In the sports world, the metaphor "turning the page" often used by athletes and coaches refers to new beginnings. Usually, it's invoked to ward off the effects of a loss, but also to keep a team focused after a big win.
In some ways, both are apropos as the Fort Mill Times bids a fond farewell to longtime staffer Mac Banks. A Fort Mill native, Banks, who came to his hometown newspaper after graduating from Winthrop University in 1999, will be starting a new position as a sportswriter for the daily Aiken Standard.
A general assignment reporter who also concentrated on handling most of the Times' sports coverage, Banks was promoted to sports editor two years ago. Concentrating solely on developing the sports section, Banks also managed freelance reporters and was in charge of producing a section that is often at least six pages during the school year.
Banks' roots gave him a leg up when he applied for the reporting job nearly a decade ago, according to Patricia Larson, director of community publications and the publisher who hired him.
"Not only was he the most qualified candidate, he also had already developed a lot of relationships with community leaders and news sources as a native and graduate of Fort Mill High School," Larson said. "It seems everyone in town knows Mac, and Mac knows everyone in town. It's not unusual for folks to stop by the office who were his teachers, fellow former students, friends at the Leroy Springs Recreation Complex, or whatever."
An intimate knowledge of Fort Mill and the greater township area was an asset Banks shared with his colleagues.
"Mac has always been a big help," Times reporter Jonathan Allen said. "Whenever I had a question about anyone in Fort Mill, he was the first person I turned to," Allan added metaphorically; The two worked at facing desks since Allen joined the paper more than four years ago.
"Plus, he's pretty good at paper football," Allen quipped.
Growing up in a small, tight knit community, Banks, who went on to marry a FMHS classmate, then known as Rebecca Moore, knew almost every aspect of his various beats even before he covered them for pay. His involvement in the community includes coaching basketball at the Complex and joining a group of area residents who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for the Kenya Orphanage Project. One changed his look and the other changed his outlook.
After guaranteeing his rec league team that the players could shave his head if they won the championship, the squad went out and did just that. Banks managed to smile as the players took turns clipping off his long locks. Ever since, Banks has kept his dome either clean shaven or very close cropped.
When he returned from Africa, like the rest of the group, he was transformed not only by the physical toll of reaching the summit, but the emotions of witnessing the abject poverty and dire political scene. He talked about the many AIDS victims and children splashing around in raw sewage. Banks was so moved by the experience that he recently agreed to make a return trip.
On the local beat, Banks helped raise the profile of the township's prep sports and had the opportunity to chronicle some special moments.
"He was always at the games and always did an excellent job of being a one-man show," said FMHS head basketball coach Bailey Jackson, whose team won a state title two seasons ago. Bailey was referring to Banks' roles as a reporter, photographer and editor.
"Especially during the state championship run," Jackson said." Over the course of the five years I've known him, he's written some good articles about the players and the team and he did a good job of asking the tough questions after we've been beat."
Fort Mill High wrestling coach Chris Brock also offered praise.
"Mac's always been very detailed in his articles," he said. "He tried to give us as much print as possible and there were times he done articles on the young kids, state champions and he's been very supportive of me and the program. I don't recall him not being at any of our major events."
Among those connected with local schools, Fort Mill School District Assistant Superintendent Dr. Chuck Epps might know Banks best.
"I was Mac's elementary school principal when he was in the third through fifth grade and every year, we would have a fundraiser. Mac, each year, took it upon himself to be the number one seller in the school because they would get a special prize. I could tell he had some business acumen to him. He organized it, was aggressive in his marketing. I knew he had a little entrepreneur in him."
Rather than fulfill Epps' prophesy that Banks would go into business, he saw his former student come out of college a journalist who would soon cover the local school board.
"You could always count on fair and accurate reporting. He took great pains to get it right, make sure you were quoted accurately. It's Aiken's gain and Fort Mill's loss," Epps said.
As a young journalist, Banks continued to grow year after year, according to his former boss.
"Mac really matured during his time at the Fort Mill Times," Larson said. "I hired him straight out of Winthrop University, this kid who was ready to start his career but needed a lot of experience. He started a week or so after graduating from Winthrop, and not long after that he got married. New job, new wife, new life - all at once! He became confident enough in his writing to do a few personal columns. One, about buying his grave plot at Unity Cemetery when the town put them on sale, was hilarious. And then when he challenged himself to train for the Mt. Kilimanjaro climb, for about a year, he became very focused, motivated, and even more disciplined than he had been before. And Mac is incredibly organized and diligent, so he took that project very seriously.
