Meet Andy Kostka, the newest Mississippi State beat writer for the Clarion-Ledger
Late Monday night, under the lights illuminating the basketball court at J.L. King Park in Starkville, I shot hoops and pondered how to introduce myself to Clarion Ledger readers.
And while my shooting percentage ensured I won’t be walking onto basketball coach Ben Howland’s team at Mississippi State anytime soon, I had a different sort of breakthrough.
I had been brainstorming some story that would explain why I am here — why I’m a sports reporter who picked up and moved halfway across the country to cover the Bulldogs.
But I’m never the story. Nor do I want to be.
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Readers don’t read my stories to learn about me; they read them for the people and teams I write about. I’m the one on the outside looking in, learning all I can, before opening a window for others to see and hear what I’ve seen and heard.
When I think of my fondest or most impactful moments in journalism so far, I’m not the subject. I simply observe, and the coach, athlete, fan — whomever I’m writing about — takes center stage. That’s how it’s supposed to be, and that’s how I’ve treated this job since I first covered a field hockey game for my high school paper (although hopefully I’ve improved since then).
So here’s the deal: Less about me and more about storylines I’ve covered in my young career and my excitement to cover all things Mississippi State.
Those stories have spanned across all athletic levels, from high school kids to professionals, all playing games they love. And in Starkville, I’ll bring the same enthusiasm and curiosity that has allowed me to dig into these stories while at the University of Maryland and the Washington Times in the D.C. area
There was Billy Phillips, the Maryland baseball reliever who overcame cancer to take the mound once more. Will Clark — not the Will Clark of Mississippi State baseball lore — almost accidentally found his way onto the Terps’ basketball team as a walk-on, fulfilling a lifelong dream even he at times doubted was possible.
Jake Funk, a Maryland running back, worked his way back after tearing his ACL twice in two years before being selected in the NFL draft.
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And then there was Maryland football player Jordan McNair, a reminder that sports — and life — can also be cruel and unfair. McNair died two weeks after suffering heatstroke at an organized team workout in 2018, an entirely preventable death had athletic trainers properly assessed and treated McNair. But they didn’t, leaving McNair’s family and teammates reeling.
That was a different type of story, one that dragged on through investigations and firings. It’s a story that continues through McNair’s parents’ work with the Jordan McNair Foundation for heatstroke awareness and prevention initiatives, hoping no other parent feels the loss they suffered.
Then came March 2020. I was inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis when the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament was called off ahead of the world being shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There were fans milling outside the arena, including an Iowa supporter sporting black-and-gold overalls focused more on taking his kids to play laser tag than the impending shutdown.
Just four days earlier, Maryland didn’t know that its season had ended with the Terps celebrating a share of the Big Ten regular season title on the Xfinity Center court — forever leaving fans to wonder “what if?”
But even then, with sports at a standstill, there were stories to be told, even if they revolved around loss and heartache and unknowns. Perhaps that made sports even more relatable, more human. Sports are a game, an escape, but they tend to mirror all that we try to hide from.
So I won’t be hiding. There are stories everywhere if you open your eyes to look. And mine are open wide in Starkville, soaking in all that’s new to me — the town, the team, the personalities. Their stories will be remembered. Who told their stories won’t be. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.