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The hobby that spun badly out of control

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Jim Arnett calls photography a hobby that has “spun badly out of control,” but when he had camera troubles last month the community stepped up.

Arnett started taking photos at ball games when his oldest grandson, who is now in his mid-20s, was in grade school.

“My wife went to a baseball tournament and came back with a collage,” Arnett remembered. “When she told me how much she paid for it, I told her I could do that – which I couldn't at the time – but I always enjoyed taking pictures, so I figured why not try it.”

After he started being known as the guy that was going to be at the games taking pictures, he became a bit of a commodity.

“Other parents would ask, 'hey could you get a few of mine?' and it just went from there,” Arnett laughed. 

Of his seven grandchildren, five have been in sports, so that made up for a lot of the games he covered, but after word got out he was taking pictures, it snowballed.

“I started getting involved with the grade schools, and I do a lot at the high school now, too,” Arnett said.

His granddaughter is currently a junior at the high school and a softball player, so he's anticipating a pretty busy spring, noting she was the last grandchild in sports, but he has no plans of stopping.

“I’ve had to slow down a little bit lately, but I try to get one or two games a weekend,” Arnett said.

Since he works in Versailles as a general manager for a rigging contractor during the week, he's got quite a trek to make it to a weekday home game, but he still misses very few games and community events, driving the two-plus hours to take a few thousand photos. And usually, after a couple of days, he can get the photos cut down to the best 300 or so and get them online for the community, tagging the players and their parents. All free of charge.

The self-taught photographer said he really doesn't have a strategy for shooting the games other than knowing where he needs to be on the gym floor or ballfield and just following the ball.

“When Jazzy Howard played, my wife asked me why I had so many pictures of Jazzy, but in sports, you have to follow the ball,” Arnett noted.

Not to leave anyone out, he usually tries to shoot some photos before the games while the teams are warming up.

“Every kid on that team is there for a reason and all want to feel like the star of the team. There's always so many kids on the bench that don't play much, so I try to get all the kids warming up because those photos may mean a lot to the kid that only plays a minute or two in the game,” Arnett said.

From his grandson's senior year with the five seniors that had played together since T-ball, to Ryan Mullins' famous dunk, Arnett has been there for it all, catching the special moments as they come.

For graduations, the schools have started making a place for Arnett so he can get a picture of each one as they get off the stage. For prom, he tries to get a photo of each student going through Grand March.

“I don't charge people for the community stuff, but the family portraits, senior pictures and prom, I try to get a little bit from that to offset the costs.

While he's had to figure out the best equipment for him through trial and error, right now Arnett is using a Canon 7D Mark II camera, with higher shutter speeds to accommodate the fast movements in sports, but also the capability to shoot portraits.

“When I first started, I did what everyone probably does and went for the cheapest camera I could get my hands on, but as I've learned things along the way, to do this differently, or that I need a different lens if I expect to get better at it, I've adapted.”

Last month as he snapped over 10,000 pictures for Maroon and White Night, Arnett noticed something was a bit off about his camera.

“I thought I'm either getting bad at holding this camera or the focus ring is really loose,” Arnett remembered.

He sent his lens off to be worked on, but Canon's technicians determined it could not be repaired, completely wore out after only three or four years of use.

Arnett made a brief post on Facebook letting the community know he was going to be on a bit of a hiatus from the games until he could get his lens replaced, but the community had something else in mind.

Andrea Parsons, a teacher at the high school, talked it over with several people at school, and they started a collection to replace his lens, and after 48 hours from the time they shared it on social media, had collected enough for the job, but the community kept donating. 

By the time they were ready to present the new lens to Arnett, over $1,200 had been donated in excess of the cost of the equipment, with all the money going to him to help with the expenses of traveling to the games and events.

“My grandson, who has Andrea in class, called and asked if we were going to be at the game, and we really hadn't seen him a whole lot lately. My wife told him she didn't know, and he said he was hoping we would come since we hadn't seen him in a while, and that's how they got me to the game,” Arnett laughed. 

While he had heard through the grapevine about the new lens, he didn't know when, where, or how it would be presented, so when the community gathered before the Lady Hornets game on November 30, with Magoffin County High School Principal Chris Meadows doing the honors of giving Arnett his new lens and a chunk of cash to go with it, Arnett and his wife didn't know what to think.

“We were both in awe of it all,” Arnett described. “It took a while to get over the initial shock of it all. Over the years we've been presented with different things - from basketball teams, the Kiwanis that one time – and each occasion has always been a heartfelt thing for me, but I've never been in such a shock and emotional over something like that. To think the community thought that much of us.”

Arnett couldn't begin to describe how thankful he is to be able to get back to doing what he loves.

“I would have had to start looking into getting another lens, but it probably would have been after Christmas, so it was really a godsend they did that.”

While he’s only missed a handful of games, Arnett is back at it, taking pictures and hoping to make a difference.

“It's always been about the kids, capturing moments for these kids at their best and doing what they love,” Arnett said. “I want to see them go on and do the stuff they love and I hope these pictures will be a reminder to them. Every kid needs to feel special in some way and sometimes that picture may make them feel a little bit better about themselves.”

As for the future, Arnett said they've talked about maybe putting in a studio, but he plans to keep on doing what he does, capturing the community's moments, one shot at a time.

“Some of the best people I've ever met in the world comes from right here and there's no place either of us would ever live than right here.”
 

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Heather Oney

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