Senior Column: There and back again… an Ash’s tale

Ashton Stansel. Photo courtesy of author.

It’s a strange feeling to not have the words to describe something. As a writer, the written word is usually the medium where I feel most at home, like sliding on a warm coat in the bitter winter. But when someone asks me why I love this job so much, writing about sports, I don’t think I have the words to give a true answer.  

Perhaps the truest answer for why I’ve loved these last two and a half years is in what I experienced Wednesday night, when I went to the women’s volleyball game at Gampel Pavilion against North Florida. Volleyball, not traditionally a game people seem to care too much about, managed to summon a truly raucous crowd. 

Several hundred people, brought together by Dunkin’ gift cards and the promise of an escape from working on essays and projects for a few precious hours, existed as one force even if none of them knew each other. The feeling that hangs in the air in those moments, the unity, means something. Those are the moments I’ve spent my entire time with the Daily Campus trying to put into words: the idea of what makes a sporting experience more than just a game.  

I started writing for The Daily Campus early on in my freshman year, in the fall of 2019. As a political science and pre-(at the time) journalism student, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and so I went to one of the first opinion section meetings of the semester and found my home.  

A few weeks later, I sent the sports section and then-editor Andrew Morrison an email inquiring as to whether it would be possible for me to cover esports. Despite knowing virtually nothing about the topic, he and Kevin Arnold, then associate sports editor, gave me an enthusiastic yes. And so I started writing about esports for the section and I just fell in love.  

During the two semesters spent at home due to COVID-19, in-between last-minute essays about public policy and photo projects, getting to keep writing for The Daily Campus kept me sane. I covered Sia’s offensive film about an autistic girl right alongside League of Legends and Counter-Strike, which allowed me to remain sane. 

This year, returning to campus and the DC building as the sports editor, I walked in for the first time in over a year and almost cried with relief. Sure, the pandemic wasn’t and isn’t over, but it felt profoundly like coming home in a way I didn’t think I expected. 

It’s been an incredible gift to be the editor of the sports section this semester. There is little I have ever enjoyed more than this — working with the other incredibly talented people who help make the paper what it is and working to report on any and every sport the University of Connecticut has. 

Covering football and women’s basketball in person this year provided far different challenges than the distanced esports I covered (and still cover) in my column, but it was also a source of incredible opportunities. I usually have to watch very one-sided games, so I will never forget the feeling of first walking into the press box at Rentschler Field and knowing I’d made it. I owe so many people so many more thanks than I could ever fit on this page, but I’m going to try.  

To my family, especially my parents, for being incredibly patient even when listening to my attempts to explain League of Legends to them, again. For listening to me even when I got frustrated about procedural things I had absolutely no ability to change. For encouraging me to follow my dreams. 

To the editors who helped me along the way, thank you for putting in the time to explain the many, many AP rules about numbers, for teaching me how to ask questions and encouraging me. Special thanks to Kevin and Andrew who, despite knowing nothing about esports, were happy to let me write about them and were endlessly encouraging.  

To everyone who took the time to read one of my articles. To the people who emailed to tell me how much they enjoyed someone covering esports, especially, thank you for making it feel worth it.  

To Danny and Connor, for encouraging me to apply to be the editor this semester and encouraging me to keep trying interesting things, for giving me the chance to cover new sports and meet new people.  

To this year’s executive crew, I owe all of you so much for how much work you do to make this paper what it is. Thank you for trusting me to head the sports section this semester; I hope I did you proud. I know this semester hasn’t been easy on any of us, but we put out a paper every day and that is more than a win.  

To Jon, for being my right hand and the second half of my brain this semester. Thank you for putting up with my weird ideas and stubborn insistence that yes, we absolutely did need someone to cover swimming, thank you very much. For all of the piles of hard work you’ve put in to make sure that our section has been as good as it possibly can be. Good luck next semester. You’re gonna be fine.  

And of course, to the incredible writers who made this semester so successful for the sports section, who learned about sports they had never covered before, who put up with our struggles with Zoom and COVID-19 restrictions to produce incredible content for all of UConn’s sports teams. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, and good luck with whatever you do next. You’ve got this.  

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