President’s column: Introducing Lee Barfknecht

OMAHA —  Now  that college football’s minuscule catch-your-breath season is upon us —  the short break between national signing day and the start of spring practice —  it’s time to introduce myself as your new president of the Football Writers Association of America.

And I do mean “your’’ president because I view this as a service position.

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

This sport we find so fascinating/maddening/energizing gets bigger and (mostly) better every year. Coming off the first College Football Playoff, attention and interest is as high as I can recall in my 35 years with this product.

(Don’t forget a hearty round of applause for Bill Hancock, Gine Lehe and all those from CFP who made “North Texas 2015” a rousing success.)

The FWAA, under the strong guidance of executive director Steve Richardson, is set up to honor those who deserve a pat on the back, talk discreetly to those we think could do things better and in general pay attention to this sport’s operations in a way to help all members do their best.

I’m a newspaper guy — who in the next two weeks has “continuing education’’ meetings on video streaming, Twitter and Internet radio —  but am well aware our membership includes all types of folks associated with college football.

We will look at issues that arise without fear or favor, but with respect.

The relationship between beat people and coaches is a two-way street. The relationship between news gatherers and athletic departments is a two-way street. Sometimes, swords are crossed. It’s the nature of the business. Our goal, though, is to find common-sense solutions for any problems that come up.

We need input from both sides of the fence, and accurate information on which to pursue any necessary conflict resolution. And don’t forget to include good news and “atta-boys,’’ too. The celebration of good work is something our business too often neglects.

Let’s salute immediate past president Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman, a longtime friend and respected college football man, for his term.

The support I received in Dallas from other past presidents as enter 2015 was much appreciated and humbling. I’m proud to be the second FWAA president from the Omaha World-Herald, following columnist/teammate Tom Shatel (2000).

For those who don’t know me, my college football interest began early. You don’t grow up in small-town Nebraska (Superior, pop. 3,000) in the 1960s and ’70s without knowing how to dissect the fullback trap or the bootleg pass to the tight end.

I have two 84-year-olds to thank for me getting into journalism, and staying in it.

The first is my mom, Irene. After my dad passed away when I was 8, Mom took a job at the hometown weekly paper to support my brother and me. With the time I spent hanging around in the back shop plus all the newspapers she used to bring home to read, I got ink in my blood.

After 48 full-time years at the Superior Express, she has finally cut back to three days a week. God bless you, Mom.

My other 84-year-old helper is Warren Buffett. The “Oracle of Omaha’s’’ purchase of his hometown Omaha World-Herald a few years back has repositioned our paper into a very good place —  sports is coming off the APSE “Grand Slam’’ for the third time in four years. Thanks, Mr. B.

Equally big salutes go to my wife, Sara Martens, and our daughter, Alaina, who have put up with my travels and weird hours.

Sara and I met in J-school at Nebraska. She was a sportswriter for two years, then wised up and got into advertising and public relations. She now is vice president of a market-research company.

Alaina is a junior and Dean’s List member majoring in speech pathology at TCU. Part of her hefty tuition fee is paid by the FWAA’s Volney Meece scholarship, which I heartily encourage your college-bound children to apply for.

As for my football duties, I helped cover the Huskers for a year in college at the Daily Nebraskan. After my first two years at the World-Herald in news, I took a split high schools/college beat for three years, helping with game-day Husker coverage home and away.

Then came 12 seasons as the full-time Nebraska football beat writer, starting in 1985. I followed the great Dave Sittler, an FWAA Bert McGrane winner and longtime friend and mentor.

When the Big 12 was formed, our newspaper created a conference “at-large’’ beat, which I began in 1997. After 15 years in that position, Nebraska listened to the call of the Big Ten, so I now traipse through Jim Delany’s neighborhood every weekend in the fall, covering a non-Nebraska game that is still of high interest to Husker fans.

When I take a break from football —  and covering Nebraska basketball in the winter —  I like to cheer for my Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup and play golf until dark. (I’m slipping: my best day last summer was only 45 holes.) Also, I have a damn fine collection of Mickey Mantle baseball cards.

That’s it for now. Please stay connected with me or any board member on issues that arise. My best email is leebeee@cox.net. My office email is lee.barfknecht@owh.com. Or call anytime.

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