Hillsdale Daily News sports editor RJ Walters recently wrote his last column for the paper and will soon move onto a different journalistic opportunity with the United Methodist Church.
In the 2 1/2 years that he has served as editor, he brought a completely different vibe to how Hillsdale’s local paper covered its college programs. I can’t speak for his coverage of high school sports in the area as a whole, but I do know it shared an aspect of his college coverage. Character.
Immediately it became apparent that RJ was not only covering the performance between the lines but introducing readers to the people playing the games. Mark Nicolet was making his run through the Hillsdale record books at about this time. Sure, Walters had all of the stats and facts straight about the quarterback but he really let Hillsdale County know what a great kid that was in blue and white making those plays.
This would be a consistent aspect of his writing as he had the chance to tell us about Charger athletes like Katie Cezat’s and Melissa Bartlett’s character as well as their unprecedented sports feats.
I remember talking to Hillsdale Head Football Coach Keith Otterbein about the new guy writing at the paper. “There’s something I really like about that kid,” Otter would say. “He writes about what is really important.”
On a purely personal level, it was neat to see this in his coverage of a handful of local high school athletes as they played out their careers. At Hillsdale, I spent a ton of time at Mary Randall Preschool and the Academy. Because of my connection to their parents, working with Scott Lantis and Gabrielle brothers Mitchell and Marco was particularly memorable. Although it made me feel really old, it was neat to continually read of their athletic exploits in football, basketball, and especially a baseball state championship. It was even neater to read RJ’s profiles of the character and leadership these young men had developed. The same is true for kids like Katie Cervini and Gwen Buchop who were Kindergarteners in the my student-teaching assignment at Hillsdale Academy.
Now, RJ and I didn’t always see eye to eye on everything. I don’t say that to knock his sports knowledge or as a negative. In fact, it was just the opposite. We had lively ongoing debates amongst our dueling blogs. How the Chargers would fair this season was a great exchange. He was a worthy adversary and it felt more like we were actually collaborating on building readership and the body of information surrounding Charger football and not just ripping each other.
A final point that I really appreciate about RJ’s journalism was that he truly appreciated Hillsdale, D2 football and the GLIAC. He never treated this level like anything was sub-standard or minor league about it. Not all of his predecessors, especially one who would wear Grand Valley State gear to cover the Chargers, can say that.
The Hillsdale Daily News will have big shoes to fill. That will be easier said than done.
God bless RJ and good luck!
(Picture from RJ’s Facebook page without permission. That’s what friends are for right?)