coffee before my mom and sister were even awake. 

There were plenty of late nights and early mornings this year, many of them coming in The Chronicle office for print production nights with Conner McLeod, our managing editor. Running this department together was an honor, Conner, and I’ll never forget bobbing and weaving through the exiting Madison Square Garden crowd to get to the postgame press conference on time. 

I learned more in my year as sports editor than I could have ever imagined, much of that knowledge coming from my predecessor in the role, Michael Model. With just a dozen articles to my name, Michael took a chance on me my freshman spring by naming me editor of the Blue Zone, our men’s basketball and football blog, and constantly encouraged me to improve. I would say that I am forever indebted to Michael, but I’d say we are even after I successfully drove us two hours from South Bend, Ind., to Chicago during a blizzard last January.

The title of sports editor certainly did not come without sacrifices. Trying to balance a full course load at Duke, a social life and a full-time job that requires you to constantly be on call is no easy undertaking. Thank you to all of my friends and family that tolerated me constantly refreshing my email and Twitter or made plans around my busy schedule.

To Evan Kolin, Glen Morgenstern and Shane Smith and all of our other fantastic young reporters, I know you will bring this department to new heights. Student journalism is not easy, but all of you make it seem as such, and I hope you all continue to let your creativity and intelligence shine.

I will always look back on my tenure with a yearning for more, as will everyone else that was robbed of normalcy this year. Unfortunately, covering Duke men’s basketball’s ACC tournament championship or Final Four appearance in Atlanta or Duke baseball’s run to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series will always be a hypothetical, but I would not trade this experience for anything.

Derek Saul is a Trinity junior. He served as sports editor of The Chronicle’s 115th volume. 

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