Farewell, Chatham. Thanks for everything.

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It’s been nearly 19 months since I started my journey as the sports editor at the News + Record.

When I joined the team, it was my first “real” job after graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill in May 2020, a time when the sports world — and the entire globe — was grappling with the endless challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to working for the News + Record, I had covered just a handful of high school sporting events. Now, I’ve spent countless hours watching, reporting on and getting to know the talented athletes, passionate coaches and dedicated fans from Siler City to Moncure.

Prior to working for the News + Record, I had minimal experience in a newsroom, with most of my experiences stemming from a three-month internship with the High Point Enterprise, my hometown daily, during my junior year. Now, I’ve spent the past year and a half learning first-hand alongside an award-winning staff that has taught me invaluable lessons, made me cry laughing more times than I could count and ignited my passion for community journalism more than college ever had.

Prior to working for the News + Record, I had stepped foot in Chatham County just one time, despite growing up a mere 45 minutes away in the Triad. Now, I’ve grown to love the place that has made covering local sports a breeze, given its wealth of athletic potential, wonderful community and ever-growing list of stories to tell.

During my 19 months in Chatham, I’ve written 336 stories and a total of 401,740 words that found their way into the pages of Chatham’s 144-year-old newspaper.

Yet, these words are the hardest of them all to type, but here goes nothing.

This week’s edition is my last as the News + Record’s sports editor.

I can already hear the exuberant cheers of Duke fans ‘round the county, celebrating the fact that I won’t be here next March to write column after column bragging about the Tar Heels’ inevitable sweep of the Blue Devils, Final Four appearance and redemption-filled national title victory.

But at least we have this past March Madness — and plenty of columns in our archives — to fondly look back upon.

In all seriousness, as tough as it’ll be to walk away from my post as the thorn in the sides of Duke-supporting Chathamites, I couldn’t be more excited for my next chapter.

While I don’t yet have any professional news to announce, I will reveal the reasoning for my seemingly sudden departure: I’m moving to the great state of Maryland.

Since I was an early teen, I’ve dreamt about packing up my things and moving to Maryland. Early on, those fantasies were fueled by my love of Baltimore sports, namely the NFL’s Ravens and MLB’s Orioles, hoping that I could one day spend all of my free time at either M&T Bank Stadium or Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

But, more recently, the decision to move became less about sports and more about the people I’ve met throughout my decades-long fandom — namely my girlfriend, Manda, who will have the (un)fortunate pleasure of living alongside me once I move into her home later this week.

Let me be clear, though. The decision was far from easy.

I was born and raised in North Carolina, having spent the last 24 unforgettable years in the Tar Heel State.

I’ll miss my family, which has taken care of me every step of the way and ensured that I made something of myself. Luckily, though, I’ll see them at most major holidays and the occasional just-because visits.

I’ll miss my friends, especially those I made throughout high school and college that have been with me for countless adventures. Luckily, though, I’ll see them often when I dust them in our annual fantasy football league.

I’ll miss my coworkers at the News + Record, those who have made stressful production days fun and my entire career here a blast, including the trio in the office, the exceptional reporting team and the man who wears all the hats, Bill Horner III.

I’ll, of course, miss the pleasures and perks of North Carolina, including Cheerwine, Bojangles, Cookout and subpar professional sports teams, among others.

And lastly, I’ll undeniably miss the folks of Chatham County.

It would take a novel to express my gratitude to each and every person that made my time at the News + Record a dream come true.

But, in the end, none of it could have come together so perfectly had Chatham not been a marvelous place with even better stories.

During my 19 months on the job, I was fortunate enough to witness it all.

I saw tears of joy after big victories and tears of sadness after heartbreaking defeats.

I saw some of the best athletes in the state do what they do best.

I saw indelible moments, drought-breaking title wins and record-capturing performances.

I saw the devotion of parents and the resiliency of communities.

And it all happened because, right now, in a time of rapid growth and expansion, Chatham is undeniably a spring of athletic potential.

In the story introducing me to the readers of the News + Record on Feb. 4, 2021, I spoke about what I’d heard regarding sports in Chatham before taking the job: “Chatham is an area rich with talent, promise and a few good jump shots.”

It took me no more than a week to find out how much of an understatement I’d just made.

From Northwood and Seaforth’s prolific basketball talent to Jordan-Matthews and Woods Charter’s historically gifted soccer programs to Chatham Central and Chatham Charter’s impressive tennis culture, Chatham County is a hotbed for up-and-coming high school teams.

Chatham has nationally ranked athletes being courted by the country’s most notable universities, along with current and former college players leaving stellar legacies at schools from coast to coast.

Occasionally a county that could get overshadowed by locations in both the Triangle and Triad, Chatham is quickly becoming a place that can compete with the best of them, as seen by the number of state championships won by individuals and teams throughout the county in 2021-22.

If you’re an athlete, coach, parent or general fan of the high schools in Chatham, now is your time to shine.

While I won’t be reporting first-hand on the inevitable supply of championships and accolades coming Chatham’s direction, I’ll be following through the News + Record’s lens the entire way.

Soon, I may not have the pleasure of annoying (entertaining?) most of you with my columns each week, but believe me, I’ve enjoyed every second of it. And I’ll miss it like crazy.

With all of that being said, I mean it when I say: Thanks for everything, Chatham.

Don’t be a stranger. Keep in touch. Go Heels.

Victor Hensley can be reached at victorgrayh10@gmail.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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