Column: Goodbye, But Not Forever

Well, here we are. This is my last column for The Daily Campus.

Before I jump in, I want to say another thank you to my readers and followers. The kind responses to the first part of my farewell were overwhelming. I’m blessed to be part of such an incredible community thanks to UConn athletics.

Now, this is a really long column. Please, bear with me. I’ve been at UConn for five years. I’ve met so many incredible, life-changing people during this fleeting moment in my life that I need to make sure I cover everything.

On May 10, I will walk out of Gampel Pavilion as a graduate of the University of Connecticut. I never could have imagined that on Feb. 16, 1999.

That Tuesday night, my grandfather called me to say he was on his way over and that I should put on my UConn gear. Six-year-old Tim already loved the Huskies. He was too young to understand the UConn highlights of his early days—the 1996 Big East championship, the loss to North Carolina in 1998—but he was starting to get the feel for it in first grade.

When my grandfather got there, I found out why I was wearing my UConn gear. He had two tickets to the UConn-Rutgers game at Gampel Pavilion. The second ticket was for me.

I had never been to Gampel Pavilion before, and it almost seemed too good to be true. There, in real life, were my childhood heroes: Khalid El-Amin, Richard Hamilton, Ricky Moore, Kevin Freeman, Jake Voskhul, Souleymane Wane and, of course, Jim Calhoun.

It was an incredible experience, capped by a 77-64 victory. I didn’t think a Gampel experience could get better, but two months later, I was sitting on a UConn student’s shoulders listening to Calhoun address some 15,000 fans.

“Well, yesterday,” he said, “we kicked some ass and broke some hearts.”

Fifteen thousand fans of the 1999 national champions made the walls of Gampel shake.

I knew I wanted to be part of this—part of UConn Country—for the rest of my life.

My childhood was all about UConn. My family was season ticket holders at Rentschler Field for the inaugural 2003 season, but my fondest memories were in the bleachers of Memorial Stadium, where I would sit and talk with Calhoun, Diana Taurasi, Justin Brown and the 2000-01 women’s basketball team, which made its priority that day to catch T-shirts for my brother, Adam, and I.

Championship after championship, heartbreak after heartbreak, my love for UConn grew stronger. It was a “’til death” sort of relationship even before I started applying to colleges as a high school senior in the fall of 2009. I applied to five, mostly out of laziness. My mind had been made up since Feb. 16, 1999.

Quinnipiac, St. John’s, Newbury and Lyndon State all accepted me, but there was only one I wanted. I nearly cried the day the UConn acceptance packet came.

On Aug. 28, 2010, I stepped onto campus as a nervous freshman. That nervousness was short-lived, though. That night, I was at Morrone Stadium for the first time to watch the UConn men’s soccer team.

Anyone who knows me knows that that was an important day for me.

The only thing that can compete with The Daily Campus in terms of significance to me during my five years at UConn is our men’s soccer team. Anyone who knows me knows how much the team means to me, how much I care about those players.

I cannot pick a single moment that stands out among the hundreds of memories I have made with the soccer team. They are all incredible, even the bad ones, because I was surrounded by my closest friends, be they next to me in Goal Patrol or on the field.

There is more to come. I may be graduating, but I will be at Morrone come Aug. 28 for the season opener, right alongside the leaders of the Goal Patrol: Brendan Smith, Alex Kidd and Ryan Hoppe, three of my best friends. I will be there every step of the way, all the way through the College Cup in Kansas City.

I have full faith that UConn’s return to the top is coming. Jake Nerwinski and Kwame Awuah are two worthy captains who will do this school proud. Dylan Greenberg is the most tenacious player I have ever met. Andrew Geres, I have known that kid since we played together in high school. I have always known he would become a dangerous player at a big-time program, and I am so proud of where he is today. Scott Levene is one of the best goalkeepers in the nation. I could go on forever with this team. They’re that good.

I need to give a big shout-out to the past and present members of the soccer team who have been so important to me over the years. You have always treated me like part of the group, like family. You guys have always encouraged me in my other endeavors, always understanding when I had to work and could not make a game, and I cannot thank you enough.

