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How Friday night lights with Dad led me here

| Wednesday, March 30, 2022

If you met me and I gave you my Notre Dame introduction, my credentials don’t exactly match up with my current position. Marketing major (pause for the anticipated ‘Mendoza Kid’ shudder) and Applied Math and Statistics supplemental major. 

And now…Sports Editor with the Observer? 

It’s not really anything I saw coming either but indulge me in my first Inside Column as I reflect a little on how I ended up here. 

I’ll take you back to a cold Friday evening on the sidelines of a high school football game. The third-down pass, a rare passing attempt in Maine High School football, fell incomplete and the head coach waved his punting team onto the field. My dad, clipboard in hand, bundled up for the crisp October weather, gave me a quick glance. At eleven years old, I knew what to do. I ran down the field to cover the upcoming punt, dutifully preparing to note the yard line at which the punt was caught. This was evidently crucial work. What if the punt was returned for a touchdown? Who else could possibly let my dad know exactly how long the return was? Never mind he had done this for years without my help, my assistance was a crucial development in my dad’s ability to cover high school football games. 

For years, I ran up and down the sidelines under the Friday night lights, assisting with such crucial moments. As I got older, I began to be trusted with slightly more important developments in games. My dad even started comparing his stats to my own on occasion. Friday night lights turned into Saturday excursions to high school basketball and baseball games, or summer nights at Hadlock Field, covering the Portland Sea Dogs, the Red Sox Double-A team. I kept stats, tracked pitches and handwrote my own game recaps on extra pieces of notebook paper. 

Whatever it took to be at the [insert sports venue here] with Dad. 

I landed a remote sports writing position in high school and gained my first real sports writing experience. However, to me, it remained a hobby.

When I came to Notre Dame, I joined the Observer. It seemed like a fun way to keep watching sports and I felt I was a decent enough writer to keep up my sports writing hobby. It was definitely different, though. Now I was covering games alone. Don’t get me wrong, spending a Saturday afternoon in the Notre Dame Stadium press box as a freshman was pretty incredible, but it wasn’t Friday night lights with Dad.  

My role with the Observer gradually increased, but I was content to remain a business kid by trade, sportswriter by hobby. But with several fellow juniors abroad this past fall, I was asked to fill in as an interim associate sports editor and lead the football beat. I don’t really remember when I decided to fully embrace these responsibilities or even if that was a conscious decision. 

But long story short, I did. And after a fall that featured a few all-nighters, a coaching change that will probably remain the biggest story I’ve covered for years (this was associated with the all-nighters) and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, I found myself far more involved with journalism than I ever thought I would be. A few months later, I applied to be Sports Editor, and now I sit here, trying to write my first Inside Column. 

It’s over ten years ago now that I first started attending those games with my dad. I’d like to think I’ve developed a little bit since carefully marking down those punt returns. As I write this, I’m covering the Notre Dame baseball game from the second row in the press box, a throwback to summer evenings at Hadlock. Except, of course, I’m filing my own story this time, not presenting my dad with a beautifully handwritten and barely readable account of the game he also watched (although Dad, if you want one, let me know and I can put one in the mail). I’m getting used to it, despite never expecting to be here. What started as an extra way to hang out with my dad has turned into the heart of my college experience. 

In an ideal world, I’d have published this closer to Father’s Day, at least a small way to appreciate the time I had all those years. But hey, it’s a newspaper and I have my own deadlines now. It feels fitting, given how many times I sat in a variety of press boxes (some heated, some not if you remember those wonderful soccer state championship games) and passenger seats, watching you file on deadline. 

I learned from the best, and now I’m here. Just where I’d never thought I’d really be. So thanks Dad, for every little role you played in getting me here. 

And maybe next fall, we can catch a football game from the stands  — no deadlines or punt return stats needed.

You can contact Aidan at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

Contact Aidan