For years, I’ve been asking people for their ages, so it’s only fair that I divulge mine.
At the end of March, in case somebody needs to know, I will turn 69. With any luck, I’ll still be able to bowl my age.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that I have bowled on Tuesday mornings during the fall and winter since the mid-1970s.
“Is that the sound of pins falling?” Jeff Jones, then the Virginia men’s basketball coach, asked when I tried to participate in a conference call from the phone booth at Viking Lanes.
I guess I could have gone to Charlottesville for a press conference that day but, as I advised Jones, “I draw the line at the NIT.”
I’ll always remember Jones, whom I covered on the prominent UVa teams of the early 1980s, and later when he took my call at 12:45 a.m. to confirm he had been chosen as Terry Holland’s successor in 1990.
Back in the day, that’s what was known as a “scoop,” but access isn’t what it used to be. Either that or a 68-year-old no longer has the contacts he once did.
A lot has changed since the summer of 1974, following my graduation from UVa. I worked at the Daily Progress in Charlottesville as a part-timer at the rate of $1.75 per hour. That meant I was working 20 hours a week and getting a check for $35.
Seems to me that things were going well, when over the course of two to three days, I got a call from Tony Anthony, the sports editor at the Times Herald in Newport News, as well as Roanoke Times sports editor Bill Brill.
Anthony told me on a visit that everything looked good but that he had to wait for the managing editor to return from out of town. In the interim, I subsequently met with Brill and became a Roanoke Times lifer.
Brill said the budget for a newcomer like me was between $150 and $170 a week. Anybody else would have taken $170. Just like any other doofus, I told him I’d settle for $160.
I was hired to cover Roanoke Valley Rebels hockey and can honestly say that the first ice-hockey game I covered was the first ice-hockey game I had witnessed.
If I’m not mistaken, the first event I covered for the paper was the Roanoke Valley Women’s Golf Championship, the same tournament that I covered this past summer, 46 years later.
Things were a lot different in those days, when Audrey Najjum and Penny Stallins and Wythe Fleshman were referred to on second reference as Mrs. Najjum, Miss Stallins, Miss Fleshman, etc.
Then, as for most of the past 46 years, I covered high-school football games on Friday nights and will never forget the iconic Victory Stadium, where Patrick Henry and William Fleming played.
I can still sense the environment at Municipal Field in Salem, where Andrew Lewis High School played its football games. Municipal Field also was the stage for a memory that has stayed with me since that first summer, the on-field death of Salem Pirates rookie outfielder Alfredo Edmead.
Edmead, one of the top prospects in the Pirates’ chain, was speeding toward a short fly in right field when he collided with veteran second baseman Pablo Cruz, a fellow native of the Dominican Republic who had recruited — and served as a mentor for — Edmead.
When I called Brill, he told me that he would handle the story. There were two papers in Roanoke at the time, including the afternoon Roanoke World-News, whose veteran reporter, Bob “Teets” Teitlebaum, handled the story for his daily.
Brill did allow me to cover the Edmead funeral two days later.
Brian “Hoop” Hoffman, a 1974 graduate of Roanoke College, had just gone to work for the Salem Times, a weekly paper, and derived great pleasure from the bickering that took place when Teitlebaum would insist that I let him know what angle I would be taking.
Those were memorable times when the World-News staff would arrive at the crack of dawn and insist that The Roanoke Times sports staff, which worked in the same office, not show up before noon.
So, it was mostly golf, baseball and ice hockey that I covered at the time, although it wasn’t long before Brill had me join him at UVa games or sent me alone.
I would also cover an occasional Virginia Tech game and can remember being sent to the Hokies’ 1976 game with Texas A&M at iconic Kyle Field, where the Aggies prevailed 17-6.
Jimmy Sharpe was Tech’s football coach from 1974 until he was let go following the 1977 season, when Tech was 3-7. There was also speculation that he had been a little too uproarious at a meeting of the Roanoke Valley Sports Club.
In 1999, I did a one-year, once-monthly series called the “Unforgettables” and drove to the Florida panhandle for a retrospective on Sharpe’s career during and after his time at Tech. Our session was very enjoyable.
My colleagues know that I do not like to fly but have taken my invitations to drive up and down the East Coast. When my younger son was on the UVa baseball team that won the College World Series, my wife, Beth, and I drove to Omaha and back twice in the same week.
That wasn’t the least of the inconveniences with which I’ve saddled her over the years.
When UVa’s football team was ranked No. 1 in the country for three weeks in 1990, I had to miss the highly anticipated Virginia-Virginia Tech game because I earlier had booked plane tickets to cover the Great Alaska Shootout, where Jeff Jones made his debut as UVa head coach against UCLA’s Jim Harrick.
