Retirement can be elusive for old sports journalists

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A funny thing happened on my way to retirement: I bought a newspaper.

If you are surprised by this, that makes at least two of us. It looked as though my dream of purchasing the Kemper County Messenger — the weekly newspaper of a community that is dear to my heart — had been buried 18 months ago.

But without warning the door swung wide open, and after prayer, research, and consultation, my wife Barbara and I made the decision to take on this important role.

Many people believe and proclaim from the mountain tops that newspapers are dead and gone or at the very least sucking their last breath. And surely, most aren’t what they once were. But there is a place for a strong, community-based newspaper in every small town and I have been blessed with the opportunity to own and operate one of them.

My history with DeKalb is a long one that can be traced back to at least 1978 when I was a sports correspondent for The Meridian Star. That’s when I first covered West Kemper High School and met the legendary Billy Brown — head coach of the Wildcats and owner of the firmest handshake I have ever managed to escape from.

Throughout the 45 years of my journalistic career, I have had the opportunity to cover both sports and news  in Kemper County as a reporter/editor for both the Meridian Star and Kemper County Messenger. Beginning on Oct. 1, I will be doing so as CEO, publisher, and editor of the newspaper.

For the last 15 years or so my journalistic work has centered on producing sports for a handful of weekly newspapers in Mississippi including the Kosciusko Star-Herald. Winston County Journal, Newton County Appeal, Choctaw Plaindealer, Winona Times, and the Conservative (Carrolton). Last spring I came to the conclusion that the journalistic season of my life had come to a close.

One-by-one I begin moving out of those weekly papers that I was still producing sports for, preparing for my “retirement” which is set to begin on Jan 1, 2022.

I will still remain pastor of Great Commission Assembly of God, whose flock I will have been leading for more than 11 years by the time the new year comes around. But with my table cleared from my sports responsibilities, I will now use that time to do what that I was born to do, make a difference in the local community.

My idea of local journalism is really pretty simple. Of course you must be the voice that speaks clearly about government matters, covering the board of supervisors, city hall, law enforcement, and the courts.

But you MUST also cover the people and their stories.

You do this by filling the paper up with school news, both sports and otherwise, while also promoting and covering local events and above all telling the stories of the people. That is what will keep local journalism alive and nothing else.

I was born in Atlanta, Ga., raised in Louisville, Miss. and currently live in Lauderdale County just 3.2 miles from the Kemper County line. The church I pastor is in Neshoba County. The counties that have without a doubt played the biggest role in my professional life are Winston, Neshoba, Lauderdale, Clarke, Attala, Newton, and Kemper.

And now that journey continues in a whole new direction, one that I was born to take and blessed to be given the opportunity to travel.

I will continue to write these weekly sports columns at least through the end of this year, and perhaps longer if the opportunity remains.

I never, ever take for granted the time you take to read the simple words that a write. That’s why I have never travelled this journey alone. You have always been there and for that I am thankful.

It will be interesting to see where this next stage of life takes us. Hang on, it should be interesting.

Austin Bishop, AKA The Old Sports Dude, has been covering high school, college, amateur and professional sports since 1975. He is currently pastor of Great Commission Assembly of God in Philadelphia, Miss. He may be contacted by email at starsportsboss@yahoo.com.


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