Jeff Prince

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Prince at sports@weatherforddemocrat.com.

Change is inevitable in life but especially for high school sports reporters. The young athletes entertain us for two or three years and steal our hearts with their courage and determination, heartbreaks and triumphs. Then, they’re gone.

New faces come along, and the cycle repeats itself.

Change comes frequently among coaches, too. Some come and go with the frequency of city managers trying to stay a step ahead of a lynch mob. In the past year, I’ve seen three major coaching changes.

The first coach I met was Gerald Perry in Mineral Wells. COVID-19 had delayed the start of football in Weatherford, and the first game I covered for the paper was the Rams season opener on Aug. 28, 2020.

My introduction to Perry came after the game, when I heard a loud voice say, “Don’t talk to the players!”

I had been interviewing a player but stopped immediately. Perry, the Rams head coach and athletic director, hustled over to say he would talk to me but didn’t want me talking to his players without asking permission. Kids can become emotional after games, particularly losses, and there’s no telling what might fly out of their mouths in the heat of the moment, he said. Best to let things simmer down.

That made sense to me, and we had a good talk. Thus began a great working relationship with Perry. When the season ended, however, he surprised people by resigning with little explanation.

Just like that, gone.

Brock’s head coach was next. Chad Worrell had started the Eagles football program years earlier, turned them into a playoff powerhouse and become a well-liked and respected member of the community. Then, without warning, he departed for El Campo. Worrell is another coach I had grown to appreciate. He was friendly, accessible and provided statistics faster and better than any other coach.

I hated to see Perry and Worrell go but knew they based their decisions on many factors, tangible and intangible and none of which were any of my business. I hated to see the coaches go but wished them well and meant it.

Their departures led to other changes.

Losing Perry allowed assistant coach Seth Hobbs to take over the football program. Hobbs is a devoted, passionate coach who wants to win but understands the big picture and does what’s best for his players. I like his passion and sense of fairness. Mineral Wells is fortunate to have him.

Worrell’s departure from Brock presented an opportunity for another one of my favorite coaches, Billy Mathis at Weatherford.

While covering the Kangaroos football team last season, I could count on Mathis making himself accessible after games, win or lose, and answering questions with a twinkle in his eye. Mathis is another big-picture guy who sets an example of dignity and grace in volatile situations, even when he's yelling at an umpire or player.

Mathis’ move to Brock opened the door for another exceptional human being, Aubrey Sims, to surface at Weatherford. Sims came from Iowa Park to become the new athletic director and football coach and established himself as a smart, approachable and devoted leader intent on pushing the Roos toward bigger successes while keeping the kids grounded and safe.

Yes sir. Change can be good.

Just like players and coaches, sportswriters tend to move around, too. I’m no different. My last day at the Democrat is Friday, July 23. I will be leaving almost a year to the date of my hiring. The following Monday, July 26, I start a new job covering sports in Azle and Springtown.

Why leave Weatherford to work in those towns?

Twenty years ago, I bought a small piece of property just outside of Azle. For the next four years, I cleared the property and designed and built my dream house. In 2005, I moved there and began commuting 100 minutes round-trip to my job at Fort Worth Weekly for many years.

In 2020, I landed a job at the Democrat and have been driving 50 minutes each day.

Working at Azle means I can leave my house and be at work in less than 10 minutes. Sportswriters cover practices and meetings in the mornings and attend games that stretch well into the evenings. A short commute comes in handy at a job that can require split shifts.

I was born and raised in Fort Worth but have plenty of family roots in Azle and Springtown, so it feels like a homecoming. I’m excited about this change but feel conflicted about leaving my job in Weatherford. I had spent little time in this city before joining the Democrat on July 20, 2020. I rarely ventured in this direction for no particular reason.

In the past year, I’ve discovered the town and its people and come to like what I’ve seen. I’m a health nut, so most of my retail therapy in Weatherford is spent in the produce section at grocery stores. This city has a solid collection. I’ve enjoyed many pleasant experiences with employees and shoppers at Brookshire’s, Aldi, Albertsons and Walmart.

I received my COVID vaccinations at the county courthouse, a quick and painless endeavor with friendly folks all around.

Walker Automotive is a stone’s throw from the Democrat office, which made it easy for me to drop off my car in the mornings, walk to work and go back in the afternoons after it had been serviced. The folks at Walker Automotive have been friendly and fair, and I enjoy petting their friendly shop mascot, a bull terrier that looks like Spuds MacKenzie.

Another favorite pastime has been listening to live music on the patio at Northside Remedy while sipping an incredible hot tea drink they sell called the London Fog.

Every year for a Christmas present, I treat my parents to a night out at a fancy restaurant. This year, I took them to Zenos on the Square, and we loved the food and the experience. We enjoyed tasty trips to Fire Oak Grill and Beefmaster, too.

The people are what stand out most to me when I think about my time spent in Weatherford and Parker and Palo Pinto counties. I’ve been called “sir” more times in the past year than I have in my previous six decades on earth. Kids here have been respectful and friendly and acted far more mature than I recall myself or my friends ever being at that age. Working so closely with kids for the first time in my life makes me certain that the world’s future is in sturdy hands.

This was my first sports writing job — I had been covering hard news for 30 years previously — and I had been warned by other writers to be wary of parents. They can be pushy and meddlesome, I was told.

Instead, some of my best story ideas came from proud parents. Also, they were quick to let me know when I had misspelled a name or misidentified someone, which allowed me to make quick corrections. We all want the same thing — accurate information delivered in an entertaining fashion. I never had a bad experience with a parent.

Something else making it hard to leave this paper is my appreciation for Editor Sally Sexton. Weatherford residents might not realize it, but you have a hometown girl working hard seven days a week to make the Democrat a valuable source of community news.

My year in Weatherford is one I’ll remember and cherish. Now that I know you’re here, and I like what I see, I’ll continue making forays. Where else can I get a London Fog in the company of good folks while listening to live music over the sound of passing traffic near a historic courthouse square in a city that’s been around since the 1800s?

 

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