By Mark Anderson, FWAA President
A friend and I were traveling through the West with Steve Ellis back in the early 1990s. We all woke up in Provo, Utah, one morning ready to hit the road. But first we had to wait for Steve to file a Florida State football notebook.
In July. On his vacation.
That was Steve. From him, I learned the value of great reporting. No one could ever outwork Steve. The trips with Steve also gave me a love for this region of the country and an appreciation for the beauty of the West. I eventually made my way from the Tallahassee Democrat to the Reno Gazette-Journal and then to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Having worked with and having known Steve, I think it is truly appropriate that we name our FWAA Beat Writer of the Year Award after him. I have to credit FWAA Board Member Malcolm Moran, a long-time friend of Steve’s, with the idea. We both wish Steve could be here to enjoy the recognition.
Steve, sad to say, died on Nov. 19, 2009 after suffering a heart attack nine days earlier. His widow, Karen, will attend the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 9, 2017 in Tampa and present the award in his name.
Karen shared her thoughts with the FWAA:
When I found out the Football Writers Association of America planned to name its Beat Writer of the Year Award after Steve, I was completely overwhelmed with emotion. I know Steve was an outstanding writer and a special man, but to be recognized by his peers is just amazing. I watched Steve work 24/7 to make sure he didn’t miss a story and to ensure all the facts were correct. The other writers on the Florida State beat always said they had to work harder just to keep up with Steve. He truly loved what he did and knew at an early age he wanted to be a writer.
When we first started dating Steve was working on a story about a freshman football player and was worried about a quote he thought could give people the wrong impression about the young man. He called the player’s position coach and was up until 2 a.m. waiting for a quote from the coach that would help give credibility to the player with fans.
Steve chose to attend Clemson University because they would allow a freshman to be a writer on the school newspaper. When he arrived at Clemson, he walked into the newspaper office and told the editor that he was their new sportswriter and asked what story he could cover. Steve and Kerry, the editor, were close friends until Steve passed away.
During his time at Clemson, Steve had the opportunity to cover the Atlanta Braves beat for the Greenville newspaper and started the Orange and White, one of the first college newspapers dedicated only to sports. Steve was hired by a Tallahassee businessman to start the same type of newspaper covering Florida State University. That newspaper ended up being called the Osceola.
Steve left the Osceola to become the Florida State beat writer for the Tallahassee Democrat. During his career, he transitioned from typesetters to the old TRS 80s to laptops equipped with Wi-Fi. Though he never quit carrying his notepad and pens, his last years on the job saw him updating a Twitter account and hosting live in-game chats and writing blogs and recording podcasts and doing everything else the younger writers were doing. He would have never said he did it better than the younger journalists on the beat, but I will. I’m his wife, after all.
When Steve passed away, Florida State created a scholarship in his name through the FSU College of Communication and Information. Steve would have been so humbled by this honor. He loved to work with young people who aspired to be writers and was always honest about the challenges they would face. I work with the College of Communication and Information to hold fund-raisers for the scholarship each year and am proud to say we have given out three scholarships.
Steve was known by many people as the guy to talk to about Florida State football. There were always former players and other sports media, including ESPN, calling to discuss what was happening with the coaches and the team. Even one of the FSU presidents would call many times at all hours of the night just to chat about football. As I learned, Steve was the best source of all when it came to his beat.
Steve loved all sports, but baseball was his favorite. He loved going to the College World Series in Omaha and told me about the restaurants he visited every time he was at the CWS. He grew up in Orlando watching spring training for different professional teams and started collecting baseball cards at a young age. He had a large collection of both baseball and football cards that I still have today. Some of Steve’s ashes were spread at Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium in 2010, the last year the CWS was played there before it moved to the TD Ameritrade Park.