Secondly, I’d like to thank my parents, who likewise without which, I wouldn’t be.
Thirdly, I’d like to thank “the Academy” and all who voted for me to receive this illustrious award.
Being named the Bradley County Reader’s Choice favorite columnist leaves me speechless (how’s that for an oxymoron).
I’ve come from humble beginnings to rise to this peak of my professional career.
Born the fourth and final son of a poor printer and a secretary/proofreader, I’ve had ink in my blood from the start.
My dad, Gene, worked for both Preston’s and White Wing Press prior to more than 30 years as a stripper (negatives, not Chippendales) and hot-type print setter at Pathway.
My mom, Juanita, was just a teenager, not long out of high school when she moved to Cleveland from an eastern Missouri mining town to go to work at Bible Place. She spent more than 45 years working in various offices at the Church of God of Prophecy International Headquarters. Along with her varied secretarial and bookkeeping skills, she also served for many years as a proofreader and editor for the church’s publication — White Wing Messenger.
Although my earliest writings were crayon hieroglyphics on the walls of our Meadow Lane home, my skills were honed at the North Cleveland Church of God kindergarten, where I was a star student in “snack and nap time.”
Alas creative writing was put on hold after I dropped out halfway through kindergarten to stay home and watch my brother David go through a bout with rheumatic fever.
I returned to my educational development the following year when I entered Mrs. Daughtery’s first-grade class at Oak Grove Elementary. The ink in my blood was supplemented with some lead in another part of my body after Alex Murphy thought it would be funning to put his pencil, point up, in the chair I sat down in. I still carry that reminder with me to this day.
My intellectual development was aided in the third grade when my teacher Mrs. Tillery went to give me a “warning lick” on the shoulder with her paddle, because “Pokey” Clark and I were cutting up instead doing our school work. However, when Mrs. Tillery went to tap me on the shoulder, she missed, hit me in the side of the head and broke my glasses.
While she was all upset and apologetic, she was going to call my mom, who was the president of the school’s PTA at the time, to explain. Despite the minor concussion, my thinking was clear enough to tell her not to do that. I informed her I’d tell my parents I dropped my glasses and stepped on them. I knew if they found out I was goofing off in class, I’d get a real whuppin’ when I got home. She didn’t go for it and I got what I deserved later that evening.
With some sense knocked into me, I was able to concentrate on the importance of education and when I learned cursive writing (which I’ve been told is no longer being taught), there was no stopping me.
Even the failed experiment of putting 100 sixth-graders in a portable classroom with the middle wall cut out, with a fresh out of college Martha (Montgomery) Frazier trying to actually teach us something while coaching veterans Gary “Dirty D” Davis and Bill “Birdman” Bigham served as zoo keepers couldn’t sidetrack me. Not having enough books or desks, so that many of us had to sit on the floor each day, couldn’t derail the drive to excel that burned inside of me.
Next came the craziness of the first two years of what is now Ocoee Middle School. Back then it was called Bradley Elementary with the seventh- and eighth-graders from Oak Grove, Waterville and Hopewell, plus the eighth-graders from McDonald, brought together in the old Bradley High School, part of which was the old condemned buildings we were instructed to stay out of (which meant we sneaked into them whenever we could).
With such great teachers as Rudy Felton, Bill Curtis, Ollie Bond, Gloria Lipps (her real name, not a derogatory nickname), Elsie Brock, Grace Withrow, Roger Rogers and principal “Col. (Paul) Sanders” (yes a nickname because he looked a little like the fried chicken guy, plus his last name), how could I fail.
Four years at Bradley Central with more wonderful educators like Stevie Williams (who lifted me off the ground while giving me my last paddling my freshman year), English teachers Jo Bounds and Clark Chism (who gave me my first taste of journalism), Ann Moore (thanks to which I can still count to 100 in Spanish), Bob “Bullett” Snider (from which I learn how to spend hundreds of dollars to rebuild a Pinto engine to have it run almost five miles before blowing up again), Frank Lowry (who taught history and other life lessons), plus my favorite teacher — Phyllis Wright, who brought out the historical aspects of the Bible as well as challenged me to dig deeper into the Scriptures than just what I had learned in Sunday school.
Feeling full of knowledge, I didn’t see a need for college, although I learned many years later that I could have gone to Lee College for free at the time due to my dad working at Pathway.
Instead, being called into the ministry and doing some assistant pastor and youth ministry work at the Spring Place Church of God of Prophecy, I took my first pastorate in Hayti, Mo., at the age of 20. I soon realized some more formal education would have been nice.
After sons Bobby and Kevin came along and directing three congregations in five years (Union City, Tenn., and Sullivan’s Ridge, outside of Nashville, as well as Hayti), I took a break from pastoral work to return to Cleveland to get the education I so desperately needed.
While attending Tomlinson College, and once again doing youth ministry at Spring Place, I was introduced to what I feel is my true calling — sports journalism. Some may scoff at the thought of it being a ministry, but sports writing has opened the door for me to be able to share in the lives of hundreds of families. Much more than just a common love of competition, I have been able to befriend many players, parents and coaches, providing encouragement and support to them off the court as well as on.
Joining the workforce as a 14-year-old curb hop at the Shake Shack, I’ve worked many jobs in my life (retail management, property surveyor, maintenance crew, carpenter, bus driver, umpire, 14 years of pastoral experience and of course the Jolly Old Elf), but the more than 20 years now I’ve spent writing for newspapers has brought me the greatest satisfaction, as well as some of the most frustrating disappointments.
Looking back on my 53 years, and having the benefit of hindsight, there are many mistakes I would like to correct, but the low points, as well as the successes of life, help to shape us into who we are. The good news is as long as we have breath, we have opportunity to change the things we are lacking.
I am very grateful for those who patiently taught me along the way, none more greatly than my mentor George Starr, who hired me at the Banner back in 1986.
In conclusion, let me seriously say thank you to the Bradley and Polk County sports communities and Banner readers who have embraced me through the years. It is my pleasure to serve you and hopefully bring some good news and joy into your lives.
And lastly, better luck in next year’s Reader’s Choice voting Rick Norton. This is two straight years you came up just short in the voting. Ouch that’s got to sting a little. If they’d let me vote, yours is the name I’d write down.