December is always an exciting month for a number of reasons. Most of the excitement revolves around the celebrations and preparations for the vacation, but for me, it’s also the highlight of the Tennessee high school football season.
This year, the thrills were heightened when Oakland High not only reached the BlueCross Bowl, but also won Gold Football, defending their TSSAA 6A State Championship.
Chattanooga served as the backdrop to this year’s grill competition for the first time – after 12 years at Cookeville.
Location wasn’t the only difference this year. Our coverage was a little different.
During the high school championships, it’s now normal to gather Gannett’s newsrooms across Tennessee. The difference this time around: We had a full women’s photo team, filming nine football matches over the three days of competition.
Our photo team consisted of Stephanie Amador from The Tennessean, Paula Ospina from The Jackson Sun and Brianna Paciorka from Knoxville News Sentinel, as well as myself.
Do not mistake yourself. I love working with all the photographers in Tennessee, male and female.
But when I started as a full-time photojournalist, I was one of the first female photographers in my previous newspaper, and the only photo editor and multimedia editor.
I felt like I had to push harder to prove myself, even though the pressure was only in my mind. So having a full women’s team seemed special.
Even today, male sports photographers tend to outnumber women in most sporting events.
Photographers weren’t the only ones working hard to tell the stories of the 18 teams competing to win the coveted nine trophies. There were five more who tweeted, wrote stories, and captured videos as it all unfolded.
Three of the team members are household names to our local readers. Cecil Joyce of the Daily News Journal, Tom Kreager of Tennessean and Joe Spears of Tennessean have all put Rutherford County athletes in the spotlight for years.
The other two reporters are more recent members of our Tennessee High School coverage team: Emily Adams of Knoxville News Sentinel and Jarod Hamilton of The Jackson Sun.
I am very proud to have worked with such a hardworking and talented group of people over these three days.
While the photos from the state football championship games were among my favorites in December, there were other events that I enjoyed as well.
Other favorite images for the month of December included a boxing / kickboxing class, high school football players signing up early to play college football, Christmas lights, The Duel on the Diamond, the first wrestling event outdoors from Tennessee High School, an MTSU Bahamas Bowl party shows and photos from the start of the high school basketball season.
I can’t wait to capture more visuals in 2022.
Helen Comer is a photojournalist for the Daily News Journal. She can be reached at [email protected]