Four years of PolkSports: Looking back, looking ahead

Sept. 13, 2013 - Polk County head football coach Bruce Ollis talks with Matt Connolly, then of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal and now of The State in Columbia, S.C., as PolkSports' Andy Rhinehart takes notes in the background (Jane Ollis photo).

It’s a question that has been posed a few times in the past four years and usually sounds something like the following.

“So let me get this straight – your kids don’t play any sports at Polk County, but you’re out here writing about all these other kids?”

I always understood the reason behind the question – and I’ve asked it a few times myself.

Wednesday marks four years since PolkSports.com launched, a quadrennial run in which we’ve posted more than 2,600 stories about Polk County athletes, past and present. Launch night on Sept. 13, 2013, coincided with Polk County’s 21-15 football win at Landrum, a night in which fireworks filled the night sky in the final seconds of the Wolverines’ win.

Seeing fireworks again Friday night at the end of Polk County’s 24-0 victory at Landrum brought back some fond memories from that debut night. There have been plenty of moments to remember since – state champions, dramatic playoff victories, heartbreaking losses, coaching changes, college signings. This year’s senior class competed as eighth graders in that first season of the website’s existence, and it has been especially fun watching them mature and develop.

So why does PolkSports exist? In large part, the site has allowed me to step back into time and a part of my professional career I greatly enjoyed, the almost-12 years spent as a sports writer and editor at various newspapers in the Carolinas.

So many memories remain from that time. I had the chance to cover ACC and SEC events, a college football bowl game, a Masters tournament. Nick Price invited me into the players’ locker room at Augusta National to finish an interview. I listened to 100,000 orange-clad Tennessee fans singing Rocky Top at full lung capacity during a drenching thunderstorm. I got to meet legends and stars and see a lot of things I never expected to see.

Yet give me a choice, and I’ll take the sidelines of W.J. Miller Field on a Friday night over any of that. I like high school sports. I like small towns. I really like high school sports in small towns.

And I love journalism. I covered my first event the night after my high school graduation, and every job I’ve had since has somehow connected to publishing. I work full-time now for these guys, and I’m fortunate that they support the work I do here.

Indulge a few more thank-yous:

* Jeff Wilson and Dr. Brandon Schweitzer were the first folks I ever met with about launching PolkSports. They were a bit skeptical about this guy they didn’t know and his crazy idea, but they agreed to cooperate, and they’ve been among the biggest supporters since. None of this ever happens without them.

* Bill Miller and Aaron Greene. PolkSports probably would have ceased to exist after the 2015 fall season were it not for its purchase by Polk County Schools. The vision that Miller and Greene had for both PolkSports and PolkStudents.com is a testament to their dedication to Polk County education and the school system’s motto of “doing what’s right for students.”

* Polk County coaches. As I said earlier, I have a full-time job outside of PolkSports, and there are times when that job keeps me away from attending events. In four years, every time I’ve asked a coach for help, they’ve answered, and done so without complaint. Better people, better Wolverines – you couldn’t come up with a better phrase to describe the men and women who devote their lives to coaching local athletes.

* My family. All too often in the past four years I’ve gotten off work, grabbed a sandwich, headed to a game, returned home, written a story and gone to bed. It’s a schedule that has too often left too little time for family, and I can’t thank mine enough for the patience and tolerance they’ve shown. They deserve better. I hope one day to return their devotion in kind.

So, what’s next for PolkSports?

Hopefully, more of the same. The goal since launch has been to provide comprehensive coverage of Polk County athletes and teams, and that remains unchanged. Be it through articles, photos, videos, social media or whatever other platforms, the athletes and their stories are at the heart of what we do and always will be. Expect no change there.

As we’ve done with our Scorestream partnership this year, we’ll continue to look at the best ways to share those stories. The media landscape is an ever-changing one, with new platforms and tools seemingly coming along every day. We’ll continue to explore how best to use all of them.

Most of all, we’ll continue to ask you, the reader, for your thoughts and recommendations. My email address is andy@polksports.com – send your thoughts any time on how we can improve the website and how we can better serve the student-athletes of Polk County. I always appreciate your contributions; photos and news updates are always welcome.

Finally, a thank you to you. Without your interest, there would be no reason to continue doing what we do. Keep reading, keep sharing, keep supporting the coaches and athletes of Polk County.

Hopefully, we’ll keep giving you reason to hang around.