"He was one of the few in the group to summit, and everyone could tell that this achievement really made a change with him. He's always been funny and easy going, but he took on a greater confidence and presence after that."
Asked if Larson had a favorite 'Mac moment,' said, "Overall, his ability to make people in the office laugh. Things can get pretty stressful, especially on deadline day, and Mac's always there with a wisecrack or a joke about himself to lighten everyone's mood. He doesn't take himself too seriously, and that's definitely a plus in this business. I'll also never forget the eulogy he gave during his sister's funeral. Despite his personal pain and tears, he so beautifully described how special his big sister was, and everyone in the church was right there with him, hanging on every word. I think it was the best thing he's ever written."
Like many in town, Larson said not having Larry - that's his given name - Banks around will take a little getting used to.
"I can't imagine the Fort Mill Times without him," she said. "I know the paper will continue to do well, but I will miss him very much. I've told the publisher in Aiken what a special one he's getting in Mac, and I know they'll treat him right down there. I'm so proud of him, having seen him grow over the years, but Mac's definitely ready for the next step in his career."
n his own words: Q&A with Mac Banks
Before Mac Banks cleaned out his desk, he submitted to a brief question-and-answer session with his editor, Michael Harrison:
FMT: You became a sports writer after college. Why did you choose that path?
Banks: "I always wanted to write sports once I decided to get into this. I just love the competition of it. I always have. The one thing about sports is that as much as you think you can predict what is going to happen, you never can. I enjoy seeing the excitement in the players when they win and getting to know them. I feel for them when they lose a heartbreaker."
FMT: Did you read the Fort Mill Times growing up? Did you have ambitions when you were a kid to work for the local paper?
Banks: " I didn't really read the Fort Mill Times growing up. I do have to admit the first thing I grabbed in the morning was The Herald sport section. Like most back when I was growing up, I would grab a copy of the Fort Mill Times when I knew I was in it or a friend was in it. Sounds conceited, I know, but it's honest.
But the paper today is so different than it was when I was growing up. It offers more and back when I was growing up, there wasn't a sports section per se, like there is now. I never had ambitions to work for the Fort Mill Times. I just needed a job out of college and time was running out for me with my college graduation coming up. I took the opportunity and ran with it. I never thought I would go into this business to begin with. Growing up I wanted to go into criminal justice."
FMT: What's your most memorable story the last few years? Did you have a most memorable moment overall and if so, what?
Banks: "In recent years, I did enjoy covering the Fort Mill High School boys basketball team run to a state championship in 2007. I guess the most memorable moment I would say I had was climbing Kilimanjaro and raising money for the Kenya Orphanage Project. It was an experience of a lifetime and it's something that I enjoyed being a part of."
FMT: Have you learned anything about life, newspaper work and sports along the way?
Banks: "I guess being here as long as I have, I have learned a lot. It's hard to sum it up in just one answer, but I have learned that life isn't going to give you anything. A very good friend of mine told me that if you want something, you have to go after it, no one is going to do it for you. There are a lot of times when life knocks you down, but you have to just roll over and get back up, and just keep coming back for more. Especially if you believe in what you are doing.
I felt like I was serving the community, my community, here by doing my job, by reporting on games and doing feature stories on athletes. I have a lot of drive in me and a lot of my father's (Bill Banks) bullheadedness in me. My friends and family can attest to that. So I try to keep plugging away no matter what obstacles get thrown in my way. I know from first-hand experience, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, in so many ways - physically, mentally and emotionally."
FMT: You won many awards in your time here. Do you know how many? Which one are you most proud of?
Banks: "I have won 33 SCPA awards since I have been here and have been able to have piece of McClatchy's President's Award I shared with my peers, [ you], Jonathan Allen and Jenny Overman."
FMT: Anything else you want to say?
Banks: "I want to thank those people who have read my writings on a weekly basis and for those people who took the time to send me an e-mail, called or wrote something to give me a compliment. I have always tried to be two things in this business - fair and balanced, on whatever the issue was. In this business compliments are a dime a dozen and people are always more willing to point out a mistake rather than praise you.
I am looking forward to the challenge of working in a new environment. Many people think that working at a weekly isn't as hard as working at a daily. Granted, it is different, but contrary to popular belief, those in the trenches at a weekly work more than just a couple days a week just because the paper comes out once a week. But a lot of it is the same. We have daily deadlines just like bigger papers, but with a smaller staff; We do have a lot more to do, from helping walk-in customers to answering phones, sorting mail, changing light bulbs to whatever. People who don't work at a weekly paper have no idea of what needs to be done every day to make sure things work out and the paper is produced."