I’m bringing this back as a semi-regularfeature of the blog. It might not appear every week, but it’ll probably show up at least every other week until I run out of memories. And that could be sooner rather than later.
Age jokes never miss, by the way. You who are younger have that to look forward to. It’s one of the best thing about aging. Perhaps the only good thing.
My 38th anniversary at The Eagle is coming up in a couple of weeks. I’ve never been good at sustaining things, really. Except for this job. I got off the elevator at the newspaper’s third floor for the first time on Nov. 23, 1974. I wish my memories of that exact moment were more vivid. I’m sure I was a nervous wreck. Here I was, a 19-year-old kid with almost three years of small newspaper experience under my belt. And I was going to work – albeit part-time, on the sports phone crew – for the newspaper I grew up with and read religiously every morning.
I memorized The Eagle’s baseball box scores. I follow the Wichita State Shockers’ football and basketball teams – I was a huge fan of both as a kid – on The Eagle’s sports pages. I read stories written by Bill Hodge, John Swagerty, Dale Mullen, Bob Stewart, John Murphy, Russ Corbitt, Reid Hanley, Rod Smith, Gary Karr, Merrill Cox and so many others religiously.
My first job at the newspaper was taking phone calls and typing box scores. I had been the sports editor for the Derby Daily Reporter, but I knew that starting at the bottom was a necessity. And I had no idea whether it would ever lead to anything more. My best guess was that it wouldn’t.
But I had turned down a baseball scholarship to Arizona State – make that Cloud County Community College in Concordia – to concentrate on what I hoped would be a career in journalism. So I was all in. And when I agreed to type those box scores, it was in my head that I wouldn’t be doing that for long. I believed it wouldn’t be long until someone noticed my immense talents and gave me a full-time job.
Well, I’m not sure it had anything to do with talent, but Mal Elliott, the sports editor at the time, did hire me full time in the summer of 1975 to cover high school sports. It was an incredible opportunity and the best thing about it was how proud it made my father, who made me the sports fan I was then and continue to be today.
I probably wasn’t as aware of his pride as I should have been back then. I guess it’s because I was 20 and pretty clueless about those kinds of matters of the heart. I was in the process of breaking away from my upbringing and doing what kids that age do – creating some distance between me and my parents.
As I look back on it now, I’m so happy that being hired at The Eagle brought my father so much happiness. He was about to retire from Beech Aircraft, where he was an inspector, just as I was starting this new adventure. I know part of the reason for his pride came from a feeling that he had provided me with so many sports experiences when I was a kid, and that those experiences had actually paid off in something that could turn into a career.
My father, Ray, worked at all kinds of jobs in his life. He once ran a printing press, he was a meat department butcher, he drove a cab and he worked at Beech. He went to work every day and never complained. Sports were his release. Thanks to him, they were my existence.
My dad was a pretty quiet guy. He never got too excited at sporting events, not even Shocker basketball games during a time when WSU was a national powerhouse with the likes of Dave Stallworth and Nate Bowman. I was the crazy fan as a kid. I was the one who jumped up and down. All of those games, all of those nights with my dad, provided an incredible bonding experience. It’s why, now close to 27 years since his death, that I think about him so often. Sports remain our connection. I have never left the arena and I’m sure a part of the reason for that is that being involved in sports keeps me involved with my father.
Kinda deep here today, huh? I’m not even really sure this is where I intended this blog to go today. When I started writing, I think my goal was to write about that first day at The Eagle. But writing about the sports connection I have with dad never gets old to me. Not does it make me or us unique. Fathers and sons and fathers and daughters have always bonded because of sports. So have mothers and sons and mothers and daughters.
The reasons sports are so important in American culture because so many of us grew up with a sports background. We gained an appreciation and a love for sports at a young age. I know I did; I cannot remember not being a rabid sports fan. It’s a lifetime experience.
Being a sportswriter has been the perfect job for me. At first, I wanted to do this job because of my passion for sports. As time passed, it became just as much about a love for writing and reporting and telling stories. When I daydream – and it’s been this way for years – I’m usually thinking about how I want to tell a story and the words I want to use. OK, sometimes it’s about ice cream. But mostly it’s about stories and writing.
It’s been a fantastic way of life for me. Anybody who knew me when I was a kid, including my father, would have told you they couldn’t imagine a more fitting occupation.
I’m lucky. Very lucky.