It feels a little awkward being in this spot.

It feels a little awkward being in this spot.

Today, for the first time in 17 years, there will not be a column by Larry Larson in ThisWeek Community Newspapers.

So today, it's time to reflect; it's time to look forward.

A little more than 17 years ago, I met a man who was introduced to me as "Mr. High School Sports" during lunch at a deli in Grandview. I listened and ate. Larry ate and talked ... and talked.

Talked? Well, Larry rarely does that. His words usually are delivered at a tone slightly more quiet than a scream.

I also took away from that meeting Larry's passion for life, but especially for high school sports.

"A column every week?" he said. "I can do that."

With that, a partnership was born. With Larry moving to California to be with his family, that partnership may end, but the friendship will live on, and that's what I prefer to think about.

Larry is a legend, and I don't think I've called him anything other than "Legend" for most of the last 17 years. The first time I did so was probably the only time I've seen him at a loss for words, but he soon came to answer to it. I think he even came to like it.

In his columns, Larry wrote about every sport and was careful to mention every champion. His summer series with area student-athletes was popular reading, especially in my household. But it was his retrospective looks at the top events and athletes from years past that captivated our readers and me the most because the passion was apparent in each word.

Larry wrote of going to the state basketball tournament with his father, and I felt like I had a seat beside them.

There's not enough room in this Sports section, let alone this space, to reflect upon what Larry has meant to ThisWeek, high school sports and central Ohio. The tributes from media outlets and other organizations have done a great job putting Larry in the spotlight, after he spent so much of his time doing the same for others.

However, there is one story I'd like to tell. It has nothing to do with high school sports or his columns, but I smile every time I think about it and laugh when I talk about it.

About a year ago, I took my nephew, Trey, to Planks to meet Larry. After a few stories, he pulled Trey over to a group of pictures, pointed to one of an Ohio State player running over a Michigan player and yelled, "That's my favorite picture." Larry didn't know Trey is a Michigan fan. Once he found out, he didn't care, either. "It's still my favorite picture," he bellowed with his customary arm wave. He then smiled, put his arm around Trey and walked him back to our table.

That excitement and attitude is vintage Larry.

On my last trip to Planks, we spent some time talking about his final column. I encouraged him to take the space to say goodbye and maybe tell a few more stories. Instead, his words seemed to come from his heart as a final plea for all of us to support, respect and treasure high school sports. (If you missed it, visit ThisWeekSPORTS.com.)

With his final column, Larry added this note:

"It was an honor and a pleasure to spend time working with young people and trying to get their stories out there. Each and every one of them deserved the coverage."

Maybe that is vintage Larry.

We will continue to have a column each week from a rotation of our writers. At times, it may seem like we're just filling in for Larry, especially after a recent conversation with one of our writers.

"I have a column idea," he said. "It's vintage Larry. You'll love it."

If so, I know I will.

***

Lee Cochran is the assistant managing editor for sports and photography. He can be reached at lcochran@thisweeknews.com.