Last week, I wrote a column recalling some people I’ve met, interviewed and/or written about in my 65 years as a journalist, mainly as a newspaper sports writer or other. This is the second “chapter” of those memories, which come from a speech I gave several months ago to the Sunrise Rotary.
Three sports writers, Hal McCoy, Si Burick and Ritter Collett, who worked with me in Dayton, Ohio have been elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame. I’m the only sports editor who can claim three of his people in the Hall. I’m very proud of that fact, of those people and of many others with whom I’ve worked.
When I was a reporter at the Marco Island Eagle, I interviewed singer Amy Grant and former Pittsburgh Steeler Lynn Swann. Grant overwhelmed me with her honesty about what was going on in her life. I didn’t know until after my story was published that Swann had just lost his job as a network pro football announcer. My interview was not a good one.
Golf legend Jack Nicklaus showed me and some other people how he handles each club in a golf practice session. Lee Trevino sat beside me at a luncheon at a Dayton country club, then took me out to the course and showed me how he hooked and sliced toward a target.
A friend of mine, Bernie Boston, won White House Photographer of the Year and invited me to join him at the party in Washington, D.C. At a post-dinner party, we joined a dozen or so people along with Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who said to me, “Any friend of Bernie’s is a friend of mine.” At that intimate gathering, I talked at length with Fannie Flagg, the comedian and author who had entertained at the dinner.
I have covered 17 college basketball Final Fours and had many one-on-one interviews with participants, including Magic Johnson, coach Bob Knight, coach Dean Smith (who bummed a cigarette back when we were both smokers) and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, whom I had also covered when he was a high school player in upstate New York.
Coach John McVay (not to be confused with his grandson, Sean McVay, coach of the Los Angeles Rams) was football coach at the University of Dayton when the Flyers played Division I. He died last week at age 91.
I became good friends with Milt Kantor, who owned a minor league basketball team in Dayton, the Dayton Wings, and tried to buy the San Antonio Spurs.
When I graduated from Ohio Wesleyan, I got a sports-writing job at the Times-Union, thanks to Professor Verne Edwards Jr.
I covered some basketball games in Syracuse, which had a team called the Nationals.
One night in Syracuse after a game against Philadelphia, I wandered down to the bowels of the War Memorial and came across my writing idol back then, Leonard Koppett of the New York Post, interviewing Wilt Chamberlain. Chamberlain looked up, saw me patiently waiting and told Koppett he wanted to talk to “this young fellow.” I got my chance, interviewed him then and several more times, as we at least became acquaintances. He’s my favorite athlete of all time.
During that period in Rochester, I interviewed several pro basketball players, people like Bob Cousy. Les Harrison, who had owned the Royals, introduced me to many players of that era: Jerry Lucas, Johnny “Red” Kerr, Pistons owner Fred Zollner. After a playoff game, in which Syracuse and Kerr beat Philadelphia and Chamberlain, I asked Kerr, in the privacy of the dressing room, how he had at least slowed down Chamberlain. Kerr, 6’10”, who was naked during the interview, with a big cigar stuck in his mouth, illustrated how he had guarded Wilt.
And, yes, he was a natural redhead.
It was during that time that I met Oscar Robertson. That became an acquaintanceship because I later became friends with Bucky Bockhorn, who was good friends with Robertson as they had been guards together on the Royals. I liked to kid the Big O by saying to him with Bockhorn nearby, “Aren’t you the other guard who played with Bucky Bockhorn?” They would both laugh.
Robertson, of course, is in the running for greatest basketball player of all time. I also got to know, during that time, George Mikan, who visited Rochester every year for the Hickok Professional Athlete of the Year festivities. Mikan was named the best basketball player of the first 50 years of the 20th century. I met and wrote about a lot of famous athletes at those dinners.
I knew a kid, a nephew of friends, who was a good high school football player. He wanted to play at Syracuse and, at one of those dinners, he wanted to meet football player and former Syracuse athlete Jim Brown. I let the high school player accompany me to a pre-dinner cocktail party and introduced him to the famous player. Brown may have acknowledged the young player and me, but I don’t remember it. He and I may have shaken hands, but he certainly didn’t converse with the young man who idolized him and wanted to attend the same college.
Former Key West High School sports stars are the interviews I enjoy most, not necessarily the people I have mentioned here. I’ve been working for newspapers in various capacities for 65 years and have enjoyed nearly every day of what has become my career.