It seemed like forever ago.
And at the same time, it seemed like only yesterday.
I sat nervously in a small office located on a quiet road surrounded by machine shops.
I was asked a number of questions, including one about my then current job.
When I told a certain gentleman I wrote for a daily newspaper, I never forgot his rather facetious response.
"Well, I wouldn’t expect you to be here very long."
Just what an anxious and desperate 24-year-old wants to hear, huh?
Surprisingly, I got the job, despite a not particularly ringing endorsement from my interviewer.
This encounter took place some time in March way, way back in 2000. My next career landed me in a city I had never heard of until I made the two-hour drive that late winter afternoon.
As you probably figured out, it was none other than Record Publishing Co., which is now known as GateHouse Media Ohio.
I spent a little more than 11 years working in that one-story building located on Commerce Drive in Stow.
My first boss was Rick Bowman, an imposing, but kind-hearted, middle-aged man who was absolutely shocked I took a "step down" to work at a weekly newspaper company.
Yep, my main man Rick was certain I wouldn’t last. "Record Pub? Too low-ball for a guy like him."
As it turns out, my partnership with Mr. Bowman lasted less than 18 months.
However, the young buck didn’t abandon ship. The seasoned veteran sure did.
Rick decided to pursue a teaching job and left RPC just before the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
Me? I’m about to enter year 20 of covering high school sports in Northeast Ohio.
Well, technically, that’s not right since I started working here in late March. But as for the entire school year — fall, winter and spring — this will be the big 2-0.
For the record, Mr. Bowman worked 13 years at that certain little office in Stow.
Yeah, I guess Red could have been describing me when he gave his famous "institutional man" speech in the 1994 film Shawshank Redemption.
And no, yours truly has not carved any escape tunnels with a rock hammer.
Thankfully, my second life working at a variety of community newspapers hasn’t exactly resembled a state penitentiary.
Let’s just say it’s nothing like ADX Florence, at least.
Since Northeast Ohio became my home less than three months into this current millennium, I’ve gotten a pretty good idea about what folk rocker James Taylor meant in a song he recorded nearly 50 years ago.
"I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain."
Fortunately, though, like Taylor, I’ve also "seen sunny days that I thought would never end."
So what has happened in the last two decades?
I’ve had the privilege of covering many individual state champions to go along with a few state championship teams.
I covered future collegiate All-Americans, professional baseball and soccer players, along with a former world-champion boxer and some NFL talent, as well.
I remember an unranked Hudson softball team shocking the Buckeye State with a memorable journey to the top of the mountain in 2007.
One year earlier, I made the trip to old Cooper Stadium to cover what I once thought was a pretty ordinary Twinsburg baseball squad.
Those pesky, but extremely talented Tigers wound up taking down one behemoth after another on their way to an improbable appearance in the Final Four.
I was in Massillon when the Nordonia football team completed a remarkable one-year turnaround in 2002.
The Knights were state runners-up after finishing 3-7 the previous year.
I remember visiting Columbus Crew Stadium (now Mapfre Stadium) to cover three state title games in one day.
All of those assignments were a blast, but I’d be lying to you if I told you there wasn’t some unwanted fire and rain, as well.
Sadly, I still vividly recall some of the tragedies that have taken place in my beloved coverage areas.
I’ve written tributes about deceased administrators and coaches such as Woody Merriam (Woodridge athletic director), Dave Caplin (Hudson head boys cross country and track and field coach), Tom Jones (Cuyahoga Falls head girls basketball coach) and most recently, Doug Hawkins (Stow-Munroe Falls head softball coach).
People in Tallmadge are aware of the annual T-Con Relays, which take place every May.
The event is named for Teresa Conti, who was killed in a car accident.
I remember the very alive-and-well version of Ms. Conti scoring points for the Blue Devils in track and field, cross country and swimming.
That horrible tragedy took place a little more than two years into my tenure at RPC.
Folks at Stow are familiar with the Jakob S. Gehring Memorial Scholarship that is awarded to a graduating male or female who best demonstrated a passion for life.
Gehring, a promising young baseball player for the Bulldogs, also lost his life in an automobile accident less than four weeks before Christmas Day in 2004.
And who could forget the despicable Sept. 11 attacks? I was in my little office listening to a horrified Peter Jennings describe the events on a co-worker’s radio during that awful morning (by the way, the internet was still in its infancy stages back then).
We journalists had to keep plowing through, of course. One day later, it was business as usual and I contacted a football coach for a story.
He gave me a quote I never thought I’d hear.
"It’s really hard to talk about football right now."
Since I’ve been doing this since, basically, the Stone Age (we didn’t have internet or email when I first used an RPC computer), coming to grips with a number of these things have been quite difficult for me to process.
A handful of athletes have lived more than half their lives since I first covered them in the early 2000s.
If that’s not alarming, how about this?
Some athletes who just graduated from their respective high schools weren’t even born yet when I started writing at RPC.
Here are some more fun facts ...
Bob Mihalik has been a fixture as Aurora’s head football coach for nearly two decades.
I first covered the Greenmen when Ron Hegedish was the team’s czar.
Kenny Linn has been Tallmadge’s head baseball coach for as long as many people can remember.
I remember covering the Blue Devils when Don Seeker was in charge.
Speaking of Tallmadge baseball, I covered its glorious state championship run in 2017. I also remember the Blue Devils’ previous state title in — gulp! — 2002.
Dave Close has gone with the clean-shaven look for several years.
This guy remembers when the longtime Stow head boys basketball coach had his lampshade mustache.
The Bulldogs’ main rival has gone through a massive makeover too.
I have a hunch that fans of the black and gold probably don’t care for this nip-and-tuck procedure, though.
The Cuyahoga Falls football team hasn’t won too many games in the last 15-plus years.
But don’t be dismayed, Black Tiger faithful.
Yours truly remembers the glory days when a very gifted Falls’ squad reached the postseason back in 2001.
All of these things, the good, the bad and the ugly, have special places in my heart.
In the end, though, the main reason why this job has been so rewarding is all of the wonderful people I’ve known for these past two decades.
I’ve been blessed to work with many fabulous athletes, coaches, administrators and parents, who have gone out of their way to make a sometimes very stressful occupation so comforting.
I want to give a very special thank you to my many readers, along with my more than 2,000 followers on Twitter, for putting up with me all of these years.
I graciously look forward to informing you and hopefully, touching your hearts for at least one more revolution around the sun.
Happy Anniversary to my countless Northeast Ohio supporters as year 20 draws near.
May it be filled with an abundance of fine china, platinum and emeralds.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_RPC.