DI sports editor reflects on unpredictable, monumental year

By Gabby Hajduk, Sports Editor

When I envisioned my time as sports editor at The Daily Illini, I pictured flying to a bowl game for the football team, hosting big Super Bowl watch parties with my staff and traveling to Indianapolis for an Illinois basketball national championship run. COVID-19 had other plans for me. 

Instead of having an interactive year with Illinois sports and my DI family, I held Zoom meetings, struggled to come up with content while sports were halted and even questioned if this industry was right for me. Needless to say, this year was unpredictable. 

It’s so easy to reflect on the hard parts of this job because it’s not easy managing a full staff while trying to cover football and basketball and keep up with 19 collegiate sports all while being a full-time student. And it was hard not to focus on the struggles this entire year, but this week, I’ve done a ton of reflecting on the good.

To start, I covered my first protest in August when Illinois athletes led a march in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Watching some of the Illini football players put together this march and how passionate they were about it was very eye-opening to me. I’m so grateful to have had the chance to amplify their voices. 

Then, I traveled to Madison, Wisconsin, back in October to cover the first Illinois sporting event the University had competed in since March 2020. While Illini football didn’t shock the world again, it was the first away football game I covered. Madison is beautiful, and seeing the empty stands at Camp Randall was a surreal experience.

I spent multiple Saturdays at Memorial Stadium with our on-air editor, Brendyn Jones, and our football beat writer, Josh Pietsch, who also happen to be my best friends. We watched some brutal Illinois football together but put out some really great stories. I’m so proud of how we covered this ever-changing football season. And, most importantly, the Memorial Stadium cold brew never disappointed. 

One of my favorite experiences came next: meeting Illinois’ new football coach, Bret Bielema. After he was hired, Bielema invited a few media members down to Memorial Stadium to do individual interviews with him and athletic director Josh Whitman. Being able to represent The Daily Illini and be the only undergraduate student journalist there was a proud moment for me. 

Then, I finally stepped back in State Farm Center and had the most memorable season ever. I watched Ayo Dosunmu practically hang his own jersey in the rafters, saw Andre Curbelo blossom into a phenomenal college player and learned Brad Underwood is an incredible coach. But, more importantly, I spent countless long nights at the center and on the phone with our beat writer and another best friend, Brandon Simberg. Brandon put out some of the best content The Daily Illini has ever seen, and while I was his editor, he pushed me to be a better writer and reporter. I owe Brandon a lot. 

And, of course, I got to work with the best staff ever. JJ Kim, our editor-in-chief and my roommate, led an entire newspaper through a pandemic and never had a misstep. He allowed me to run the sports section freely, try new things and, most of all, supported me endlessly. He and Brendyn, my other roommate, did so much to help me feel confident in the work I was doing and push me to new heights, always believing in me. 

Jackson Janes and Carson Gourdie were the best assistants I could ask for. They thrived despite the unpredictable year and never failed to grind out stories in the middle of the night or spend hours brainstorming content with me. 

Above all, I learned a lot about myself. I learned I am built for this industry and will have success in it after college. I learned being a woman in sports journalism means you’re stronger than anyone else around you. I learned I want to succeed so I can help young girls in the future feel confident when stepping into a press conference full of men. I learned that I’m really, really proud of myself.


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