Will South’s Dana Carter making a funny face while Ricci interviews teammate Michelle Fridey-Switzer.

Not even sure where or how to start this so I will say goodbye.

After 30 some odd years of journalism-23 of them in sports- I’m closing up my laptop and putting it away. Not a joke. Not changing my mind. This is 100percent for sure.

It’s time to hit send.

I’d been scaling back my workload over the last year or so because I knew this day was coming. But it was important to me to make it to the finish line of my 20th season of high school sports because it was always the biggest part of my career.

I was extremely lucky to cover pro sports, but it was the kids who I truly lived for.

I could give some big dramatic explanation for retiring, but the truth is I’m tired.

Don’t worry, I’m not sick or anything like that.

I’m just not at my best and the kids deserve nothing less than my best.

It hit me when I saw a biography on Don Mattingly. After calling it a career at the end of the 1995 season, then seeing the Yankees win it all in ’96, Don explained how he thought about making a comeback in 1997. But he knew he would have to work hard to get back in game shape. Hit the gym, batting cages, and do fielding drills. But every time he planned on doing some type of workout he came up with an excuse. That told him he was done.

I thought wow I never used to let anything keep me from a game. So many days/nights I’d hit multiple games and or practices.

But this past year I found myself making excuses. Bad weather. Don’t really need anything specific from this game. Oh, I’ll catch up with a coach or player through phone call.

That’s when I realized I truly was done.

It always bugged me when I saw a coach go through the motions and then wonder why kids didn’t listen or care.

I couldn’t very well do the same thing.

Thanks to Frank Wolf and WNY Athletics I have a chance to say what I hope is a proper goodbye and thank you to those who helped me along the way.

So many members of the media impacted my world. I’ve mentioned before how it was Pat Murray who opened the door for me at Tonawanda News. But had it not been for Marian Gialombardo hiring me to cover the Buffalo Bisons for her paper Sports & Leisure Magazine in 2001, I might never have met people like Pat Murray and others who helped me advance in this business.

The Bisons press box is where I met and became friends with Mike Harrington. We spent so many days and nights together at the ballpark. I know a lot of people in this city dislike Mike, but I will say to my last breath he is absolutely the most dedicated reporter I have ever worked with and he taught me the most important lesson. Every single story matters.

He never blew off a Bison game with an attitude like meh it’s only a minor league game. Who cares? He always gave his best and that was a lesson I took and lived by. Always give my best. When I interview a kid it might be the first, last or only time he/she is ever written about. They deserve to have it be a special moment to cherish.

Jerry Sullivan truly drove that message home when he once told me he envied what I got to do.

He said yeah more people might see what I write, but you write the stuff people remember. The stories they clip out of the paper and put in scrapbooks.

As I look back I think about the countless interactions and kind words I heard.

People like Tom Gerace, whose daughters Jamie and Sandy went to Kenmore West, telling me the attention I gave girls sports not only made them smile it let them know that what they were doing in athletics was cool. And they should be proud of themselves.

Steven Warthling (Tonawanda HS), telling me he felt like he had arrived as a varsity athlete the first time I interviewed him.

Brooke Becker (Orchard Park) thanking me for not only writing about her but for all that I did for her school.

Being at the Tonawanda HS Class of 2013 grad ceremony. Walking into the gym and seeing a group of my THS boys that I knew the best all talking. And how Clayton Hess used every bit of his 6-foot-5, 240 pound frame to push his way to the front of the line because he wanted to be the first to hug me.

Ricci with Hope Balling

Hope Balling, Taylor Hollock, Meg Kossow all thanking me by name in their senior speeches.

To have Adam Fron, after his final baseball game at Kenmore West, telling me I think I’ll miss you most of all.

A few years later when his brother Andrew From saw his baseball/high school career come to an end he look at me and said you’ve been there since the start, Dave. Since TALL (Tonawanda American Little League).

Amy Reilly telling me how her daughter Jane Reilly (Ken-East), then in the 8th grade, told her mom I like when Dave comes to games. I play better. I think he brings me luck.

Kayla Persinger (Lewiston-Porter) telling me you’re like the OG of Niagara County girls hockey. We should get you a jersey!

Allison Cook from Nichols basketball always making a point to thank me for coming to their games.

Being with the 2014 Tonawanda girls basketball team the day before they played in the program’s first ever appearance in the Far West Regionals. As they gathered for post practice team huddle captain Alanna Herne said get in here Dave. You’re part of the team too.

Kent Jayme sending me a thank you moments after interviewed his son Jacob telling me I made his son’s day.

Ricci with Zach El-Sharif

Sitting with Melissa Holler, Chezney Belcher and Alexis Lilly at midfield after the final game of their soccer careers. Telling them that I knew why they didn’t want to cross that line for the last time because that’s when the reality of it being over would hit them. Why did I sit with them? Because they were my kids and they were hurting.

I bring these moments up not to pat myself on the back, but to tell all of them and others how much your words meant to me. They make me think that maybe, just maybe, for a few fleeting moments I did some thing positive for others.

Meeting kids and watching them grow into adults. Parents. To see people like Nate Holler, Brittany Heist, Lindsay Ahmed, Michelle Switzer, Brittany Schermerhorn and Ashley Bonetto go from being kids wrote about to coaches I interviewed.

