In the late 1980s I worked as a produce manager by day and wrote sports for The Catholic Sentinel by night. I remember one day cracking open a case of zucchini and seeing my byline staring back at me. Our local farmer had wrapped his produce in The Catholic Sentinel newspaper to absorb moisture and, by pure chance, my two worlds collided as this particular crate of zucchini contained a recent article I wrote.

For 39 years I have spent evenings and weekends covering the greatest athletes ever produced by Catholic schools in the state of Oregon. My freelance writing job was my anchor as I transitioned from produce manager to computer analyst to registered nurse in my daytime professional life. The sports memories would fill an entire issue of the paper. Here are a few that stuck with me.

One of the first coaches I ever interviewed was St. Mary’s Academy and Central Catholic volleyball coach Rick Lorenz. Lorenz’s teams won state titles in five different decades, possibly the greatest coaching career I have ever witnessed, by one of the most gracious individuals I have ever met.

The University of Portland featured several players who earned a shot at the NBA, but the Pilots’ most notable alum to earn fame in the NBA never suited up for an NBA team. In 2009 I wrote a feature on Eric Spoelstra, a Jesuit High School and U.P. graduate, who at the time was one of the youngest coaches in the league. He has since coached the Miami Heat to multiple NBA finals, both with and against Lebron James.

A Central Catholic runner earns my vote as greatest athlete to come from an Oregon Catholic high school. When I interviewed Galen Rupp as a high school junior and state cross country champion, he talked of keeping his focus not on high school competition but on his goal of challenging the best runners in the world. It was lofty talk from a very humble, sincere athlete. Rupp quietly kept his goal in sight and went on to set several American records and win a silver medal and a bronze medal while competing in four Olympic Games. He is hoping to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics in the marathon.

A chapter is closing, one that has spanned two-thirds of my life. Working with Ed Langlois and Bob Pfohman at the Catholic Sentinel, watching Oregon Catholic sports history unfold, meeting so many incredible athletes and coaches — it has all been a privilege.

Niezgoda is longtime Sentinel sports writer.