UVa went on to lose four of its last five football games and finished 8-4.
Of the two in-state programs in the ACC, only Virginia Tech was located in The Roanoke Times circulation area, aka Timesland, but the number of outstanding UVa athletes from the Timesland area couldn’t be overlooked.
Ex-UVa defensive back Ronde Barber from Cave Spring High School in Roanoke is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and his brother, Tiki, is the all-time leading rusher in the history of the New York Giants, one of pro football’s most distinguished franchises.
I took the first of my many microcassette recorders to an interview with the Barber twins at Cave Spring but learned a valuable lesson when I played back their quotes and couldn’t tell one from the other.
If there’s one mission I hope to accomplish in retirement, it’s to see former Virginia quarterback Shawn Moore chosen for the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. Moore was the ACC player of the year in 1990, when he was one of four finalists for the Heisman Trophy.
My wife still remembers me coming home one night and saying, “I just saw the best high school football player I’ve ever covered.”
Players like Roanoke’s Curtis Staples, a Patrick Henry High School graduate whose UVa jersey No. 5 has been retired, helped make the case for extensive Roanoke Times coverage of the program. Offensive lineman John St. Clair of William Fleming and quarterback Shannon Taylor from Patrick Henry had NFL careers after playing at UVa.
I look back favorably on friendships I’ve made with the Hokies. When I ran into ex-Tech assistant Todd Grantham at last year’s Orange Bowl pitting UVa and Florida, we immediately reminisced about the time I hit him in the back with a misguided volley in a racquetball game at Cassell Coliseum.
What was I doing at Cassell Coliseum that day? Who knows? That also may have been the day that I joined several members of the coaching staff on what used to be the Tech golf course. I’ve played golf with Frank Beamer on multiple occasions and marveled at his gamesmanship.
Props go to ex-Tech assistants Jim Cavanaugh and Bryan Stinespring, who shared my passion for recruiting and recruiting coverage, as well as Billy Hite, Curt Newsome and administrator John Ballein.
When word got out this week that I would be retiring, numerous people noted that former Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster was among the respondents who gave me a thumbs-up on social media.
My older daughter, Allison, works for the College Football Playoff and became close to Beamer and his wife, Cheryl. Two of my four children went to Tech.
As I look back at the years covering Virginia athletics, it’s hard not to remember the likes of Danny Wilmer, the longtime UVa football assistant from Buena Vista who was instrumental in paying attention to a part of the state where predecessors had not been as successful.
Fortunately for me, reporter-turned-author Roland Lazenby convinced me to collaborate with him on a 1995 book, “’Hoos and Hokies” on the first 100 years of the Virginia-Virginia Tech football rivalry.
I can’t imagine how many high-school events I covered but few were as memorable as Cave Spring’s boys’ basketball championship in 2002 with J.J. Redick leading the way. Redick went on to a distinguished college career at Duke and is with his fifth NBA team, the New Orleans Pelicans.
At the same time that Redick was playing at Cave Spring, Roanoke Catholic had a standout in J.R. Reynolds, who is one of the top 15 scorers in UVa history and has had a lengthy pro career.
It wasn’t all about football and basketball, though. Sometime around 1980, Brill told me that he was making me the national golf writer. The PGA Tour had a policy at the time that entitled media members to a lifetime pass if they had covered 50 PGA Tour events.
Just when I had reached 48 events, including multiple U.S. Opens and Masters championships, they changed the policy.
In 1978, I was covering the Kemper Open in Charlotte on the day that 7-footer Ralph Sampson announced in Harrisonburg that he was committing to Virginia. He remains the highest-rated recruit ever to choose UVa.
And I wasn’t there. What was I thinking?
For all the games I’ve covered and scores I’ve noted, what I’ve always liked the most is the people I’ve come to know and their stories.
It didn’t have to be about sports. When I heard about Freckles the Ferret surviving a cycle in the Foutz family washing machine on Cotton Hill, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to write about it.
Then, there was the tale of Roanoker Joshua Mattox, who survived the World Trade Center attack in 2001. Mattox has been a longtime golfer and golf supporter but, most of all, his successful escape from the 61st floor of the south tower was a great story and I jumped at it.
There was also the tale of Tyler Nordgren, a 6-year-old swimmer from Read Mountain who suffered a brain hemorrhage following a meet in 2001 and passed away later that night. A trophy presented in his name yearly has led to similar stories in succeeding years.
As I told a class recently at North Cross School, to write a good story you’ve got to find a good story and there are never too many of those!