Looking down at the gymnasium floor at Chaska High School the night of Jan. 13 brought back many memories.
The Hawk emblem on the south end was the spot where Jameson Meyer caught a touch-pass from Myles Hanson, a baseball throw from Luke Roskam to start the play, connecting on a game-tying 3-pointer in the 2016 basketball playoffs.
It was in that gymnasium where a group of youngsters -- Erin Schindler, Sarah Kelly, Makayla Wenzel, Lauren Nordvold, Keena Seiffert, and more -- grew up together from freshmen to seniors, winning a state volleyball title in downtown St. Paul in 2014.
It was on the floor where Jamal Akons kicked off the 2019 state football championship welcome home celebration. Where activities director Jon Summer and head coach Bryan Dahl almost spoke as fathers about the young men and community; the pride everyone at that gymnasium had for the school's first-time champions.
Up above the crowd, occasionally courtside, are countless memories of being part of the Chaska Hawks Broadcast Network with Ryan Paul. A network that has continued to provide web stream services for both basketball teams and all home football games. An incredible resource for many to keep tabs on the teams.
It was in that gymnasium where in three consecutive seasons head coach Tara Seifert elevated an eighth grader to varsity girls basketball. The trio of players -- Kaylee Van Eps, Mallory Heyer and Kennedy Sanders -- the foundation for a state championship in 2021.
It was on that floor where tears streamed down faces just weeks earlier, an overtime win over Minnetonka setting the stage for an emotional senior night celebration.
So it was fitting, on Jan. 13, it was on that floor -- the left wing on the north side of the gymnasium to be more exact -- where Heyer became the second Chaska girls basketball player to reach 2,000 points for a career.
Add in her volleyball accomplishments and Heyer will go down as one of the most talented athletes to go through that gym.
Memories like these exist in the world of a community journalist. They are in other gymnasiums, fields and arenas. They are in Chanhassen, Victoria, Minnetonka, and others.
When you work in this line of work for as long as I have -- 2005 to 2006 in Olivia and Renville, 2006 to 2011 in Hutchinson, and the past decade or so in Chaska and Chanhassen, the memories only get greater and greater.
State tournament championships at Target Field (Chanhassen and Holy Family Catholic baseball), the Xcel Energy Center (Minnetonka hockey, Southwest Christian and Chaska volleyball), U.S. Bank Stadium (Southwest Christian and Minnetonka soccer, Chaska football) and even one through a thunderstorm warning in Mankato (Chanhassen softball).
For me, like Chaska High School, I have great memories from so many moments, and with so many people. Leah Dasovich bringing me a Mountain Dew in a Saturday matinee basketball doubleheader at Holy Family Catholic High School.
Sitting in the basement at the Bock household with families watching Chaska/Chanhassen boys swimming in the state meet with no spectators allowed.
Countless hot dogs or offers of warm cookies from one of my favorite people in the world, Terre Kemble.
The way everybody has treated me at Southwest Christian and Holy Family Catholic high schools. One of these years, I was bound to embarrass myself at the golf tournament, Leslie (Robertson)!
A found love with town team baseball, and being a part of the 2021 record-breaking experience in Chaska, Waconia and Hamburg. Watching teams like Carver and Cologne move up in the Crow River Valley League standings. Sometimes with a cheese curd in hand, other times as a volunteer scoreboard operator for the region tournament.
I've seen so many athletes come up through high school, move onto college and then start careers. Some now maybe parents. If there was a silver lining to no sports in the spring of 2020, it gave me an opportunity to reconnect with many former athletes.
Those talks, the words some shared -- looking at you Kaia Grobe -- made an incredible impact on me in a trying time in my career.
All of the emails. All of the tweets. All of the comments face-to-face only validated what I already knew -- my work, our work as community journalists, are important to so many. It is you that always pushed me to go the extra mile, to write another story, to keep doing what I love even when things got tough in our business.
I figured my time in Chaska and Chanhassen would be a stepping stone when editors Mark Olson and Richard Crawford took a chance in me in July 2011. And while there were times of frustration, continually passed over for positions I felt I would excel in, the longer I worked in community journalism the more I realized it's where I needed to be.
These past 16 years, in particular the more than 10 1/2 years in the southwest metro, is something I would never trade away. The friendships made. The relationships built. That is why saying goodbye is so hard.
It's something I prepared myself for a while ago, but now that it's reality, Jan. 28 will be my last day, it is sinking in.
I still hope to pop up from time to time with freelance stories. I still hope to have the chance to be a fan here and there as well. And I still have a few stories I need to tell these last few weeks. But first, I need to thank a few people.
Mark and Dick: I was weeks from getting married in 2011 and you sat down with me at Dunn Brothers and gave me a chance to make a new home in the Herald and Villager. Your leadership, your mentorship, your friendship, meant the world to me.
I have been blessed to work for two of the best community newspaper editors in the business in Mark and Doug Hanneman, formerly of the Hutchinson Leader. Mark's passion for Chaska, the rich history of the Herald, is unmatched. They just don't make them like Mark anymore folks.
Athletic director friends -- Jon, Cullen, Darin, Nick and Matt, Ted and Paul, Troy and Dick -- your role consumes so many nights after full workdays during the day. What we have in high school sports is a testament to the work you staffs perform. You are all super undervalued, and it is my hope that in my time I showed you my appreciation for everything you've done to make my job go smooth.
Coaches -- there are too many to name. Some of you have been here since I started; others came on along the way. Like athletic directors, your role is so underappreciated at times. The impact you have had, and will have on these kids is incomparable. It is more than a score and who won. It is my belief that kids that participate in extra-curriculars, that face the highs and lows, the victories and defeats, the adversity, the accolade, are the ones better served when they face reality after high school. Maybe after college. Thank you for helping to mold these kids every day.
Co-workers -- I was lucky to work with the Mount Rushmore of local sports reporters in Tom Schardin, Dan Huss and Todd Abeln for many years. Thanks guys for everything! Mollee, Unsie, Alex, Audrey, Amy, and Lydia, thank you for your help in sharing the wonderful stories in our communities. I am always in awe of the work our editorial staff company-wide does each week. Your work is impactful!
Celi -- I appreciate everything about you, and how you made my transition into writing about District 112 school board and education-related stories come so easy. Keep your passion; keep your love!
Ryan -- looking back at the last decade, the opportunity to work side-by-side with you on the Chaska Hawks Broadcast Network tops them all. Truth. I can't express what those times were like for me professionally, but also personally. What you started for the Hawks community is something you should always be proud of. And to be a part of it is something I will always treasure, and wear my CHBN tip-up with pride.
Twitter followers -- from zero to 6,100. Not bad for a community journalist who inundates you with score after score, trying-to-be-funny Minnesota Vikings takes, and just about anything I find interesting. This social media platform has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job. The ability to connect with so many. Thank you for your conversations, retweets and likes!
My family -- I missed many bed times, many family dinners, too many high school softball games for our daughter, while working evenings. Thank you for your continued support. I'm so incredibly proud of my kids, and I've loved being able to share updates of them with you.