Years ago -- well, in truth, it's more than four decades ago -- I started out in the newspaper business covering local sports.

On Day 1 and for a lot of days and weeks after that, I covered age-group swimming meets every Saturday at the YMCA, 8 a.m. until way after dark. It was considered, back in the day, as starting at the bottom and working my way up.

And God help me if I missed anything. Because there is no human being on the planet more obnoxious than the mother of an 8-year-old guppy who placed third in his/her race, and I didn't get it right.

It didn't matter, though, because I thought it was the best thing since iced tea, being paid to cover athletic events that I gladly would pay to see as a fan. What a concept.

I discovered pretty quickly that the months of February and March were the best times of the year if one is a fan of local sports and local athletes.

That's because the Super Bowl is done for another year. No more NFL games until the end of summer. Major League Baseball hasn't started yet, but soon will with spring training. Hardly anyone cares about the NBA and, this year especially, the NHL, either.

Pro golf is just getting started on the West Coast for another year, but it doesn't stir the innards of even avid golfers until the Masters in April.

And NASCAR hasn't kicked into high gear for another season, either.

So we're now in what might be the best two months of the year for local sports, because it doesn't have much competition until college basketball swallows us up in March Madness.

Just now, the high school basketball, wrestling and swimming seasons are pulling up stakes on their regular seasons or have started in the early rounds of league, district and state playoffs.

I played basketball in high school. I scouted high school basketball for almost 20 years for a good friend who coached at Spring Grove and Delone Catholic. And I covered games for many years as a sports reporter.

So at this time of year, I always had a chance to watch good teams play other good teams all over the state. Sometimes I had a chance to watch great teams play other great teams. And sometimes it was very good teams against eventual state champions.

It didn't matter. It was great fun. And great basketball. I've had the honest-to-God pleasure of having watched many of the great players York County has ever produced -- and sometimes I even got paid to do it.

Same goes for wrestling and swimming. I never wrestled in high school. And my high school didn't even have a swimming pool, much less a swim team. But I really liked both sports.

In fact, I probably enjoyed high school wrestling as much as any sporting event I ever covered or watched as a fan. My favorite days of the year as a sports reporter were spent driving up to Shippensburg University or the Hersheypark Arena early on a Saturday morning to cover the District 3 and state wrestling finals.

It just never got any better than that for me. I covered the state finals for at least 20 years, before I moved on to other things. Even then, though, I continued to attend the District 3 and state wrestling championships for years as a fan.

I haven't done that for a bunch of years now, and I miss it.

I haven't seen a high school swimming meet for 10 years, at least. I miss that, too.

I've done a little better with high school basketball. But not by much in recent years.

Age will do that to a person, I guess. Some days my get up and go got up and went by the time I should head out the door to a high school event. So I stay home and take a nap instead.

No matter. When this time of year comes around, I get the urge. The blood starts flowing. I pay a bit more attention to which team, which school, which athlete, which coach is doing what and when and how.

I can't help it.

So for the next six or eight weeks, I'll be paying close attention to local sports.

It's the best game in town.

Especially at this time of the year.

Sports columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Thurs days. E-mail: lhick