Nathan Deal

Nathan Deal

There are many things I like about my profession. It’s an outlet for me to express my creativity and have an audience for it. It leads to some fun moments and memories.

But another aspect I love when it comes to being a sports journalist, and a journalist in general, is that it isn’t about myself. My story is that I tell other people’s stories. I highlight others’ successes, craft carefully worded recreations of others’ adventures and make others’ feelings known. 

Honestly, that may be what I love the most about what I do.

That’s what makes writing this column a little more difficult than it already would be. I’m not necessarily the type to simply write about myself. Even when writing columns that express my opinions, opinions that you, the reader, may or may not agree with, the point of my writing is usually the topic, not simply my stance on it.

Admittedly, I’m not used to writing columns like these, columns that are so heavy on the word, “I.” But I suppose that if I don’t, my sudden disappearance from your hometown paper’s sports section might be a mysterious one.

Before I go any further, I should elaborate. I’m moving to Colorado within the next couple of weeks to further my journalism career.  My story on Hilldale's playoff game Friday will be my last here.

Life is full of stunning twists and turns that can shape the direction of one’s life, and for me, this opportunity was one of those twists.

While I may no longer be an Okie from Muskogee after the conclusion of this week, I felt like one the entire time I was here, and I have the people of this area to thank for that.

When I arrived at the Phoenix on March 1, my 23rd birthday, I was as excited as I was nervous. Sure, I had newspaper experience thanks to my days with The Auburn Plainsman, my alma mater’s award-winning student newspaper, and sure, I was confident in my abilities. But as a lifelong citizen of Alabama (with a minor two-month detour to Dallas to kick off 2018 while I was still trying to figure out this “life” thing), moving somewhere as foreign to me as Oklahoma was daunting. An area I didn’t know, filled with people I didn’t know who lived lifestyles that I wasn’t sure I knew.

Moving my life to the Sooner State was a bold choice, but fortune favors the bold. So I went for it. And I’ll forever be glad that I did.

The community embraced me from the get-go. It didn’t take very long to learn what the people of Muskogee and the surrounding area are all about: kindness and hospitality. I can talk about this vaguely, but there are specific instances that highlight this. Things that seemed minor at the time, but made a bigger impact on me than I ever realized.

There’s the gentleman who often finds himself at Hilldale High School sporting events, who sat in the press box with me the first time I covered an event at the school. We talked throughout the entire game and I learned a lot about the area and about him. Until the very end, every time I saw him at a Hilldale event, I stopped to talk to him.

There’s the mother in Tahlequah who welcomed me into her home to talk to her and her son, who had participated in a soccer camp and tournament in Spain several months prior, so that I could write a story.

There’s the woman who called me while I was at the Phoenix office for no other reason than to tell me she liked my work and encouraged me to continue pursuing my passion. This instance came on a day where I wasn’t feeling at my best, but it immediately made my day better.

There’s the coaches who happily welcomed me into their facilities, into their locker rooms, into their programs and into their daily routines and did so with a kind attitude and an honest approach.

There’s the parents of the athletes I covered who excitedly shared my work in which I shared the stories of their sons or daughters, or highlighted their athletic abilities or in-game accomplishments.

Oklahoma wasn’t the place I grew up. It wasn’t the place I envisioned myself living in at any point earlier in my life. But not once did I feel like a stranger here, and for that, I thank everyone I mentioned above, as well as anyone who’s subscribed to this paper or bought a paper. I thank any reader who read my work and came away from it enlightened or with any kind of reaction; anyone who read the words I strung together and felt like their time wasn’t wasted.

I wasn’t an Oklahoman nearly as long as I anticipated I would be, but I’ll forever value my time here. Oklahoma is a wonderful place with wonderful people, and I’m glad I got to live here and experience it for myself before turning the page to a new chapter.

As an Auburn graduate, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to end my official farewell than to channel the late Jim Fyffe, who was the official radio voice of the Tigers for 22 years and ended every broadcast with the same phrase (which I’ll paraphrase).

My time here is up, and I thank you for yours.

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