There is no place I would rather be this week than Miami County. It has been my home since I was a nervous kid coming here from the North County suburbs of St. Louis.

I was following in the footsteps of a legend, learning the ropes from the late Bob Harrington, who started the sports pages in 1949. Harrington took me under his wings and also became my friend.

There are many people to thank for bringing me here for my dream job, covering high school sports.

I started working for third-generation newspaper man and owner Phil McLaughlin on Sept. 2, 1991. He took a chance on me and I will always be grateful for the opportunity.

My parents, Franklin and Genevieve Morris, believed in me, even when I doubted myself. Dad loved his St. Louis Cardinals and was a big sports fan.

Mom worked for many years as a teacher and loved reading and literature. So, one could say, I learned the tools of the trade from both of them.

Never let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do. No one would have ever thought I would be a writer. I struggled with reading comprehension and English in grade school. Now, I make a living with the written word.

This was my 13th interview after graduating from Northwest Missouri State. I applied at a hometown paper to cover news, just to get my foot in the door for sports and did not get the position. I tried to get a job as a designer for print and was asked if I would leave for a sportswriter job. I may have been too honest with my answer. I even looked into working for a sports card store, and I know ball cards. I was in disbelief when I did not get called back for that job.

The Lord had other plans. He spoke to me through “Place in This World,” by Michael W. Smith that was released in 1991 from the “Go West Young Man” album.

“The wind is moving, but I am standing still. A life of pages, waiting to be filled. A heart that’s hopeful, a head that’s full of dreams. But this becoming is harder than it seems. Looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find my place in this world.”

Mom said things never came easy for me because the Lord wanted to make sure I appreciated it. She was right.

Roger Carlson, my journalism professor, got me into newspaper at Florissant Valley Community College.

Carlson was also my newspaper advisor, recruiting me to leave my dream of sports broadcasting behind to work for the college newspaper.

He overheard me critiquing the sports coverage in the college paper, and challenged me to make it better.

I joined the newspaper staff as a writer, was promoted to sports editor and have been writing and taking pictures at games ever since.

Richard Northcutt and Laura Widmer, my newspaper advisors at Northwest Missouri State, challenged me to always work on my craft and never stop learning.

The Bradley family, who own The Miami County Republic, have continued the McLaughlin family mission of supporting community journalism. Publishers Sandy Nelson and Brian McCauley have expected nothing but my best. That is the real challenge, not to do your best, but really to live up to the standards you set for yourself.

I thank all of you, the children and parents and families of Miami County, for allowing me to chronicle the last three decades of triumph, setback, joy, tears, loss and inspiration that are now, and always will be part of me.

Harrington always told me I would never get rich here, but I would be rich in friends.

The most valuable pieces in my portfolio are “Hello,” “Thanks for coming,” “Gene,” and all of the waves and smiles.

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