I politely decline and say that I have to work that evening.
As my conversation partner opens up an iPhone app to begin coordinating our schedules, I continue by saying that my free time consists mostly of mornings or late nights.
Soon, anyone within earshot is starting to guess just what I do for a living that my afternoons, evenings and every Friday and Saturday night are occupied.
Trust me, this part can be quite entertaining.
When I finally confess that I’m a sports editor, the reaction is always the same.
Questions. Lots of questions.
My audience wants to know where I sat at the most recent big game — be it the World Series, Super Bowl or Kentucky Derby. They pepper me with questions about their favorite teams and ask me to weigh in on the most recent coaching changes at the college and professional levels.
However, like many others in Cherokee County, I don’t make it to professional or even Division I college events very often. I’ve never been to a World Series game or a Super Bowl. In past positions as a sports writer, I attended ACC basketball, baseball and football games with regularity, but haven’t seen any university bigger than Reinhardt play in at least a couple of years.
From time to time, I miss the goose bumps I would get standing on the football field at Clemson and watching the players run down the hill after touching Howard’s Rock, or the way the floor would quiver beneath my feet when the Tar Heels took the court in Chapel Hill, N.C.
But I get to do something covering high school sports in Cherokee County that many sports fans don’t even think about.
I have the opportunity to see some of the future greats before anyone outside their town knows their name. Rarely — in fact, just once — did I see a high school freshman and predict that he would be a pro. Most future college athletes emerge later in their prep careers. Others that I believe are destined for college greatness are either passed over or struck by injuries and never have a national presence.
Still, what I enjoy most isn’t saying “I knew them when ...” It’s actually knowing them when.
I don’t just see them at their athletic best on the court or on the field, but sometimes at their worst. Athletes have thrown temper tantrums, punched teammates, overturned benches and sobbed in my presence. But for each example of a young athlete displaying immaturity, I can think of at least three where an athlete — sometimes, the same one — acts beyond their years.
Over the years, I have written about athletes doing charity work, teams playing for a cause and even a college athlete that adopted his younger brother in order to keep him out of trouble.
I have seen athletes develop from awkward middle-schoolers to game-changers in a matter of months. Over the years, a sports writer may pen as many as a dozen pieces about a particular athlete.
It’s a privilege to record the stories that these young players create when they aren’t doing it for publicity or as a tax write-off. They are doing these things because they are the right thing.
When I walk the halls of the county’s high schools, I see clippings on bulletin boards with my byline at the top and the heroics of a team, or the tale of an athlete, chronicled below. Parents write or call to tell me how much what I wrote means to their child or their family.
What makes me proud isn’t flipping through my cell phone and seeing numbers that belong to athletes with household names, but knowing that, at one point, my name was printed alongside their names — and it’s probably hanging on a refrigerator or sitting in a shoe box somewhere.
Emily Horos is sports editor of the Cherokee Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.