Column: Thankful for the opportunities

After 11 years at the Eagle and a decade as its sports writer, Tuesday will be my last day at the place I’ve come to know as my work home.
It’s been a wild and chaotic ride — covering sports doesn’t come with the expectation of a quiet day at the library — but overall the experience has been wonderful.
I’ve witnessed the crowning of state champions in basketball, softball and wrestling among our area prep teams, covered SEC Media Days and football contests in Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Starkville and Oxford and interviewed Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn, Les Miles, Steve Spurrier, Mark Stoops, Bruce Pearl among others. 
I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to cover athletes at the prep level as they made tremendous plays and represented their alma maters with grace and poise, then return years later to coach the next generation of great players.
Along the way, there are scores of coaches who have made the job much easier and a joy.
When I first talked to Chavis Williams he was just a few weeks removed from a trip to the Rose Bowl where he was part of the 2009 team that won Nick Saban’s first national championship at Alabama.
I’ve chronicled his time playing with the Baltimore Ravens, as he returned to Dora to join his former head coach Johnny Wright’s staff, his move to Carbon Hill where he became defensive coordinator and later head coach, and finally, his return to Dora to become its head coach. He’s become a great friend over the years and an absolute pleasure to work with.
I wasn’t on hand to cover Jessica Aderholt’s first state championship at Sumiton Christian, but was alongside through the three titles won from 2015 to 2017. I’ve watched her coach athletes who have signed scholarships at the junior college level to ACC and SEC programs. Jessica’s teams have always been a reflection of herself — hard-working, determined, fun-loving and humorous. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
As a former wrestler, I immediately become acquainted with Hezzie Morgan and his excellent program at Dora. 
His wrestlers were always focused and well-spoken, like their coach. Hezzie was always an easy interview, too. 
It was a privilege to watch his guys win state championships, as well as his move to Jasper where he teamed with an equally great man of character, Tripp Otis, as they molded the Vikings into a prominent program.
Back when I was just a correspondent during football season, I spent a great deal of time covering the Lynn Bears and working with Philip Smith.
Over the years, I’ve been alongside as he became head coach at Curry in football and softball, and as he coached the Yellow Jackets to state championships in 2015 and 2016 before his move to Carbon Hill. I’ve gotten to know Philip’s wonderful family — his wife Stephanie, his daughter Logann and son Luke, who mean so much to him. 
Although he no longer coaches in our area, this list couldn’t be complete without Heath Burns. Heath was one of the first coaches I interviewed when I became sports writer and has became another good friend of mine. 
I watched his teams at Parrish ascend to state championship games, then build Cordova basketball into a power that won him a title in 2018. Heath’s always been an extremely easy interview and fun to deal with, and like Smith, has an outstanding family he loves in wife Katy and daughter Molly Kate.
There’s many other coaches who have brought so much to the experience — Mark Hastings, Ryan and Brandi Hall, Kara Cashatt, Brittany Vintson, Tommy Suitts, Justin Blevins, Bart Lockhart, Woody Smothers, Chris Harris and Philip Bailey, just to name a few. They all have my eternal thanks.
The countless scores of athletes and parents I’ve come to know would most likely take eight pages to list, but many have become extremely dear to myself and my family — I’ve enjoyed covering their accomplishments and watching them take the next steps in their lives.
Finally, there’s my “work family” here at the Eagle, who have become a very important part of my life.
There’s been joys and sorrows, accomplishments and disappointments — through it all, they’ve been very supportive and warm. Sitting at my desk outside of sports editor Johnathan Bentley’s office as we broke down Oakman’s defensive line strengths, Sumiton Christian’s chances of not giving up a run at the West Regional, who would win the Walker County Basketball Tournament and Auburn’s quarterback woes was a genuine joy and I’ll miss it greatly.
As I sign off, I hope our readers have enjoyed the stories of the athletes and coaches who represent our communities and much as I have enjoyed bringing it to them.
Take care, and play ball!
W. Brian Hale is the Sports Writer at the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at