There's no time to waste when attending media days during the spring season for high school sports.
Especially when traveling on the road to places like St. Marys, New Martinsville, Kidwell and Paden City along West Virginia's Route 2.
Typically, one afternoon after classes have let out is reserved for making your way around a school's athletic facilities interviewing coaches and players, and gathering headshots for preview stories.
No matter how organized, it's always a rush job trying to avoid interfering with practice schedules.
Since arriving at The News and Sentinel 5 1/2 years ago, the one experience I remember most occurred this year at Paden City.
Baseball coach Brent Croasmun always has a guide prepared for the upcoming season. That wasn't the memorable part. What left a lasting impression was the way one particular player handled my arrival with Croasmun still en route to the baseball field.
His name was Matt Barker. He knew the routine of media day and made my life that much easier. Before I could barely say a word, he stepped forward and instructed his teammates to make sure they wore their jersey and Paden City ballcap for pictures.
Teammates followed orders without much discussion. Unless Barker said something humorous. Then you couldn't help but chuckle.
"Matt was a jokester - he had a smile on his face all the time," Croasmun said.
Matthew Scott Barker died at the age of 17 earlier this summer at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown as a result of an automobile accident. Prior to the start of football practice, he would have been the only senior listed on the Paden City roster.
"He wasn't a great football player and not a great athlete, but he was a great person because I don't think he had an enemy in the whole high school," said Croasmun, who first coached Barker as a sixth grader playing basketball. "When he made a mistake, he made no excuses. He would try harder the next time. He never complained.
"What I miss most - no matter how bad things got and how bad things seemed to be, he could always smile at you."
On last year's football roster, Barker was listed at 5-foot-8 and 145 pounds. Even though he was groomed as a wide receiver and quarterback, Croasmun contemplated putting Barker on the offensive line this season because of his strength. One week before the accident, Barker set five world records in his weight class at a United States Powerlifting Federation weightlifting competition.
Barker also was an avid hunter and fisherman.
"He was going to be the strongest guy on the football team," Croasmun said. "There was a good chance he would end up playing guard, and he would have made a good one. He may not have liked it, but he would have done it."
As a way to keep Barker's memory alive, members of the football team are planning to wear a No. 2 sticker on their helmets to signify his uniform number.
They will carry his jersey as they enter the field on game nights.
"We're still kind of troubled by it," Paden City sophomore quarterback Zach Heasley said. "It was tragic. We were just praying he would be OK. When we got the news he was gone, we were completely shocked and couldn't believe it happened."
Each day will provide a reminder - whether it is chanting "1-2-3 Barker" in the team huddle at the conclusion of practice or passing by the empty locker Barker had picked out.
"What we told the kids on the first day of practice," Croasmun said, "that if they don't do anything else this year ... just work hard and play hard because that's what Matt would have done. And that's what he would have told you guys to do and expected you to do."
Next spring when the baseball team gathers for another season, a major void will exist. The Wildcats coaching staff won't be charting those infamous curve balls Barker threw from the pitching rubber.
Barker also played center field.
"Matt threw out a baserunner at the plate this year, which was the first time in two years for someone from Paden City," Croasmun noted. "He was so happy."
Contact Kerry Patrick at email@example.com