Steve Sell's going away column
First off, let’s dispel a couple of the more popular rumors going around town.
No, I am not dying. When word of my impending departure after 33-plus years became public, several concerned folks called and asked if I had cancer or another type of illness that is causing me to leave. I thank those people for their concern, but at this point I’m healthy and when I leave Monday, I can proudly say I only missed two days of work since Aug. 13, 1979.
Rumor No. 2 is that I was fired. No, no, no and no. This is totally voluntary. If not for John Fraser taking a chance on a long-haired, short, skinny, pimple-faced greenhorn freshly out of the University of Kansas, who knows what I would be doing today. The Sentinel has been my life for more than three decades, one reason this decision has been so difficult to reach. The people here have been nothing but fantastic and I always say that no small-town newspaper in Kansas turns out the local copy that we do, despite our detractors. For a short staff, I think the folks here do a phenomenal job. If you get a chance, look at another paper our size and compare.
But it’s time for a change. There are just times in a person’s life when they know it. And that time has come for me. One door is closing and another will soon open.
When I arrived in McPherson, I’d barely even heard of the town and learned early from many of the locals it was not “McPheerson.” Upon arrival, John told me I had to put out a fall sports preview and I just looked at him and said, “Say what? A tab? What’s that?’
Needless to say, that first piece of work was, well, a piece of work. A piece of embarrassing trash was more like it.
It didn’t help that I was replacing a legend in Brad Catt, who had taken a job with The Salina Journal and still covered the McPherson area periodically. I spent the first year hearing, “Well, that’s not the way Brad did it! Maybe you should learn from him!”
I’ll admit, the first few years were tough. But I learned on the job and studied other newspapers and styles. My style in the beginning was a hodge-podge of many writers’ works before I finally settled on a style all my own.
Early on, I decided that local coverage would be my focus. People in town could read other newspapers for their national news and a new concept, ESPN, was just becoming known around the country. Anyway, by the time the national news in our paper reached your doorstep, it was about 24 hours old.
So it didn’t matter what the sport, I was going to publish it in the paper. Of course, I had my three colleges and six high schools (now seven) and the middle school. But I gave the Junior Pups and Strikers their fair share, because kids love to see their names in the paper. And my goal was to present the positive aspects. Even if a team lost a game by a huge score, it was my intention to find anything positive, whatever it was.
It was never my intention to stay this long. I’m often asked to speak to civic groups in town and I tell them my two-year plan turned into four, turned into eight, turned into 16, turned into 32 and finally 33-plus. I’ve often written of my affinity for McPherson and its teams and people. You’re the reason I stayed at this so long.
I also tried to do things differently than the average paper our size. I write more columns than most and several years ago we started Game Night, which is an insert each week during the high school football season. I’ve had officials of our area schools tell me the kids can’t wait for them to arrive every Thursday. I think it has been a definite plus for The Sentinel and the town.
It wasn’t until Wednesday night, when an intimate reception was held for me at the Opera House, that I totally realized just how much greatness I have had the privilege of covering.
In one corner was Bethany Hall of Fame football coach Ted Kessinger and his longtime assistant Gary Sandbo, who later led Smoky Valley High School to a state championship in his very first year. They were with me from Day One and as classy of individuals as you’ll ever meet.
Then you had Little River’s Shane Cordell (who also was with me from the start and has multiple football and girls basketball championships), Moundridge’s Vance Unrau and his five state basketball championships, Inman’s Russ Goering (a state championship volleyball coach and author of more than 600 wins) and Roger Trimmell representing Canton-Galva (but of course known for his long tenure at McPherson College). And I can’t forget our own McPherson High coaches, both present and past, and everyone knows who they are, so I won’t go into the long list. But combined, there were many state championships and league titles on hand.
Central Christian College and McPherson College coaches and school officials also came and with all of these people, there is a common thread — class. They put their trust in me and I trusted them, which made for the perfect working relationship.
The athletes I’ve covered, it’s a veritable Who’s Who of the best in the state. There are too many to list, but I know there’s a lot of sports writers who are envious of the talent I’ve covered.
There were other important influences in my tenure. First and foremost is Carol Swenson, who basically taught me the ropes when I got here. He showed me the best way to chart games and statistics, which was far easier than what I grew up on during my days in Independence as a student reporter. I’ve always said whatever I’ve made here monetarily, Carol deserves half.
The late Jay Frazier also influenced me greatly. He taught me the importance of sportsmanship, class and dignity. He always did things the right way, even if those around sometimes weren’t in agreement.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the late John Watkins or as I called him, “Johnny Sunshine.” He always tried to teach me that the glass is always half-full, not half-empty. I miss him terribly, as he was a good friend.
And, of course, there are my golfing buddies and most loyal friends, who I bounce ideas off of from time to time — Kurt Kinnamon, Cliff Hawkes, Craig Corrigan, Troy Short and Travis Doile. They put up with my mumbling and whining, all the while reaching into my pocket for my cash.
I have had so many great publishers, co-workers, athletic directors and coaches down through the years that space does not permit listing them all, but they know who they are. I’m sure many of them probably thought I’d be here until I took my last breath, but leaving now probably ensures I won’t take that last breath for quite some time. There was a Sentinel before I arrived and there will be a Sentinel after I depart. And I urge everyone to come in and meet Chris Swick, who has been named as my replacement. Once he gets his feet wet, I have all the confidence that he’ll do a fine job. Just give him a chance.
Of course, the final thank you goes out to you, the readers and advertisers. Without you, there is no Sentinel. You have stuck with me through thick and thin, and responded positively and negatively. I’ve always appreciated the negative responses, because it pushed me to do a better job. And that’s all I ever wanted to do — to do a good job and make a difference.
Thanks, McPherson Sentinel, the 33 1/2 years have gone by fast. Good luck in the future and continue to provide this town and area the best-possible local coverage.