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Joe Henderson: After 45 years covering sports and writing columns in Tampa, thank you

Joe Henderson
Published Aug. 20

As I sat to write this column, I couldn't help but notice the date — Monday, Aug. 19.

Exactly 45 years ago, also on a Monday, I walked into the New Port Richey bureau of the Tampa Tribune for my first day of work as a sportswriter.

My initial assignment was covering football practice at Gulf High School.

The date seems especially important now because my professional life has come full circle. What began that day ends now.

This is my final column for this newspaper, with which the Trib competed fiercely for decades. For the last three years and odd weeks, though, I've held this space in the Tampa Bay Times.

Yeah, it was strange for me too, for a while at least.

But I have only good thoughts for the people at the Times, especially those on the front lines. That group includes editors John Martin, Barry Klein, Dennis Joyce, and Ernest Hooper.

Reporters Paul Guzzo, Anastasia Dawson, and Chris O'Donnell were my friends at the Tribune, and they transitioned to the Times where they continue to do outstanding work. I'll always feel a kinship with the people in the sports department, past and present.

But without you, the reader, this venture would have been futile. It was about telling stories I thought you wanted to hear and introducing you to interesting people you might not otherwise meet.

As my journalism journey took me into the role I always wanted, that of columnist, I learned the main requirements: Say what you believe and accept the consequences when readers don't agree. If I couldn't take it when readers complained, then I shouldn't have written it.

I tried to answer as many as letters and emails as I could — even the nasty unsigned ones that said, usually in all caps, I was headed to hell.

It was funny, in a way. Often after answering a stinging rebuke from a reader, I would get a reply that said something like, "Oh, I didn't know you would actually read this."

Yeah, folks. I read them, and I appreciated each one.

That back-and-forth is missing today. A lot of our problems can be averted if we just sit down and actually listen to each other. That's even more important if the other person is wildly in favor of something you unflinchingly oppose.

Don't be afraid to be wrong. No one person or side is always right about everything. Heaven knows I'm surely not.

Here's one thing I got right, though. I once wrote for the Times that I was born to be a newspaper guy. I still believe that, and even with the crushing financial pressure on the industry I would do it all over again without a second thought.

Much of that time was spent in sports. We used to laugh when the newsroom people brought in pizza on election nights because they had to work late. Folks, in sports every night is an election night.

The deadlines are crushing, and the demands are high. There are parties you miss and holidays that are spent at a stadium in a distant locale.

But the benefits outweighed everything — cities to visit, athletes to meet, major events to witness first-hand and, most important, the chance to tell readers what you saw.

Moving to the role of a local columnist was an unexpected blessing. There were big issues to discuss — public education, transportation, runaway growth, political leaders, religion, but it mostly it was about the kind of city we want Tampa to be.

We're still working on that last part.

We've had lumps, heartaches, and triumphs. And we went through all that together.

I experienced all that, just like you. It has been a heckuva ride.

So, this is my stop. It's time to go. I had a blast. Take care, everyone.

And thank you.

Contact Joe Henderson at JoeHTampa@gmail.com.

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