I love you guys to death. Thank you for everything.

My next thank you goes to Kenny Dutton and Nicole Paniccia. Few people have impacted my life in the way they have. Kenny has been my best friend since the day we met, and that should say something. When I met Kenny, he was covered in blue paint from head to toe standing in line for the women’s basketball team’s 90th straight win.

For as much as he loves to lay in his bed, few people have ever worked as hard for what they want in life. Even after he tore his ACL playing on the football team’s practice squad, he refused to give in. I still have hope that I will see him playing on some kind of football field in the future. His determination has always been an inspiration to me.

So has Nicole’s. Nicole played on the women’s hockey team at UConn for our first two years here. She is like a sister to me, and that is why I felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck when she told me she was transferring.

What followed, however, was incredibly inspiring to me.

Nicole went through the process of choosing a new school, one that I did my best to help talk her through. Not many people understand how difficult the process can be for a student-athlete. She finally chose Penn State over Syracuse and Bemidji State.

That was not the end of the matter, however. Nicole had to work to keep her grades in line with Penn State’s standards while finishing out her final season with the Huskies. It was a grind, and there were days when I would not see her or talk to her at all, even though she lived right below me. But that was how determined she was.

Don’t think I’ve forgotten you, Jenna Welch, my incredible friend who I got to spend an awesome year chilling with in Garrigus. Jenna also transferred to Penn State and went through the same difficult process. It was incredible to watch them both put in that effort.

In October 2012, Kenny and I had driven up to Syracuse to see the football team play. The next day, we woke up at 4 a.m. and hopped in the car. We drove all the way down to Milford to—unbeknownst to Nicole and Jenna—watch Penn State play Sacred Heart. We made it a hobby of ours to surprise them when they were playing in New England by showing up unexpectedly. We loved the look on their faces. More importantly, we were so proud of them, after all the work they put in.

They have all gone on to do incredible things. Kenny is working at Disney World and pursuing his goals. Nicole is no longer in hockey, but is making moves in Edmonton, Alberta. Jenna is a professional hockey player in Austria. I’m hoping to get out there one day with my sign that reads “22 is hotter than a slice of Texas toast!”

No matter how far away they are, they continue to be incredible influences on my life.

Kenny, Nicole, Jenna: You guys know this already, but I love you to death.

This has been a difficult year at times. There have been times when I questioned if my writing actually meant anything to anyone.

Then one night, Abby Fromme, another one of my closest friends—someone who is like a sister to me—told me to stop saying stuff like that. She told me she read mostly everything I posted, and that she always liked it. That meant a lot, just to hear that from someone who means so much to me. Abby’s helped me out with plenty of problems over the years, and I can’t thank her enough.

Without a doubt, Matt Stypulkoski is one of, if not the most important person I met at UConn. I drove him absolutely crazy, no doubt about it, but he’s like a brother to me. We were always like an old, married couple, which explains why we were named the DC Couple two years in a row.

But that wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t let Matt drag me to The Daily Campus in January 2012. Stupid me never went over there my freshman year. I wish I had, but I still had three-and-a-half incredible years with this organization, thanks to Matt.

Thanks to Matt, I got the chance to work with some of the most incredible student journalists of their time: Andrew Callahan, Matt and Colin McDonough, Dan Agabiti, Danny Maher, Carmine Colangelo, T.J. Souhlaris, Mike Corasaniti, Brian Zahn and Mac Cerullo, among so many others. The Daily Campus, when I arrived, was the Kentucky men’s basketball of college newspapers—absolutely stacked. That is not to say there is not a wealth of talent today, but for a young journalist dipping his toes into the world of writing for the first time, it was incredibly overwhelming, awe-inspiring and positively life-changing all at once.I started in January 2012. By August 2013, I was sports editor, covering the UConn football team. Two months later, I started covering men’s basketball. In April 2014, I was in the UConn locker room at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas interviewing Shabazz Napier, Tyler Olander, Amida Brimah, Ray Allen and Richard Hamilton after UConn’s win over Kentucky in the national championship game. That was, by far, the best moment of my life. I got to share that experience with an incredible writer, Mike Peng. I don’t think that run would have been as special without him. That’s not to say I did not enjoy my time covering the team with Mike Corasaniti this year.

