More than half a century after high school graduation

Shooting photos of our student-athletes is a big part of what I do and it is an honor to do so.
Aimee Whitlow (center) going for the shot on Senior Night.
Lady Buffs senior Riley Spangler (left) scores over a James River defender.

Before the senior night varsity Lady Buffaloes basketball game at Floyd County High School, I talked to Riley Spangler, one of those graduating later this year, as we looked at her photos on a board that showed her at several ages through the years, some of them taken by me while covering the games for The Floyd Press.

At some point in our conservation Thursday, I realized that she is scheduled to graduate 55 years after I did from FCHS, along with Aimee Whitlow, Sarah Belshan and Bailey Underwood.

Photographing the four seniors and many other student-athletes who played on various sports teams over the last decade and a half has been a special treat that neither wife Amy or I expected when we left Arlington County after 23 years working in an out of the Washington, DC, area.

I figured I had left my chosen profession as a newspaperman behind when we moved to Floyd, where I opened a photo and image printing business in the Jacksonville Center (now the Floyd Center for the Arts).  I had worked for The Floyd Press during the time I spent in Floyd County attending high school after moving here from Farmville, in racially-torn Prince Edward County in 1962.

After high school graduation, I worked for The Roanoke Times from 1965-69, then moved on to The Telegraph in Alton, IL in the Metro St. Louis area for 12 years. Amy and I met during that time, married and left in 1981 to move to Arlington. After a stupid decision, on my part, to work for Congress and then as a political operative, I returned to newspapers as a contract journalist.

I covered the 9-11 terror attacks at the Pentagon and accepted assignments to hot spots of conflicts like Israel, Afghanistan, Haiti, and other locations but when an offer to go to Iraq as an embedded reporter and photographer for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 came from a new service, Amy asked me not to go.  “I’ve never asked you ever not go to where the news is before, but I have a bad feeling about this one,” she told me.

Her “bad feelings” too often turned to be true predictions. The photographer who went in my place died there. So did too many other newsmen and women in a war that turned out to be a bad decision for America. I decided to slow down and take life a little easier and we moved to Floyd County, giving up the condo in a high rise that had been our home for more than two decades to buy a hilltop house in the Blue Ridge.

Wanda Combs, then editor of The Floyd Press, wrote a story about my return to the area and asked me to photograph a football game at Floyd County High School in the fall of 2004. One game became more and I was soon shooting high school sports for Media General, owner of the paper.

Then she asked if I could cover the Board of Supervisors and, later, Circuit Court. This past fall marked 15 years of writing and shooting photos for the paper where I worked in high school 50 years earlier. When BH Media bought the Media General papers and also bought The Roanoke Times from Landmark, I was also again shooting photos and writing stories that appeared in my newspaper home for five years in the late 1960s.

Lee Enterprises, we learned this week, is now buying BH Media, so the Press, the Times and many other area papers have changed ownership again.

Does this mean more or less work? That depends on the wishes of the new owners. New Editor Ashley Spinks has kept me busy with coverage of sports, courts and other news since she replaced the retiring Combs last year and what I do in the future is up to her and her bosses at Lee.

The one thing I will never give up, as long as I am capable, is shooting photos of the student athletics of Floyd County High School. I will shoot them for anyone who asks me to. If they don’t, I will publish them here on Blue Ridge Muse and offer them for use by the schools or others who need such images.

I may come home from covering court or the board of supervisors shaking my head or frowning, but I almost always leave a football, basketball, wrestling, soccer, baseball, softball or track match smiling because the student-athletes make my job easy and enjoyable. Winning or losing, their abilities and grace are pleasures to photograph.

Same for photographing filming entertainment events.  I have thousands of images of The Friday Night Jamboree, FoydFest, music on the streets, BBQ/Bluegrass festivals and others.

It’s what I do and I love doing it.

Senior Sarah Belshan taking a shot.
Senior Bailey Underwood looking for a rebound.
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