One of my favorite video games growing up was called “NCAA Basketball” on Super Nintendo. The effects blew my ’90s kid brain back then, but they’re laughable today.

The animated players were pixelated, faceless bodies in high socks and short shorts. The audience watching them was just a shadowed blue area behind the basket. The game’s song sounded like it was produced by the minds behind the “Doogie Howser” theme.

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Dustan Copeland

Unlike basketball video games today, there weren’t play-by-play announcers. So, as a 7 year old who wanted things as realistic as possible, I did the play-by-play and (sometimes) color commentary myself. My parents and other adults would see me announcing the games and joke about a possible future career for me in broadcasting.

I didn’t give much thought to it because I never had a desire to work in sports media. In my mind, my destiny was on the court itself as a player.

I was never tall enough to be an NBA — or even high school — small forward. I was never strong or fast enough to be an NFL linebacker. By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I realized that my best option to stay involved in sports would be through coaching or in the media.

With a face too goofy for television and a voice too squeaky for radio, I narrowed my career aspirations down to coaching and sports writing.

Sports writing would ultimately win out. After freelancing for a few other outlets, I began working for the Valencia County News-Bulletin about 15 months ago. Never have I felt more excited and more confident about a job. Immersing myself in this wonderful community and its rich sports tradition has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Unfortunately, however, it’s come with its own unique set of challenges. So, the next few paragraphs are going to be difficult to write.

I’ll just cut to the chase now — I’m leaving the News-Bulletin. The decision was a hard one to make, but my family and I believe it’s the right one.

Journalism can be a tough profession if you have children. With a 2-year-old girl and another kiddo likely coming next spring, it’s been tough. My toddler has gotten better as I’ve brought her to more games. She’s even grown to love softball, baseball and soccer so much that we’ve had to buy toy bats and mini-soccer balls.

But she misses most games as they’re usually played after her bedtime. It just isn’t feasible to pack her up in my car, drive an hour to the 7 p.m. game, then turn around and drive back another hour back, hopefully getting home before midnight.

That brings me to my next reason for leaving: the commute. My wife and I bought a house up in Rio Rancho around the time I started working here. It’s where she grew up, where she works, where her family and friends are. It’s her home.

I’d feel guilty if I forced the family to move so far away from her home. So, I would just spend a minimum of two hours in my car each day, travelling to the office and games. At first, it was easy. Listening to audio books became a favorite hobby.

Eventually, though, it took a toll on my health — mentally and physically. When you’re not working out, eating fast food and rarely seeing your wife and kid, you start to get worn down.

These two challenges have kept me from being the best sports reporter I can be, and you readers deserve better. You guys love your high school sports. Trust me — I know.

I’ve covered games throughout New Mexico. In my opinion, nobody loves their teams like Valencia County. Whether you’re an Eagle, Tiger or Jaguar, you support your squad better than anyone in the state. As someone who grew up in South Carolina, I have a pretty high standard for that kind of thing. You guys meet that standard during every event.

I’m sure my replacement will be able to give the sports coverage Valencia County deserves. This job meant a lot to me, and I’d hate to see someone come in and not give it their all.

I’ll always be grateful for the lessons I’ve learned while here. I’m grateful for the exciting games and tournaments. I’m grateful for the readers. I’m grateful for my coworkers for not throwing things at me when I distracted/annoyed them while they tried to meet deadlines. I’m grateful for my editor, Clara, who took a chance by hiring me, a somewhat inexperienced 20-something. She, Julia and Anna are amazing journalists and some of the smartest people I know.

During the next year, I’m going to take some time off and work on a few side projects. Mostly, I’ll be living the dad life — potty-training, eating vegetables and playing with my little girl. I’m going to try to be a better, more present husband for my wife.

I’ll likely do some freelance work, so don’t be surprised if you occasionally see me at a football game or a wrestling tournament. After all, sports and writing were my first loves, and I don’t think I’m done with either of them just yet.

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