By Justin Jarrett
The impetus has since escaped me, but I found myself thinking the other day of one of my early journalism mentors, Jack Harris, and how much he has shaped the path of my life.
The funny thing is, when Jack and I crossed paths in 2004, I didn’t really consider him a mentor. It wasn’t until long after he passed away that I came to realize how much his passion for small-town, local sports journalism influenced me.
I was wrapping up my senior year of journalism school at the University of Missouri when I accepted a position as the sports editor at the Parsons Sun, a small daily newspaper in my native Southeast Kansas, where Jack was retiring after 40 years as sports editor — nay, the sports department at the paper.
It was a daunting task, but I was assured that Jack would be around to help me through the transition, and he was, introducing me to the right people, giving me the lay of the land, and showing me his treasure trove of hand-written records from four decades covering the high school teams around the area and the junior college in town. (It’s one of my few regrets in life that I allowed Jack’s meticulous records to lapse during my brief tenure; I was more focused on putting out the paper every day and writing my way into my next opportunity.)
Jack and I developed a great relationship. He would occasionally call or stop by the office to shoot the breeze about the local teams, and we even teamed up to represent the paper in the golf competition for the town’s “Company Olympics.”
But I never really related to him until after he was gone.
As a young journalist with dreams of being a beat writer for a college or pro team or a columnist for a major newspaper, I couldn’t comprehend why someone would stay in the same small town covering high school sports for 40 years.
Well, I’ll be coming up on the halfway point here in the Lowco in a couple of years, and I hope LowcoSports.com is still around and I’m still a part of it long enough for someone to wonder the same thing about me one day.
What I’ve learned since then, a perspective I could have gained if I had simply thought to ask Jack and really listen to his answer, is that sports is about so much more than the games and superstars we see on TV. It is the fabric of a community, from the relationships built between teammates that endure through the years, to the life lessons instilled in victory and defeat, to the memories that never fully fade.
For 40 years, Jack ensured that last part was true for every kid who put on a uniform for the Parsons Vikings, Labette County Grizzlies, and a half-dozen other schools scattered around a sparsely-populated area lacking for media coverage. He broke his neck every night — and the next morning — to track down as many scores, stats, and details as he could and compiled them in the newspaper for the community to celebrate the successes and share in the agony of defeat day after day. Jack became more than the local sports writer — he was a town historian.
Sound familiar? The medium has changed, but there’s no question LowcoSports.com has become the “paper of record” for local sports fans — the only place to keep a pulse on the current crop of hometown heroes who will someday take starring roles in stories of glory days gone by. The Facebook share has largely replaced the newspaper clipping on the refrigerator door for proud parents and grandparents.
In the 15 months I spent as the sports editor in Parsons before a job offer to cover sports for The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette brought me “home” to the Lowco, I spent a lot of time and energy bristling against the notion of “how Jack used to do it” — and I’ve spent much longer gaining the perspective of why Jack did what he did for so long.
When my former employer laid off the last local sports staffer in 2017, I felt compelled to launch LowcoSports.com, and without realizing it, I did it a lot like Jack would have done it — if Jack lived in a different era.
The Lowco needed a Jack Harris, and I feel fortunate to fill the role for at least a little while.
Justin Jarrett is the sports editor of The Island News and the founder of LowcoSports.com. He was the sports editor of the Island Packet and the Beaufort Gazette for 6½ years. He has a passion for sports and community journalism and a questionable sense of humor.