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Aaron Schnautz Sports Editor

I’ve never been great with goodbyes. So bear with me on this.

When I initially moved here from Texas, the first question that almost every single person asked me was “Why Hickory?” Despite knowing next to nothing about this place, my answer was pretty simple. I had two job offers coming out of college: the Hickory Daily Record and a tiny paper in New Hampshire. I chose the warmer destination.

After I accepted the job here, one of my professors gleefully told me that I was moving to “Hickory Rick’s hometown.” At the time, I didn’t expect I’d get the chance to meet someone as high profile as Rick Barnes. Or that I’d get to interview him twice – and he’d be just as kind and welcoming as nearly everyone else I would meet here.

Moving to Hickory was a big adjustment for a kid that spent the first 23 years of his life living in Oklahoma. But boy, am I glad I made it.

I’ve learned so much in my two years here, which sadly comes to an end Friday. I’ve made the tough choice of stepping down and leaving the business to move back to my home state. Like any life-changing decision, this one didn’t come easily.

See, I had really grown to love this job. There were the obvious joys: the exciting moments, the thrilling finishes, the special players and coaches – of which there were so many. But I also took great pleasure from just being there to capture these events in the annals of history, knowing that some day 20 years from now, somebody would want to look back and remember how that Hickory-St. Stephens rivalry game finished or who made the winning catch in the Miracle at Moretz or which player delivered the state title-winning hit for the South Caldwell softball team.

This decision was made much harder by the many amazing people who welcomed this Okie as part of the community.

As I said, I didn’t know much about Hickory before I arrived. I didn’t realize there was a thriving high school sports scene chock full of champions. I had no clue how much I’d enjoy covering Lenoir-Rhyne and CVCC, or catching a Crawdads game or a race at the track.

I also didn’t have an appreciation for how much work this job would entail. Our coverage area is robust, with more than a dozen high schools, two colleges, a minor league baseball team, a race track, American Legion baseball and softball, and a plethora of other local sports. I pulled more all-nighters than I care to admit.

Regardless, I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished in my short time at the HDR. Over the past two years, I’ve written more than 600 bylines (with probably just as many staff reports) and published close to 800 photos. Along with an incredible staff of correspondents, we have provided what I believe to be the best sports coverage in the area hands down – and we have some state and national awards to back up that claim.

I can’t say enough about the people who help put together the sports section every day. From the freelancers to the newsroom staff to our page designers, none of it would have been possible without everyone’s help. Or without you, the reader, who kept buying the paper or clicking on the links to show your support.

But the honest truth is that making a living in this industry is a tough gig. The hours are long. The pay is less than stellar. The deadlines get earlier and earlier. Through it all, however, I still loved having the opportunity to cover this area’s rich sporting history.

This job gave me a strong sense of purpose. It provided something to distract me when I had my heart broken, or when I missed family holidays or birthdays or any other number of events. And I wouldn’t change any of it.

I know when I first arrived that I had a tough road ahead. But I was always taught to leave a place better than I found it. I hope you feel that I did.

Until we meet again.

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