Looking back on four decades in the Springs

Forty years ago last week, I made a life-changing weekend trip from Arkansas to Colorado Springs. The daily newspaper, then known as the Gazette-Telegraph, needed a sports editor, and a college classmate on the staff here played matchmaker.

Back in July 1977, my job in Little Rock could have had me set for life at age 24. But this place grabbed me — it was appealing, refreshing, challenging, even seductive. The natural beauty added much icing to the cake, simply driving down Cascade Avenue, through Garden of the Gods and out around The Broadmoor.

Everything went well in that whirlwind visit, enough to make a hard decision more difficult. Then, on the morning of my return to Arkansas, it was 51 degrees here. When I got off the plane that afternoon, it was 109 in Little Rock.

That sealed the deal.

Within a few weeks, I drove a stuffed U-Haul truck into town, ready to help shape the future of Colorado Springs. Little did I dream that, four complete decades later, this would still be the center of my universe. My first day working here was Aug. 16, 1977 — known to the world as the day Elvis Presley died. Five months later, with Colorado in an absolute frenzy, we were covering the Denver Broncos' first Super Bowl against Dallas. By the next summer, the U.S. Olympic Committee moved its headquarters here from New York, and the Olympic Training Center came to life.

I never imagined having the opportunity to cover 12 Super Bowls, eight Olympics, various Final Fours and college bowl games, high school championships, political conventions and hundreds of other remarkable events — all with the task of describing them to the audience and telling readers why they should care. Thanks to the Gazette's powerful penetration on the local media scene for so many years, I was fortunately able to develop a lasting relationship with the readers, sometimes writing columns for as many as 60 consecutive days without a break.

Such was the newspaper's influence that, even now, 16 years after leaving the Gazette for other journalistic paths, it's routine to encounter 5 to 10 strangers every week who recognize this face and want to talk about those columns and sports moments through the years. (Usually they talk about how mad they would get, but at least they kept reading.)

[pullquote-1] One of my goals has always been to help put Colorado Springs on the map. Make more people notice us, and push for new ideas and projects that take the city and region to another level. Across these four decades, that has meant promoting the local Olympic presence, campaigning for minor-league baseball's return to the city, building the new Broadmoor World Arena and, more recently, the City for Champions projects as well as hopefully a new Pikes Peak Summit Complex. Just as important have been the many events here, from the old National Sports Festival (1978, '79, '83 and '95) to the World Cycling Championships in 1986, major golf tournaments at The Broadmoor (next up, the 2018 U.S. Senior Open) and even the U.S. Olympic Committee's fateful 1980 decision at the Antlers Hotel to boycott the Summer Games in Moscow.

Where are we leading with that long intro? No, this isn't an unexpected grand finale ... but it's time for me to admit the end is in sight. In a few weeks, I'll be observing the Medicare birthday, as well as 45 years in full-time newspaper work. But I realize today's readers don't want much reminiscing. They're fine with historical perspective when needed or appropriate, just not an endless string of old stories that aren't relevant anymore.

One sobering realization came a few days ago, when I thought about listing people who were having an influential, high-profile impact on Colorado Springs in 1977 and still are in 2017. It struck me how many are no longer with us, are enjoying retirement these days or left their mark here and moved on to make a difference elsewhere.

We could name a few long-lasting business leaders: Gary Loo, Jerry Rutledge, Judy Bell and Dave Lux come to mind. But one other person stands out alone for influencing the city in the business, philanthropic, political and sports realms. That would be Bill Hybl, who played a role in the 1970s building the Olympic presence, later become the city's first USOC president and continues today as chairman and CEO of El Pomar Foundation.

You'd think that would be a longer list from a period of "just" 40 years in a city as large as Colorado Springs. And perhaps that's another reason why you won't see many more history lessons here.