STROHECKER: It was a pleasure telling the stories of York County's athletes

Patrick Strohecker
York Dispatch

I had a plan in place.

York Dispatch sports reporter Patrick Strohecker, right, interviews NFL player Darius Jennings.

When I was hired by The York Dispatch as a sports copy editor back in June 2014, a month removed from college, the plan was simple. Stick it out at an entry-level job for a year — 18 months, tops — live at home for that time, save up some money and then move onto something bigger. A bigger media outlet in a bigger city.

At 23 years old, I thought I had it all figured out. Yet, things change, plans get altered and here I am, at 26 years old, writing to you, the readers, one final time.

Coming out of college, I wanted to be a reporter, preferably in sports. I took the sports copy editing position at The York Dispatch out of school because it was a way for me to get my foot in the door and begin my profession. But I wanted to write more than edit and I made it clear during my interview.

To his credit, our sports editor, Steve Heiser, told me during my interview that if I got the job, he would try to get me writing opportunities when he could, but nothing was guaranteed and it wouldn't be immediately.

Good enough.

He gave me my own weekly column about two months into the job and that evolved into a couple reporting assignments per week by the winter. When former sports reporter John Walk left to take a job in Lancaster, I was presented with the opportunity to become the new lead high school sports reporter covering the York-Adams League. This was my chance.

And that opportunity is precisely why I've been with the paper for much longer than I ever imagined.

Becoming a better reporter: Covering high school athletics isn't glamorous. Almost anything you need from a game — yards, points, goals, assists, shots, etc... — it's up to you to keep track. Yet, it makes you a better reporter for having to do it. 

In my 3 1/2 years with the paper, and nearly three years as sports reporter, I've fully come to appreciate the stories I've gotten to tell. Maybe I was lucky and came at the perfect time for high school sports in the area.

The first column I ever wrote came at the end of July in 2014. It was about the Red Land Little League team having a great summer and making it to states. I wrote about how that team could make it all the way to Williamsport for the Little League World Series.

in this file photo, Red Land's Jaden Henline is mobbed by teammates and coaches after hitting a walk-off two-run double in the sixth inning in pool play against Taylors, South Carolina, at the Little League World Series tournament in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in August.

It didn't.

But the next summer, Red Land did make it and I was fortunate enough to cover the team's journey all the way up to the championship game, attending the international competition for the first time ever.

I also had the chance to cover the U.S. Women's Open in Lancaster that same summer. I can put on my resume that I've interviewed an Olympian, thanks to Spring Grove's Hali Flickinger taking the entire county on a ride as one of the top butterfly swimmers in the world. I was also here to witness one of the York Revolution's three Atlantic League titles.

But, most importantly, this position was about the high school athletes. Telling the story of Eli Brooks, the most highly-recruited boys' basketball player to ever come out of York County. Or Courtney Harnish, the nation's top female high school swimmer in the Class of 2017. Or being around for the height of the Northeastern boys' volleyball dynasty. Or being the storyteller for the best seasons in program history, like the 2016-17 Northeastern and Spring Grove boys' basketball teams, or the 2017 Dallastown baseball team.

Thank yous: I've had the chance to work alongside plenty of fantastic journalists, starting with our paper's news reporters. Because our shifts barely overlap and we sit on opposite ends of the newsroom, we rarely interact. But, good journalism like they do is part of why I've grown to want to try and be more than just a sports reporter and am pursuing a change in my career path.

Then there's the night crew of copy editors. They're the ones who have had to deal with my daily outbursts regarding the Philadelphia Flyers, Eagles or 76ers, the New York Yankees and Kansas men's basketball. Our copy editors help to produce a paper that, in my biased opinion, is the best in the county.

Our photographers, John Pavoncello, Dawn Sagert and Bill Kalina are nothing but first class and amazing to work with.

Our editor, Allison Roth-Cooper, and managing editor, Pat DeLany, are instrumental in making sure the paper put out five times a week is of the best quality and of the most journalistic integrity.

Our sports team of Elijah Armold, David VanOlinda and Heiser have put up with me a lot and are always good for plenty of laughs, usually at my expense. For a four-man sports team, I felt we constantly put out a terrific section with the resources we had, and I have no doubt it'll continue to be like that. And don't worry, I'll make sure Gerald (my pug) stays warm in Boston.

To my colleagues at other outlets, both still around and who have since moved on, you all made me a better reporter. It'd be so much simpler if there was just one paper in York County that could gather all the scoops and not worry about competition. But, then it would be easy and the drive wouldn't always be there. Yeah, I guess we "competed" to get exclusives, but it never became personal and it was always a joy to be at the same events.

Players, coaches and teams: Lastly, thank you to the players, coaches and teams I covered. I've said it so many times to my family and friends who don't quite know what it's like to report on high school sports, and so I'll tell the rest of you now. Wherever I wind up, whatever I end up covering and for however big a newspaper, website, or TV station I end up working for, I don't think I'll ever produce stories that will be as widely appreciated as the ones I wrote for this paper.

The reception I've received over the last three-plus years telling your stories will never be matched. It was a joy developing the relationships I have with the players and coaches around the league who were always more than open to take the time for an interview. I'll still be following all of your athletic endeavors from afar.

And, so, with that, my time writing for The York Dispatch is done with one final 1,184-word column. If you're interested in what is next for me, I'll be attending grad school at Northeastern University in Boston as part of the school's Media Innovation program.

If you want to keep following me on Twitter and experiencing my roller coaster of emotions as the Eagles go on to win their first Super Bowl and the Sixers "Trust The Proccess," I promise it'll be worth your time.

It was my pleasure telling your stories, York County.

Keep doing great things.