Every day I got to work with Mike Peng and Mike Corasaniti on the basketball beat was truly special. They’re two great people and I consider myself lucky to have worked with them. They were not alone, however. There were other Daily Campus writers with us, as well. Ryan Tolmich did a fantastic job covering the Huskies for Bleacher Report and is now making moves as a soccer writer with Soccer By Ives. Elan-Paolo DeCarlo did a fantastic job for The UConn Blog, and he will continue that great work for The Daily Campus next year.

We also had our incredible photographers with us. Jon Kulakofsky, Troy Caldeira and Jess Condon are three of the nicest, funniest and hardest-working people I have ever met, and to be able to spend all those long days with them and to see their incredible photographs attached to my stories was a privilege.

The most important thing working at The Daily Campus has done for me is allow me the chance to learn from the members of the UConn media horde. Few college sports teams have media followings as large as UConn’s, and the writers are among the best in the industry. I have spent the last two years learning from an incredible group that includes Dom Amore, Dave Borges, Jeff Jacobs, Bill Paxton, Joe D’Ambrosio, Neill Ostrout, Gavin Keefe, Ed Daigneault, Kevin Duffy, Brian Koonz, Desmond Conner, Mike DiMauro, Rich Elliott, John Altavilla, John Silver, Matt Conyers, Mike Anthony, Scott Gray, Tyler Wilkinson, Tim Gaffney, and so many others that I have surely—inadvertently—forgotten to name some. I have learned a little something from all of these incredible men, and I owe them all a debt of gratitude.

None of the aforementioned would have been possible without Matt. Had he not stormed into my suite in Garrigus and practically dragged me to The Daily Campus, I would not be the person or reporter I am today.

I never properly thanked you for that, Matt, but you should know it means the world to me. Thank you.

I acknowledged all those people in the first 2,000 words because this column is about me graduating from UConn. These are life-changing people I know because of UConn. #ThanksSusan.

Before I go farther, I need to make it clear that this is not goodbye to the loyal fans of the UConn Huskies. I remain an assistant manager at The UConn Blog. The plan right now is for me to continue providing as much coverage on as many sports as possible through that incredible site, especially with football, men’s basketball and men’s hockey. For that, I need to thank Aman Kidwai, who has given me the opportunity to spread my wings even more. I look forward to continuing my relationship with Aman. We have some big plans for our coverage, and I ask you all to stay tuned. You’re going to enjoy it.

But I am saying goodbye to The Daily Campus. Even now, after my final banquet, as I write my final column—even at the end of my fifth year at this university—I am not prepared for this.

I have spent as many nights as I can in that tiny, brick building behind Moe’s (that’s where The Daily Campus is, for the 15,000 students who probably had no idea) since I started at The Daily Campus. Be it to learn from others, help others or just be around people I love, every night spent at The Daily Campus has been a good one.

I can’t possibly hope to acknowledge everyone, but there are certain people who need to be mentioned by name. Obviously, I can’t thank Matt enough for pushing me through the door in the first place.

But once there, several people helped shape me.

There were my first bosses, Colin and Matt McDonough. I actually just spent a night working with the McDs at the Hartford Courant not long ago. When I walked in and saw them, it brought a big smile to my face. They have shown so much faith in me for years, even after I was no longer their responsibility. They gave me my first chance to make a name for myself.

After them, Dan Agabiti took over as sports editor. This was an important transition for me. Dan spent his year as sports editor doing incredible things for our department, but he also helped me move into position to become the editor. Even after I became his successor, I blew up his phone, asking for advice or comparing situations we found ourselves in. He is always accessible and always eager to help me. Not many people are like that, so it means the world to me.

