You may be able to put off the affects of aging for a while, with healthy living and exercise, but sooner or later you have to look yourself in the mirror and admit you can’t do some things you used to do.
A man I idolized as a child and have been able to build a friendship with as an adult, has had to come face-to-face with that realization this summer.
For the first 67 years of his life, Corky Whitlock enjoyed good health, but 10 years ago a major stroke, and subsequent smaller strokes as well as back and arm surgeries, have taken their toll on his body.
I’ve watched with admiration and respect as he has battled the lingering effects to continue his 58-year radio broadcasting career. Since coming to town in 1961, Corky has missed just two Bradley Central football Friday night broadcasts.
An inspiration to anyone who has faced similar health issues, Corky is an example of not being willing to be defined by his physical setbacks.
Since returning to the Banner almost seven years ago, it has been my privileged to be able to catch a ride with Corky, Gary Ownbey and either Earl Rowan (football) or Steve Wills (basketball) for several out-of-town games.
The conversations and reminiscing were inspiring. Hearing those veterans of Bradley County sports discuss the history of our local teams, and being able to offer what little input I could, was exhilarating. You couldn’t come out of those car rides without having absorbed knowledge.
My reporter instincts would kick in on those road trips and I’d pick the brains of these men who had lived more than a half century of local high school athletics. I admit I used many of the things I learned from them in stories I wrote.
I also watched as Gary, Earl and Steve would not only carry the equipment needed into the venues, but also assist Corky up and down stairs, and even a few ladders, to get to their broadcast location. I jumped in to help as much as I could since my camera bag and clipboard aren’t as heavy or cumbersome as the equipment they toted.
I’ll admit there were several occasions where getting Corky safely up old bleacher steps with no hand rails was scary and dangerous, but when talking with him Friday about his decision to no longer broadcast games, his concern was for me and the other men who worked with him.
“The bottom line is I’m concerned about one of you guys getting hurt,” he stated. “It’s hard for me to get up some of those bleachers and stairs, and if I lose my balance and fall, I may take one of you with me.”
A pair of locations during last year’s football season seem to have been the final straws. “Getting up those concrete bleachers at Hixson with no hand rails (which took him more than 20 minutes even though we had parked at the end of the bleachers) and Gary and Earl having to help me climb that ladder to get into the press box at Maryville was too much,” he related.
“There comes a time when you have to admit you’re not as good as you once were,” Corky said of his limitations. “I can’t do some of the things I used to do.”
Although he is physically far from the spry young man who moved to our community with his bride on his 23rd birthday, Corky’s enthusiasm and spirit are still as strong as ever.
I can honestly say he is thrilled with every victory and disenchanted with the losses of our local sports teams. Always professional in his broadcasts, he is emotionally invested in the young people and teams he covered.
Corky’s love of sports began in a gravel pit with him hitting rocks with a stick and pretending he was playing baseball. Seventy-seven years later, he still loves the thrill of the games.
It is only appropriate that Corky first saw Annette when she was playing in a basketball game. He tells of how her skills and hustle on the court drew his attention, but obviously there was more to that first impression as they have been together for more than 56 years (the couple dated for a year before being married 55 years ago).
As a youngster often the first voice I’d hear in the mornings after one of my parents woke me was Corky’s.
I’d turn on the radio (later my parents got me a radio alarm clock so he woke me up to get ready for school) and listen to him tell of the latest local news, weather and sports results.
Even though broadcasting the games would often keep him out late in the evening, Corky would be back at WBAC by 4 a.m. to get ready for his “Early Show” that went on the air at 5.
There were several times when his was the last voice I’d hear at night as I’d fall asleep sometimes during a ball game and then awake to him talking the next morning.
During my teen years, if I couldn’t get to a Bradley game, you can be sure I was listening to him call the action on the radio.
As a young sports reporter, he encouraged and helped me learn the ropes of how to interview coaches and players. Often we would set up our weekly pre-game interviews with coaches for the same time so I could tag along.
In these past several years, our friendship has grown. I’ve helped him on his broadcasts a couple of time when Gary couldn’t be there and we shared information that he used on the radio and I used in my stories.
In the next several months, many people are going to honor him and thank him for what he’s meant to their lives. A humble man, Corky isn’t very comfortable with that kind of attention, but I advised him to let people show their appreciation, just as he has done for countless others who have excelled on and off of the athletic fields.
I promised Corky I wouldn’t use the word quit (because there is no quit in him) in my story today or the “R” word, but my friend I know I’m not the first and certainly won’t be the last to say from the bottom of my heart a couple of other words you’re not comfortable with — Thank You.
You fanned the flames of my sports enthusiasm as a youngster, plus as an adult your friendship and guidance has helped me to mentor me into the sports writer I am today.