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Stepping Up: I should be the one thanking you

So many athletes, coaches, parents and others have thanked me for the work I’ve put in for the last two and a half years.

Please don’t thank me. I should be thanking all of them — and I have many times over — for making covering Beaufort County sports the time of my life. I love writing, and I love writing about sports, but I never imagined I could have loved it like I have the past few years.

I got to tell some incredible stories. It started with an October 2015 piece on Terra Ceia’s soccer team winning the program’s first-ever playoff game. I fell right into covering an elite Washington soccer team, and weeks later made a trip to Raleigh to see the Pam Pack play for a state championship. Weeks later, I was following Southside to its first of two-straight 1-A football regional-championship games.

There have been incredible games: county rivalries like Northside-Southside on all kinds of different fields. There was the Panthers versus Terra Ceia in some of the best basketball games I’ll ever see. I told the tale of the 2016 Washington softball team that had gone further than any in the program’s history. There’s Southside’s Eminey Redmond, who seemingly snuck up on everyone — including herself — in winning last year’s 1-A long jump state championship. I reported from Cary on the Pam Pack winning not one, but two state swimming championships.

When it comes to all that, I especially need to thank the coaches I’ve worked with. I wouldn’t have been able to tell many of these stories if not for coaches allowing me to stop in and watch practice. Every coach was kind in allowing me to pull a player out from practice — or sometimes class — for a quick interview.

There were so many other experiences I’ll cherish. I got to bring MLB and NBA stories to Beaufort County. There were riveting stories in the youth ranks.

And I also need to thank the folks at the Washington Daily News. They allowed me an opportunity to grow as an intern in 2014. Then, a little over a year later, they gave a 22-year-old Mike Prunka a sports page to make his own.

I feel like I did just that. I was relatively free to do whatever I wanted. I got to do a video where Beaufort County’s best pitchers made me look silly. Magazines and other special sections the WDN publishes allowed me to branch out and write about things other than sports.

Heck, look at the weekend’s sports page. I’ve written some kind of story on Wrestlemania for the last three years.

These are but a few of the treasured memories I’ll keep with me forever.

Those memories aren’t limited to games I’ve covered and stories I’ve told. In fact, that’s the minority. The most rewarding aspect of the last two and a half years has been the way Beaufort County became home.

Home is where family is, right? Well, I have a lot of family here now. I’m not just talking about the Beaufort County community, either. Each school I’ve covered here is its own family, and each welcomed me with open arms.

I also got to share so many moments with individual families. There were so many college signings. I got to tell the tale of Brantley Cutler recovering from a career-threatening injury to not only play baseball again, but to earn a Division I scholarship. I got to know not only the kids I covered, but also so many of their parents and families.

It always warmed my heart the way so many teams would greet me when I’d show up to cover a game. Sure, some were happy to see me because it meant they’d be featured in the paper soon, but I think there were people that were genuinely happy to have me around.

And I was so happy to be around.

I love this community. I hope the readers enjoyed my work as much as I enjoyed doing it. I’m heading to Raleigh now. Look out for me whenever Beaufort County’s teams head toward the Triangle for playoff games. I’ll be there cheering them on.

And finally, thank you to the readers. Thank you to all that have followed my work. I appreciate all the feedback. Not all of it was positive, but it was all constructive and kind.

Please continue to support the Washington Daily News like you have. Some of the hardest working people I have ever come across are in this newsroom. Moreover, there’s a genuine love here for telling Beaufort County’s stories. They love what they do here just like I have.