Pratt: See y’all at the game

WKU celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the game against Austin Peay at Smith Stadium.

Elliott Pratt

I’ve written a lot of words for the Herald.

Ask anyone who has worked the copy desk or served on the editorial board of this paper the last two-and-a-half years and they’ll say either my stories were too long or they were thankful because my  stories took up needed space in the paper.

Now it’s come to the inevitable dilemma that I must try to fit everything I’d like to say about Western Kentucky University within the few hundred words of this final column.

Or several hundred words.

I’m not the traditional college student that came here four years ago as a freshman ready to conquer the world.

I was a country boy from Springfield, Tennessee, ignorant of his own thick southern accent who wanted to talk about sports on TV. I attended Volunteer State Community College the first two years of school and worked a graveyard shift at UPS for half that time.

Good times.

Then I came to Bowling Green – just a single hour from home – and was quickly made aware I spoke like a hick and didn’t know near as much about sports journalism as I thought.

Graduation looms in just over a week. I still have a bit of an accent and I get to talk sports at times when I’m not writing about it, but what I’ve learned in just over two years of writing sports for the Herald can’t be contained within any long-form story I’ve written or really within this column.

Before coming here I had never left the soil of SEC football country. I’m not kidding on the soil part – meaning I had never even been on a plane.

Now, I can say I’ve visited many parts of the country, with a trip to the west coast in 2012 for the NCAA Volleyball Tournament in California where I was denied an order of sweet tea for the first time in my life.

I finally ate a Whataburger during my first trip to Texas for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament last spring. I got on a bus early the day after Christmas in 2012 and traveled 40 mph in the snow to write about the fan experience of WKU’s first ever bowl game in Detroit and I was in Kansas City to witness Ray Harper’s 16-seed squad nearly make history against Kansas.

I quickly learned to appreciate the rich history of the Hill. I could walk the Hilltopper Halls of History in Diddle Arena for an entire day and listen to Paul Just tell stories from each decade.

I’ve sat with John Oldham, Jim Richards, Jim McDaniels and Clarence Glover to hear stories about WKU’s lone trip to the Final Four in 1971. I’ve had coffee with Butch Gilbert to talk about the life and legacy of the late Jimmy Feix and his building of the WKU football program.

It was a process that took a while. I clearly remember covering my first Lady Topper basketball game two years ago on a near empty press row. A few seats to my right was a white-haired man making a mess of popcorn and talking to me like I needed to care about his analysis of the game.

I found out a few weeks later that man was legendary Lady Topper basketball coach Paul Sanderford.

I also remember a time when I first started writing for the Herald when I asked my sports editor at the time, Brad Stephens, why he cared to know so much about old names and stories of WKU’s past.

I was naïve and acted as if that stuff didn’t matter. Now I’m the guy who is getting asked that same question two years later.

What I’ve experienced in my short time here has been a direct result of making the most of my opportunities given, and they have been plenty.

Fellow Hilltoppers, you may be reading this column and affirming with yourself that I’m just a sports junkie who gets excited over box score trends and Monday media meals. And you’d be correct in that assumption. But I wouldn’t have had my experience at WKU go any other way.

I’ve seen every form of emotions that sports can bring – from the tears shed by coaches and players resulting from the end of a magical volleyball season in the bowls of the Maples Pavilion at Stanford University to the exuberant cheers heard from the visiting locker room at Marshall University from a football team making history.

What a ride it has been. Here’s your cliche don’t-let-the-years-go-by statement, but really, it has indeed been a heckuva time.

Stay classy, Tops.

I’ll see y’all at the game.