The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday January 16th

Farewell column: Reflections from a four-year, Dunkin'-fueled DTH sports desk run

<p>Daily Tar Heel sportswriter Chapel Fowler at the 2020 ACC Tournament in Greensboro.</p>
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Daily Tar Heel sportswriter Chapel Fowler at the 2020 ACC Tournament in Greensboro.

Since I started writing here, I’ve tried a lot of punchy ledes. But now, I can keep it simple.

After four years, eight semesters and plenty more memories, this is my final byline at The Daily Tar Heel.

From my first story on a UNC volleyball match in September 2016 to this column — my 239th DTH story, according to the website — it’s been a heck of a journey filled with its share of chaos and joy and fueled by a nonstop supply of medium caramel iced coffees from Dunkin’ Donuts.

The DTH has changed significantly since I arrived in Chapel Hill. It’s gone from printing five days a week to four to three; worked out of 151 E. Rosemary St, 109 E. Franklin St. and the UNC journalism school’s basement in between; and faced the tough decisions and unavoidable struggles of any media organization in the country that’s existed over the last decade.

But in many ways, it’s stayed the same. And that’s what I’m proud of.

The paper still gets printed and picked up and read (long live the crossword); my colleagues on the University and investigation desks still report relentlessly on UNC and hold it accountable (see: Silent Sam settlement); and the sports desk still covers every team UNC athletics has to offer (believe it or not, there are stories outside of just college football and men’s basketball).

Since my DTH career began and ended there, on the sports desk, that’s where most of my thank yous will go. I took over as desk editor as a last-second backup choice my sophomore year, and I was absolutely in over my head.

North Carolina men’s basketball was gearing up to defend its national championship, which required top-tier coverage on its own. Construction was moving the men’s and women’s soccer teams to Cary and the field hockey team to Durham for home games, a struggle for our many writers without cars on campus.

The entire newsroom was working under the stress of a potential move and drastic budget cuts. Our desk had lost a slew of writers to graduation and other publications, leaving me and two assistants — none of whom had any DTH editing experience — to run things on the fly.

It’s funny to look back on now what kept me up then, but for someone who lived and breathed sports journalism, it truly felt like the world was falling apart.

Enter Alex Zietlow and James Tatter, two steady-handed juniors who took on the daunting task of managing a hot-headed, big-headed sophomore. As assistant sports editors, they helped me right the ship. I’ll always be grateful for the weekend they encouraged (well, forced) me to go home and relax with my family while they manned the desk and covered UNC football’s game at Old Dominion.

The next semester, Alex and I were looking to hire one new assistant with James going abroad, but it would have been criminal to not hire both Chris Hilburn-Trenkle and Jack Frederick. Their work ethic shone through in my first semester and unsurprisingly continued through the spring as the office became more of a home filled with Sporcle NBA quizzes and Hibachi & Co runs than a workspace.

I spent the back half of my DTH career working as a senior writer on the sports desk and enjoyed it thoroughly. The work was fulfilling; the people were better. The four guys I’ve mentioned above, plus Ryan Wilcox, Jake Schmitz, Holt McKeithan, Brennan Doherty, Brian Keyes, Jared McMasters, Matt Chilson, Parth Upadhyaya and Zach Crain, were among those who helped make things fun for me.

There were 1 a.m. Taco Bell runs on the rides home from Raleigh and Charlotte and Charlottesville, intense pickup basketball games at DTH Courtside, in-depth discussions on the state of sports journalism and enough stupid inside jokes to make two hours of reminiscing at Sup Dogs fly by in a second.

Outside of the sports desk, I crossed paths with so many more talented journalists, photographers and editors at the DTH, too, including my girlfriend (hello, Hannah Lang!) and friends such as Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez, John Bauman, Myah Ward, Leah Asmelash, Alex Kormann, Molly Looman, Kiana Cole, Ana Irizarry, Nathan Klima, Jonah Lossiah and Daniel Petrucci. (Erica Perel’s leadership as our general manager/newsroom adviser/Girl Scout Cookies plug was top notch, too.)

On the beat itself, UNC’s coaches and student-athletes were gracious with their time and candid in their responses, as were so many other subjects; fellow media members set a standard of writing and reporting for me to strive for; and Steve Kirschner, Dave Lohse and Dana Gelin spearheaded a helpful and responsive athletics communications department.

Thanks, also, to the readers and supporters of the DTH. No matter how small a retweet or reply might seem, I can confirm it means the world. The best part of managing sports@dailytarheel.com was getting complimentary emails on stories, forwarding those emails to the writers of the stories themselves and watching them ride the high for a day or two.

I’m much more qualified to take words of wisdom than dole any out, so I’ll just end with another thank you. From Carmichael Arena to Kenan Stadium to the Smith Center to the still-waiting-on-a-donor-name UNC Soccer & Lacrosse Stadium, it’s been a whole lot of fun to cover UNC athletics for the DTH, a place that has been formative to my time at UNC and life at large.

It’s always been about the people. And in that office, I lucked out and found some great ones.

@chapelfowler

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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