Loyal readers of the Pioneer sports section will recognize a strong roll call of sports editors over the years.

Most recently, Austin Monteith served as our sports editor for four years. Jack Hittinger and Pat Miller came before him, and Jim Carrington -- the Iron Man of sports reporters himself -- was in the role for some 53 years. A number of our older readers may even remember Cliff Morlan, a local barber who started his 38-year run of daily sports columns in 1941.

Now, that mantle has fallen to me.

To be honest, it feels a little like Steve Rogers passing down the Captain America shield to his successor. But, as they say, with great power…

Since I first undertook sports editor responsibilities in July, things have looked pretty similar throughout our sports pages. After all, we’ve got an award-winning tradition here, including top-two finishes in sports reporting at the state’s newspaper contest in four of the past five years.

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If it ain’t broke, I have no interest in trying to fix it. But, of course, we’re also trying to improve in everything we do, whether that’s big or small.

We’ve added a new byline -- Christian Babcock’s -- who’s taken over a bevy of coverage between Bemidji High School and Bemidji State sports. He’s a strong writer who’s already shown a keen eye for some of the most important storylines in town.

We also provide moms with plenty of scrapbook-worthy material (something I was told just this week, in fact), and I believe there’s something special about seeing your name in the printed paper.

The newspaper has certainly evolved over the years. I’ve spent a lot of time in the archives, combing through pages more than a century old, and the most striking difference in today’s papers is the powerful use of photography. And we’ve got an all-star lineup behind our lenses.

No one exemplifies that more than the ultra-dedicated Jillian Gandsey. If there’s a sports photo of you in the paper, she probably took it, and odds are she could win an award for it, too. Annalise Braught and Madelyn Haasken have also roamed the sidelines for us recently, capturing a visual element that’s vital to our storytelling.

The mode in which we write about sporting events has also changed. We’ve shifted away from narrations bogged down by constant play-by-play, firing away at 100 miles per hour from start to finish. Our strategy instead focuses on the atmosphere, the stakes and the players -- the stuff you won’t find anywhere else.

We want to share stories of people more than those of final scores. In recent weeks, we’ve written about a volleyball team rallying around a player who lost her mother to cancer, a BSU superfan with Down syndrome who joined the team in practice and an Alaskan backup goalie who got to play in front of her visiting family. These are stories worth telling.

In the grand scheme of school referendums, pandemic hardships and busy culture, sports can sometimes seem rather secondary. Yet they hold a captivating power to make us feel in a way totally unique to anything else in life, and that’s worth investing in.

For that reason, we’ll proudly keep producing the best sports section we can. We love writing about the high school football players who play both sides of the ball, the women’s soccer captain who’s joining forces with a mental health organization and even simply the championship opportunities the athletes create for themselves every year.

When I first moved to Bemidji in 2015, I wanted to learn all about what a successful sports section looks like. And I still want to know; we welcome your feedback on what you like and what you want to read more of.

The Pioneer was here long before me and will continue long after I’m gone. But as long as I have the chance, I’ll be ready to document whatever’s next.

Micah Friez is the sports editor at the Pioneer. Readers can reach him at (218) 333-9789 or mfriez@bemidjipioneer.com.