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This column started the exact same way as any of the thousand-ish stories I’ve written for the La Crosse Tribune in my five years here.

A blank Microsoft Word document, a blinking cursor and the knowledge that somehow that white page needed to get filled — some times faster than others.

But this particular column was difficult to start, write and finish because goodbyes always are, and that’s what I need to do. Say goodbye to La Crosse and the people that have made my time here as formative as it was.

I’ve been hired as the Wisconsin Badgers football beat reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal, which means moving to Madison and jumping headfirst into one of the top college football programs in the country. The good news — or bad news depending on how you feel about me — is that my work will still appear in this paper and on its website.

Professionally, La Crosse will always be special because it was where I landed my first job out of college as a news copy editor, where I got my first promotion to the sports staff, and where I started beat reporting on UW-La Crosse athletics.

But what La Crosse has meant to me personally is going to be what I really remember.

I didn’t grow up here in the sense of being born or going to high school in the area, but I did grow up here in that I started being an adult.

I paid my own rent, bought a car, maintained said apartment and car — I even bought an umbrella, which to me is the ultimate sign of adulthood.

I also worked a lot. Almost exclusively nights and weekends for five years. I missed nights out and events with friends, didn’t see my family in Texas hardly at all, and only called in sick once, and that illness was fake.

All of that’s said not to brag — well, maybe a little — but more to say I worked hard and tried to establish myself well in my career, and sacrifices were made to do that.

But the luxury La Crosse afforded me was to be forgiving at times when I was still immature. From obnoxiously screaming, “Larry!” on Pearl Street and in bars, imbibing too much and generally making a fool of myself, La Crosse has a way of not letting your dumbest moments define you.

That being said, I’ve decided this column’s going to go the way of an award-show speech, because I’ve got to fire off some, “Thank yous.”

Easy place to start is the sports staff here at the Tribune.

It’s changed over the years, both in size and what this place demands, but under the leadership of Jeff Brown and Todd Sommerfeldt, I believe our coverage has been the best in our area and around the state. I know the opportunities ahead of me are possible because of the chance Brownie and Todd took in bringing me onto the team, and I’ll never forget it.

Also thanks to John Casper, Dave Griswold, Jon Young, Joe Mellenbruch, Zach James, Alex VandenHouten, Chris Callaway, Sarah Waara and Alexandra Griffin for being an excellent crew with which to work.

Thank you to the coaches and athletes of the La Crosse area.

The passion for sports here is palpable at many levels, and as soon as anyone knew I was a sportswriter for the Tribune, a conversation would start about their favorite team or players. I loved it. Thank you telling me your stories and for allowing me to share them.

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Thank you to the athletes and coaches at UW-La Crosse.

It was working with you that made it possible for me to make this jump. I’m happy to root for you now.

Thank you to the 173 jobs I applied to and didn’t get over the past three years.

No. 174 is going to get the best I have.

Thank you to Fox Hollow, Pine Creek, Walsh’s and Drugan’s golf courses.

From stinking out loud on your courses to now just being bad on your courses, I’ve picked up a lifelong hobby.

Thank you to the two former girlfriends who dumped me via text message while I was at work.

You taught me that with an isolating profession like sports writing and large quantities of Jim Beam Black bourbon, any problem can be solved.

Also thank you to Jen for reminding me that not all girls are like that.

Thank you to the guy who punched me in the face at Brothers in 2016.

That scar is a nice touch on this ugly mug, and that night produced a very funny, unfit-to-print story from the ER.

Thank you to Nicolai Apartments and Field of Dreams Manor.

You’ve been my homes the past five years and I have too many memories to count in these places. You’re welcome for never turning on the heat. #TeamNoHeat, baby.

Most of all, thank you, La Crosse.

You’ve been everything you’re cracked up to be, and I’ll remember you fondly.

Thanks for reading.

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