I worked with Dan on production crew Thursday nights. The first night I was there as a copy editor, I met Grace Vasington. This was overwhelming for me, at first. Grace was our best copy editor. She was never afraid to take someone’s story and do whatever needed to be done to make it as clear and concise as possible. I have since become an aggressive copy editor, especially when it comes to my other sports writers. I think that has improved their writing, as well as my own. All thanks goes to Grace for that.

After my time as sports editor, Matt Zampini transitioned into the role. This was cool for me. Matt and I both grew up in Portland (yes, Portland, Connecticut is a real place). I was thrilled when he told me he was transferring to UConn, and I got him to The Daily Campus immediately. He has done an incredible job continuing the tradition of editorial greatness that has been bred in Portland, and he will add to that legacy next year. He has the staff to do it. Dan Madigan, Elan-Paolo DeCarlo, Spencer Mayfield and Bryan Lambert are writers that I have watched improve significantly over the last two years, and I am proud of all of them. I have faith that they are going to keep the sports section at the highest possible quality.

I want to also acknowledge all the executives I have worked for. In my four years at the DC, I have had four incredible EICs: Melanie Deziel, Elizabeth Crowley, Kim Wilson and Katherine Tibedo. Each has had a significant impact on our organization and was a pleasure to be around. The same can be said of our managing editors: Mac Cerullo, Brian Zahn, Tyler Morrissey and Katie McWilliams.

I need to give special acknowledgment to Katie. I am proud to call her one of my best friends. She has been incredible this year in her role as managing editor, but she has been just as great as a friend. The start of this year was difficult for me, personally. Katie helped me through, always offering positive reinforcement and support. Thank you, Katie.

All of my memories at The Daily Campus are great, but the final memory was far and away the most special.

At the end of each school year, we gather for a banquet. After a wonderful dinner, we hand out awards – stuff like Rookie of the Year (congratulations to my incredible friend, Francesca Coultiri), Best Hair (it had to be Troy) and Best Section, which was obviously won by the sports department.

But Katie and Katherine added a new one this year: the Lifetime Achievement Award. This was presented to Jon Kulakofsky and myself. I had held myself together pretty well all night, through chants of “one more year” and all the incredibly kind comments from my friends. But that award hit me in the feels. Of all the things I have done through The Daily Campus, receiving that honor was the most special by a wide margin. I could not have imagined a better way to say goodbye to this truly special organization and group of people.

OK, I have gone on long enough. It is time for me to step aside. Normally, an NHL column would follow my weekly column the next day. That will not be the case this week. I want this to be the last thing I ever write for The Daily Campus.

It is time for me to become nothing more than a memory on these pages. That is one of the beautiful things about a college newspaper. Every year, writers move on to bigger things, leaving behind blank space in which new writers can build their brand and legacy.

So after five incredible years at UConn and three-and-a-half at The Daily Campus, I am moving on into the next chapter of my life. It is time for someone else to have a chance to establish themselves within these pages. I look forward to reading your work, whoever you are. If you happen to be reading this, when it is published or in the future, know that I am always accessible. The Internet is an incredible thing.

Again, this is not goodbye forever. I will continue to bring you as much information about UConn athletics as I can. It just won’t appear in this publication anymore.

That’s a weird realization to accept. This publication made me who I am today. At this point, I am still typing simply because it’s impossible for me to stop. In truth, I am looking at my screen through blurry eyes. It’s hard not to be emotional right now. I think about all the possibilities that have opened up to me and I wonder, “Would any of this have happened without The Daily Campus?”

No, it wouldn’t have.

I always think back to that night in 2012, when Matt opened the door to The Daily Campus for me for the first time.

Everyone has a story about how they got to where they are, and most of them involve simply walking through a door.

When that door opens, walk through. It could be the best decision you ever make.

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0 thoughts on “Column: Goodbye, But Not Forever

  1. Wow Tim. I follow UConn basketball on Bleacher Report and Twitter and had no idea you were a student. You are already a professional. Congratulations on your graduation. I wish you the best.

    Like

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