This is the time of the year I heave a big sigh of relief and start looking for my nap clothes.

It’s the end of another of our area sports seasons. This year marked my 18th with The Lufkin Daily News and my 13th working with Angelina College.

That’s 18 years of getting in everybody’s way.

Yup. It’s what I do. I’m the ultimate sideline/dugout bum, always moving around the courts and fields trying to get pics and notes for game stories. I’ve long grown out of petite sizes, and my big head usually is blocking someone’s view no matter what sport I’m covering.

I start in mid-August with AC soccer and all our local volleyball and football teams. The poor coaches are trying their best to coach around the old sideline drifter. I have to put on my “Danged Media” hat for preseason interviews, and there’s no good time for those. I try to work around the coaches’ schedules, but they’re jam-packed already without having to stop what they’re doing just to talk to me.

Strangely enough, not once in these 18 years has a single coach stopped to tell me, “Stallard, you’re bugging the crap out of me.” They’ve all been more accommodating than I could ever ask.

Then the games start, and that’s really where I make my most aggravating presence felt. Volleyball coaches see me wandering all over the court with my camera and try their best to ignore me. I’ll park myself on the sidelines for soccer and football, and even the players go out of their way to help me out. I shot mostly Diboll and Huntington football back in the fall, and the kids grew so accustomed to seeing me they even moved aside to give me room to shoot.

Guys. I’m the one in the way. You’ve got a game to play. All I can say is your parents must have raised you to respect your elders. You somehow tolerate me while allowing me to be a part of it all.

Then here comes basketball season. That’s when things start cranking up and getting crazy. I cover games four, sometimes five nights per week. Then, it’s not just the coaches and players I’m bugging. The poor official scorers see me coming for stats after the game and somehow hide the cringes.

I’ve been down in the corner of the floor — out of the way, I think — until someone chases a loose ball in my direction. I’ve had players slide into me (I’ve managed to catch most of ’em) and they all say, “Excuse me.” Every time. Right in the middle of the game. Not, “How about you park your old butt up in the seats somewhere?”

Just “Excuse me.” Parenting done right, right there.

Basketball melds into baseball, softball and high school soccer seasons. Those fields and pitches are more spread out, meaning I have to move around a whole lot more to get what I’m hoping to shoot.

There’s where I really become an obstacle.

Those poor fans at baseball and softball games find the perfect spots for their lawn chairs and line up along the fence. There they are, enjoying the action from an awesome location, and then some big-head photographer strolls right in front of ’em. I’m looking through the camera, so I don’t always notice I’m obstructing their view. I’ve even leaned over fans settled behind the plate just so I can get a shot of the pitchers.

I try to tell them beforehand to let me know if I get too annoying. Would you believe not one ever has? They’ll scoot over to give me room, even if it means they miss seeing a play.

I don’t deserve it.

I’m probably at my worst in the dugouts or along the baselines. Those just happen to be the best angles to shoot the games. This is also where I get my only complaints.

AC baseball coach Jeff Livin and Central softball coach Kurtis Acosta are the most vocal — and with good reason. They’re convinced I’m a ball magnet. If I’m anywhere near either one of ’em, we’re both going to be dodging line-drive foul balls. (I’ve got the bruises to prove it.) Even then, all they’ll do is politely ask me to get to the other side of the field. Or at least stand far enough away to give ’em time to duck. Jeff knows me better, so he’s more open to other suggestions I can’t print here.

Mark and Barbi Mattson, our AC softball coaches, also have to deal with me regularly. Once this season I happened to move right in Barbi’s way as she was trying to call a pitch or a play. All she said was, “Gary, scoot your booty.”

Dang, woman, that’s all you got for a human blockade?

And the players. Man, I don’t know how they put up with me. At a Diboll softball playoff game in the spring, an umpire told me I couldn’t stand where I always stand to shoot pics, and that I’d have to leave the field. First time in my entire 18-year career that’s happened. I moved, but the netting surrounding the field was pretty heavy, meaning I wasn’t going to have anywhere to shoot decent pics.

No biggie. The Ladyjack softball team made room for me in their dugout. Ellie Mann even found me a ball bucket to sit on just so I could get comfortable. Yet another kid with respect — or pity — for her elders.

With the players, I joke, “If I get in your way, just throw something at me.” This year, I ended up with a sunflower seed in my ear — accompanied by a giggle from the young player whose view I was hindering.

I swear I try to stay out of the way, but there’s no guarantee it’ll happen. I’m too big and too focused for anyone to mistake me for anything resembling “unobtrusive.”

So consider this a big, heartfelt thank you to all the coaches, players and everyone else who puts up with this old dude getting in the way. Thank you for your hospitality, and thank you for allowing me to feel every moment of every game with you.

And thanks for sending me home after an entire year with nothing more than a single sunflower seed in my ear.

Gary Stallard is a regular contributor to the Opinion page of The Lufkin Daily News. His email address is garylstallard@yahoo.com.