Jeff Prince

“Go West, young man” is the cultural cry attributed to Horace Greeley in 1865, when the New York Daily Tribune editor advised adventurous Americans to flee Eastern cities and “grow up with the country.”

One hundred and fifty-five years later, I’ve decided Greeley was right.

COVID-19 staggered the bar and restaurant industry in Tarrant County, killing ad revenues at the weekly magazine where I worked and prompting layoffs that left me jobless for the first time in my adult life. In April, I began drawing unemployment benefits and could have ridden that gravy train a long while but grew tired of twiddling my thumbs at home all day.

Instead, I packed up my pencil, reporter’s notebook and camera and settled into a new job as sports editor at the Weatherford Democrat after having spent the past quarter century writing for the Fort Worth Weekly and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I’m no longer a young man but figure Greeley’s advice remains relevant, and so here I am. I love this part of the state. I was living in Parker County already, having moved from Fort Worth to an unincorporated area near Weatherford in 2005 to embrace the rural landscape and privacy.

Most of my career has been spent covering hard news, but I’ve tackled plenty of sports stories along the way, including writing the Dallas Cowboys column “Off Asides” at the Weekly for many years. I look forward to writing more sports stories right here where peaches grow sweet and mineral waters run deep.

My fondness for sports developed while playing full-contact Pee-Wee League football in second, third and fourth grades. In fifth grade, I joined my elementary school team in Arlington and continued playing football through high school. Football owned my heart, but I dallied with baseball and basketball and ran track as well.

Was I any good? Not really, except maybe in football. I was lean and skinny-legged but a vicious hitter on the gridiron. My high school coach called me “Piranha” — small but deadly. In my junior year, my teammates selected me as the season’s Most Valuable Player in part because of my willingness to collide violently with larger opponents.

One thing I couldn’t hit? A baseball. My batting average hovered around .200.

I was worse at basketball. My football training — Hit! Kill! — instinctively overrode my roundball skill-set once I stepped on the hardwood court. In junior high, I cracked up an entire gymnasium filled with spectators by becoming frustrated during a game and earning five fouls in less than a minute. Or I thought I had five. I stormed off the court, assuming I had fouled out. Nope. I only had four fouls. Coach sent me back into the game to teach me a lesson. I stormed back onto the court looking for blood. That’s when the giggles began. Two seconds later, I plowed through an opposing player, earned my fifth foul and was ejected. I slinked toward the bench and fumed while the crowd enjoyed a belly laugh at my expense.

As for track and field, I never learned to three-step between hurdles, meaning I finished close to last every time. (Note to fledgling hurdlers: If your short skinny legs require five steps between hurdles and everyone else is taking three steps, don’t bother clearing shelf space for trophies.) Still, I enjoyed jumping over hurdles and stuck with it for years. I figured somebody had to lose and didn’t mind it being me much of the time. I ran track only to stay in shape for football anyway.

No college scouts came dangling athletic scholarships in my direction, and, like many young athletes, I became a has-been at 18.

My sports experiences are probably similar to many of yours. Who better to write about the highs and lows of student athletics than someone who has been there and believes the beauty and relevance of sports surpasses the number of home runs hit or three-pointers swished? Toiling in organized sports through my formative years taught me work ethic, responsibility, courage and discipline — traits I rely on to this day. I appreciate the role athletics play in developing young minds and bodies. I plan to cover the local scene with a holistic approach. High scorers and top hitters will receive their glories as expected and deserved, but the runners up and last-place finishers will receive earn attention as well. They have stories to tell, too.

Please send an email if you would like to pitch a story about a local athlete with an interesting backstory or a coach doing something extra special.

I’m happy to be covering sports in Parker and Palo Pinto counties and looking forward to meeting some of you at games and events. I’ll be the guy excited for the winners, empathetic toward the losers and enjoying the drama and pageantry of it all, perhaps while sitting on a padded donut. Bleacher seats haven’t softened up much through the years, nor have my bony legs.

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