Article and Photo by Emily Jankauski: Photographer Garrett Halm works the sidelines of a recent Mahomet-Seymour High School game.
Capturing the intensity and emotion of Mahomet-Seymour’s sporting events, Garrett Halm watches the action through his camera’s viewfinder. Halm attends nearly every M-S home game to encapsulate the school’s athletes, not only in a moment in time, but in a communal legacy that paints a history of Bulldog pride.
More than just a hobby, photography for Halm is a way of life. The 2002 M-S High School graduate began his love for photography in junior high. Halm, who has developmental disabilities, struggled with fine motor skills according to his mother and Sangamon Elementary School second-grade teacher Pam Halm.
“He was lucky enough to have a support services aide (Janet Probst) who wanted to help include him,” Pam Halm said. “The teacher was a photographer, and with Garrett’s fine motor issues, photography seemed like a good fit. She put a camera in his hands, and it turned out to be something that meant a lot to him. He doesn’t spend one day without photography.”
It all started with Halm studying UI-based artist Larry Kanfer for a school art project. Yielding more than confidence, photography provides a social aspect for Halm. In 2000, Halm began an internship with the Mahomet Citizen, where he began his now nearly two-decade-long career covering high school athletics as well as drama and marching band performances.
“At first my photos weren’t as good as they are now,” Halm said. “I’ve gotten better through the years, but I sometimes don’t know when to snap the camera at the right time.”
Over the years, Halm switched from film to digital photography, and he learned to watch the games through his camera in order to capture the best shots.
“I like capturing a moment in time,” Halm said, “and the action coming right at you.”
Halm has established comradery with not only coaches and players, but also with members of the community, too.
“I think everyone in the community who knows about Garrett loves him and knows him for what he does,” M-S Athletic Director Matt Hensley said. “If they don’t know him from taking pictures in the newspaper, then they know him from the IGA.”
For the last 15 years, Halm has worked at the Mahomet IGA as a stocker and carryout helper. When not in the home-side stands, the 35-year-old puts his can-do, positive attitude into helping people at the grocery story.
“I saw him carrying groceries at the IGA out in the cold with a smile on his face,” Hensley added. “Our coaches love him and our kids love him. He’s the kind of guy you want hanging around our programs.”
With his Nikon D7500 in hand, Garrett is often driven to M-S home games by his mother, or he walks to the sporting events to record the action.
“He’s always there,” Pam Halm said.
A former Bulldog himself, “there’s a little bit of pride going on there,” Pam Halm added.
What Halm provides for the community and the legacy of M-S sports is “irreplaceable,” according to M-S baseball coach Nic DiFilippo, who has known Halm for nearly 25 years.
“He’s a great guy, and he’s always loved being a part of MSHS athletics from back in the day cheering on his brother (Nathan Halm, coordinator of advance scouting for the Chicago Cubs and a former M-S baseball player),” DiFilippo said.
“We’ve got guys like Garrett who love the community so much that they want to be involved and stay involved with the school; it says a lot about the community. It’s important to support people like Garrett and other individuals who bring such a positive impact.”
Earning his first Illinois Press Association Award during his brother’s baseball season, Garrett and Pam Halm recalled the experience like it was yesterday.
“The first one he won was for the first baseball game back in the spring of 2002 or 2003. It was March and it was snowing,” Pam Halm said. “He took a picture of the coach walking across the baseball field and there was a lot of snow. He couldn’t do that again if his life depended on it,” she joked. “It turned out beautiful.”
Though he has yet to receive a first-place IPA Award, Halm’s mother said she could not be prouder of her son.
“The first time I heard he was being nominated for an IPA, I was like ‘wow,’” Pam Halm said. “He’s going against other people who do this for a living on a daily basis. He’s just doing this as a hobby and partly business, but that was the most exciting time — the look on his face.”
Earning five IPA Awards total for sports and feature photos, Halm thinks about creating the perfect shot each time he picks up his camera.
“I might get one award-winning photo each time I take a photo,” he said. “I think about what shot to get.”
Keeping her fingers crossed every year, Pam Halm hopes one day her son will receive his long-awaited first-place recognition.
“Every year, I think this is going to be the year that he gets first place,” she said. “I’m proud because people count on him. The pride on Garrett’s face, that’s what every parent wants.”
More than crafting an impeccable image, Halm brings his talent and provides “positive publicity” to the M-S athletic program, according to M-S varsity football head coach Keith Pogue. In addition to being a photographer, Halm traveled with the varsity football team to away games for almost 20 years. In many of those years, he helped the coaches and players as a manager.
Benedict reiterated this notion with Halm’s ability to create a lasting legacy for M-S athletes and the community.
“I don’t think people realize until they’re done how much the pictures of the kids in a sporting event truly mean until those times pass,” Benedict said. “To be able to have those moments captured, whether personally for themselves or in the newspaper, that’s something that lives for a lifetime and gets passed on to generations.
“Some of these kids will share these pictures of themselves to their grandkids and tell those stories. It’s neat that he provides that experience for the students of Mahomet.”
Benedict recalled the M-S boys’ basketball team’s 2015 IHSA Class 3A season finale at the super-sectionals, which was the first time the team made it that far in nearly two decades. The Bulldogs defeated Springfield Lanphier to reach the Elite Eight in a 71-70 victory, but eventually lost to the Belleville Althoff Crusaders in a heartbreaking 79-49 loss.
“It was such a special time. Garrett captured it all in the (Mahomet) Citizen and a special pull-out section on the team was run that featured a lot of Garrett’s work,” Benedict said. “To see not only the pictures but the support from the community was just neat to capture that.”
For Garrett, the trip to the Prairie Capital Convention Center — now the BoS Center — in Springfield was a moment unlike any other.
“I liked actually riding the bus with the team,” he said.
Though photography seems natural to Halm, not everything came entirely easy for him.
“The hardest part for him is asking for names,” Pam Halm said. “He wants to do the best job he can for the students and the community. He cares about recording what’s happening around Mahomet-Seymour and he wants everyone to get the chance to be in the paper someday.”
Halm covers nearly every home sporting event — junior varsity and varsity teams alike. Unlike many other photographers and area television crews, the M-S graduate spends more than 15 to 30 minutes at the game.
“He stays for the whole game,” Pam Halm said. “He’ll come home and work for quite a while after the game, too. He likes to take a lot of photos so he can get the best one.”
In last week’s coverage of the Bulldogs against Effingham, Garrett said he spent hours processing the varsity photos. Both Garrett and Pam Halm are thankful for the opportunity to showcase Garrett’s work.
“I’m just proud that he’s never given up,” Pam Halm said. “I’m glad a teacher found a way to include him. That’s what it’s always been about, helping Garrett feel a part of things and get experience that in the past he may not have had.”
From the sidelines and the stands, Halm turned Probst’s idea into a Mahomet-Seymour legacy.
“I’m grateful for the coaches and Mr. Hensley,” Halm said. “I couldn’t do this job without their help and support.”
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