Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star was named the FWAA’s Bert McGrane Award winner on Monday. The prestigious award is tantamount to the organization’s Hall of Fame.
Blair Kerkhoff, Kansas City Star: The 2019 Bert McGrane Recipient
College: Appalachian State
Personal: Worked at the Raleigh News & Observer and Raleigh Times as a part timer/intern (1978-80); Roanoke Times (Va.) covered Virginia Tech, small colleges, high schools (1981-89); Kansas City Star have covered Kansas, Kansas State, Big 12/SEC, Royals, Chiefs, national colleges (1989-to present)…
Authored five books, four about college sports. Winner of APSE national awards and state writing awards in Missouri and Virginia. Three children: Nate, 29, was a Volney Meece Scholarship Recipient (2007), Ben and Anna. Karen, wife, of 34 years.
Influences/Mentors: I was influenced by the sportswriters of newspapers wherever we lived, plus those who wrote for Sports Illustrated, Sport magazine, The Sporting News and any other publication that came through our home.
Growing up in Raleigh, I’d attend college football games or listen to them on the radio, take notes and scribble short stories on a legal pad then compare it to the game story in the next day’s newspaper.
The first college football game I attended was in 1971, William & Mary at North Carolina. The Tar Heels beat Lou Holtz’s team 36-35 with a late touchdown and two-point conversion. I was hooked.
The next year I attended every N.C. State home game, walking to the stadium from my home about two miles away. I’d go to North Carolina and Duke games during the day and watch the Wolfpack at night.
Rewarding Stories: If you live in the same place for as long as I have, sometimes you’re privileged to write about people who have influenced you or your family. A few years ago, a coach, teacher and fantastic person at a local high school died at the shockingly young age of 47.
Two of my kids had him as a coach, the third as a teacher and by the end of the day without prompting they had all shared a story about him with me. I was able to construct a tribute from those recollections.
I’ve covered every college football championship game since 1995 and a half-dozen or so Division II championships. Sometimes the better stories and certainly better access is found with the smaller schools.
Best Advice: Do your homework, and always be prepared for an interview, event or game that you’re covering. I heard this from more than one mentor.
If I could advise aspiring journalists, build a foundation on the fundamentals of writing and reporting, develop contacts and understand how to use them. Be fair and accurate, and don’t think any assignment is beneath you.
For veterans, do your best to keep up with the changing technology, be open to video and audio. The audience doesn’t always come to you like it once did. You have to find the audience and give it a reason for repeat business.
Best Moments: Too many to count.
*Riding in a limo and chatting with Eddie Robinson on the way to an awards banquet.
*Sitting in a conference room with every conference commissioner as the BCS was being planned.
*Nearly getting tossed in the Riverwalk, accidently I think, by Nebraska fans before a Big 12 title game.
*Taking the media bus back to the hotel from Boise State’s dramatic victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, thinking I had captured the essence of this remarkable game, only to learn about the marriage proposal while listening to a radio show, and scrambling at the hotel to add that detail.
*Having beers with Joe Paterno the night before a game, about the time the bad stuff was happening and wouldn’t be known for more than a decade.
*A recurring one: Having the privilege to vote on the Good Works Team and Armed Forces Award.
Best interview: I can’t single one out, but I covered Frank Beamer’s first two years at Virginia Tech. I was the only media member on a regular basis and instead of using that numbers advantage to shut me out, Beamer and his staff opened their doors and allowed me to gain insights into the team.
What the FWAA has meant: My year as FWAA president was incredible for a few reasons.
I was the last person selected by Volney Meece to serve as an officer and enter the president rotation. It allowed me to get to know Volney, one of the greats in our profession.
After Volney passed the FWAA plunged into uncertainty. I remember at the Nebraska-Florida Fiesta Bowl after the 1995 season. Ivan Maisel was President. At the annual meeting, he was there, along with Vahe Gregorian and myself. We discussed a path forward for the organization and we came up with expanding the directory. At the time it looked more like a pamphlet. Soon, it became a media guide.
Not long after that, Tiger Richardson took over and the FWAA has become a model of stability and a positive force in our profession.
Receiving the Bert McGrane Award: If I’m around next July, it will be 30 years for me at The Kansas City Star, mostly covering college sports.
I greatly appreciate that my bosses have found it worthwhile over the years to send me college football’s title game, and I hope whatever audience I have also found it worthwhile.
Winning the Bert McGrane Award is an incredible honor. The roll call of winners includes people who have gained my admiration and readership for decades.
There are more deserving of this award, none more appreciative.