Corey Lloyd, Erica Marconi, Jordan McGregor, Cory Martin and so many others also giving back as coaches.

Seeing couples like Erin and Steve Stillman, TJ and Kayla Will, Mike and Angie Tolsma, Lauren and Wally Maziarz, and Brian and Danielle McCarthy go from being high school sweethearts to married with kids of their own.

I saw Jessie Reardon do more good than she knows by starting up Buffalo Community Fridge.

Ricci with Samantha Kelly and Jaclyn Macvittie

Samantha Kelly being the embodiment of Homecoming Queen and showing that it’s more than just about being a pretty face. It’s about overall involvement and school pride.

I didn’t keep a running tab, but I am pretty sure that I have written at least one story involving every single school in WNY. From Pioneer and Eden to Roy-Hart and every stop in between.

Mt. St. Mary, St. Joe’s, Lancaster, Depew, Orchard Park, West Seneca, Amherst, Wilson, Nichols, Lockport, Niagara-Wheatfield, Starpoint, CSAT, O’Hara, Canisius, Sacred Heart, Grand Island, Clarence and Williamsville you were all part of my beat at some point over time.

But Tonawanda, Kenmore West, Kenmore East and North Tonawanda you were all more than a beat. You were home. Kids, parents, coaches and game day event staff you were and will always be family.

You were the ones that I spent the most time with. The schools most of my peers associated me with. The ones who’s games I couldn’t wait to get to. The ones that are the hardest to say goodbye to.

When you lost Tom Diehl, Brian Dugan, Jed Woomer, Danny Durick, Doug Vallincourt, Shane Foster, Jason Zdrojewski, Mike Marra, Dick Grapes, Mila Vukovic, Dennis Sarrow and “Mr. Tonawanda” Chris Slauson. I was there shedding tears as well because I felt the pain and loss you were feeling.

In those moments of loss, I realized something important. Words have power. Reporters have the power to do more than report the final score. We have the ability to help heal broken hearts. That’s something I tried to do whenever tragedy hit. I tried to give people a chance to talk about what was on their minds and in their hearts.

It’s pretty mind boggling to think of how I went from being a newcomer getting advice from veteran reporters to being the vet who did what he could to guide the next group coming up.

People like Joe Kraus, David Yarger, Marshall Haim, and Francis Boeck. I hope I did right by all of you by teaching you something of value that made you better.

From Niagara Gazette and Metro News to The Buffalo News and Sun Papers and every other outlet I ever had a byline.

I poured my heart and soul into every story because, well, that’s just the way it should be.

I tried to do more than just write about the stars. I tried to tell the story behind the final score and whenever possible include kids like David Peters (Ken-West), Brock Kowalski (Ken-East) and Myles Kates (Lew-Port) who found their voice and place as team managers. And did their jobs with pride.

I was lucky enough to meet kids like Savannah Sanders, Jack Reilly, Brendan Reilly, Haley Snyder, Hannah Mosher, Rose Mueller, Lauren Pray, Danielle Palladino, Paige Hill, Brian Liebel, Tori Christ, Katie Meegan, Lina Mirabella, Olivia MacDonald and others who were just pure goodness and gave me hope for the future.

To form real and lasting friendships with families like the Prays, Reillys, Veronicas, Hess’, Whiteheads, Frons, Cipollas, Pawlaks, Alessandras and so many others.

I genuinely get choked up when I think about all of the love and kindness I’ve experienced. From my first thank you note from Mary Connelly NT volleyball to my final official thank you text from Rebecca Schultz (Grand Island) it’s so overwhelming. Yeah I’ve met a few tree climbers along the way. But the good people far outnumber the ones who didn’t get it. Those are the ones who gave me the memories I’ll take for the long haul.

Frank Wolf thank you. Not only for allowing me to say this goodbye but for being part of WNY Athletics since day one. You and Matt Todaro created something so special and so amazing. You had a vision that was far greater than I ever imagined it could be. It was an honor to be part of WNYA.

To my Band of Brothers (and Sisters) in high school media: Randy and Janet Schultz, Ernie Green, Tim Schmitt, Mike Meiler, Melissa Brawdy, Jay Skurski, Matt Parrino, Brandon Koch, Jack Karlis, Corey Desiderio, Matt Ondesko, Stu Boyer, Jeff Barnes, Karen Gioa, Jim McCoy, Harry Scull, Miggy Rodriquez, Keith McShea, Mike Mroziak, Tony Fiorello, and especially Pat Nagy and Mike Pidanick.

Ricci with Randy and Janet Schultz, Bill Pavone and Rick Hopkins

I never would have made it this far without all of you. Thanks for the laughs, the mutual respect and for being there when I needed to vent. Which happened a lot hahaha.

From the sad moments like Erin Veronica crying on my shoulder after her final volleyball game to the ultimate highs of FLOP and Williamsville girls hockey teams, Kenmore East boys hockey, Mt. St. Mary basketball and North Tonawanda football all winning states.

I’m exiting with 10 lifetimes worth of amazing memories and moments.

So, with a deep breath and a smile, I say goodbye and thank you. For everything.

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