Pillars of the FWAA: Volney Meece (1925-1995), Daily Oklahoman

ffaw_redesignThe Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the stories of the members of the organization, we will publish sketches of the FWAA’s most important leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.

For a list of all the winners go to:  http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.

The following is the 25th installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Volney Meece was the 1992 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

By Gene Duffey

Maybe it was appropriate that Volney Meece died of a heart attack at the 1995 CoSIDA Convention during a function at a casino in Black Hawk, Colorado. He and his wife, Lou, were eating a spaghetti dinner when he told her that he wasn’t feeling well. He was surrounded by SIDs and other support personnel from colleges and universities across the country.

Volney Meece, 1992 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

Volney Meece, 1992 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

“At least it happened here, where he was surrounded by longtime friends in the profession, people who respected him and loved him,” Debbie Copp, a longtime member of the Oklahoma Sports Information office staff, said at the time. “We’ve lost a legend. He was a very ethical, honorable man. College athletics has lost a heck of a man.”

Meece, who worked for 41 years at the Oklahoma City Times and Oklahoman, served as president of the FWAA in 1971 and then executive director of the organization for 22 years starting in 1973.

“He spent an enormous amount of time doing that,” said the late Bob Hersom, a colleague at the newspaper.

Meece attended Tonkawa High School, Northern Oklahoma Junior College and the University of Oklahoma. He served with the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and began at the Oklahoman on Feb. 6, 1950, writing church news and obituaries. He moved over to the sports department in the mid-1950s.

“He was one of a kind, so helpful to younger writers,” said Hersom, who shared the Oklahoma City 89ers baseball beat with Meece for 14 years. “He was the kind of guy you instantly liked.”

Hersom and Meece also covered many Oklahoma football games together. Most readers couldn’t tell whether Meece went to Oklahoma or rival Oklahoma State. “The people at OSU liked him as much as the people at OU,” said Hersom.

Meece made a huge impact on the people in Norman. Former Sooners coach Barry Switzer, then coach of the Dallas Cowboys, drove to Oklahoma City for Meece’s memorial service. Howard Schnellenberger, another ex-Oklahoma coach, also attended along with OU quarterback Jack Mildren, Heisman Trophy winner Steve Owens and legendary Oklahoma City basketball coach Abe Lemons.

“I truly loved Volney Meece,” said Owens. “Volney always treated me with great respect. From the moment I met him, I always felt like he was my friend. I think all of us (athletes) had a special feeling for Volney, like we had for no one else in the journalism business.”

“He liked Coors Light,” recalled Hersom. “They served Coors Light at the memorial service.”

Meece authored a book on the glory days at Oklahoma, titled: “Thirteen Years of Winning Oklahoma Football under Bud Wilkinson.”

He wrote his columns without ego.

“He was a humorous type of columnist,” said Hersom. “He used a lot of quotes. He wanted to present the person more than himself.”

Meece retired from the Oklahoman March 1, 1991. He continued his work for the FWAA until the day he passed away.

“Presidents (of the FWAA) came and went, and each had his way eased considerably by Volney’s familiarity with what had to be done and what should be done in the organization’s business,” said Bob Hammel, who succeeded Meece as executive director for one year. “Volney was one of those too fast disappearing links between today’s writers and the pioneers in the organization.”

In July 1994 Meece wrote a report about the status of the FWAA at the suggestion of Bill Lumpkin of the Birmingham Post-Herald. “Lumpkin … alertly noticed what I see daily in my mirror: I love awful,” wrote Meece.

The FWAA set up the Volney Meece Scholarship fund in 1997. The group presents $1,000 annually to the son or daughter of an FWAA member for up to four years of college.

“He truly was an amazing executive director,” said Steve Richardson, who became the FWAA executive director in 1996, succeeding Hammel. “He was doing the job in the days before the internet became the norm. I don’t know how he did it, communicating through mail and via phone. It is so much easier now. He also was a fanatic about notes and saving correspondence. He truly had some remarkable files that I inherited. They helped greatly.”

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Pillars of the FWAA: Bob Hammel (1936-), Bloomington Herald-Times

ffaw_redesignThe Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the stories of the members of the organization, we will publish sketches of the FWAA’s most important leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.

For a list of all the winners go to:  http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.

The following is the 24th installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Bob Hammel  was the 1996 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

By Gene Duffey

In 1967, Bob Hammel’s second year at the Bloomington Herald-Telephone and first season full-time on the beat, John Pont coached Indiana to a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth. For a guy such as Hammel, who grew up in Indiana with its nasty winters, a week in Pasadena, Calif., in late December was more than welcome.

Bob Hammel, 1996 winner of the Bert McGrane Award

Bob Hammel, 1996 winner of the Bert McGrane Award

“This is kind of fun,” Hammel said to himself. “We ought to do this every few years.”

Nearly a half century later the Hoosiers still hadn’t made it back to Pasadena. But Hammel made it to plenty of other places in his 42 years as a sports writer. He retired from sports at the same paper with a different name, the Herald-Times,  in 1996, never wanting to work anywhere but Bloomington, where, for much of his career, he covered the exploits of  Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight.

“It was a great spot,” he said. “The paper was awfully good to me. If I wanted to go somewhere, I went. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.”

Hammel covered five Olympics and 23 Final Fours. His final assignment was writing about the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. But the most meaningful, undoubtedly, had to be the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, infamously remembered for the Black September terrorist group that murdered Israeli athletes and coaches.

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Pillars of the FWAA: Don Bryant (1929-2014), University of Nebraska SID

ffaw_redesignThe Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the stories of the members of the organization, we will publish sketches of the FWAA’s most important leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.

For a list of all the winners go to:  http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.

The following is the 24th installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Don Bryant was the 1998 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

By Gene Duffey

Don Bryant’s football and track career never progressed much past his days at Lincoln High School.

Bryant, known as “Fox,” joined the Marines right out of school in 1946. He enrolled at Nebraska in the fall of 1948 and went out for the freshman football team.

Don Bryant, 1998 winner of the Bert McGrane Award

Don Bryant, 1998 winner of the Bert McGrane Award

“I wasn’t worth a damn,” he said. “I couldn’t run for a bus.”

Bryant had weighed 156 pounds in high school and expanded to 190 by his first year at Nebraska. His days as a miler were behind him. But another door soon opened. Bryant shared a Spanish class with Norris Anderson, who was sports editor of the Lincoln Star.

“Fox, you aren’t worth (anything) in football and you’re too fat to run track,” Anderson told him one day. “Why not come to work for me?”

The Marines recalled Bryant in 1950 when the Korean Conflict began heating up. “I was told I was going to Tokyo,” said Bryant. “They canceled that.” He ended up in Cherry Point, North Carolina, working for the base newspaper.

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Pillars of the FWAA: Orville Henry (1925-2002), Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

ffaw_redesignThe Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the stories of the members of the organization, we will publish sketches of the FWAA’s most important leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.

For a list of all the winners go to:  http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.

The following is the 23rd installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Orville Henry was the 2002 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

By Gene Duffey

Even the toughest of times seemed to work out the best for Orville Henry.

With World War II raging in Europe and the Pacific, and many newspapermen serving overseas, Henry was named sports editor of the Arkansas Gazette in October 1943 at age 18 for the sum of $32 a week.

Orville Henry, 2002 winner of the Bert McGrane Award

Orville Henry, 2002 winner of the Bert McGrane Award

Butch Henry, the oldest of Orville’s four sons, said his father suffered from a stomach deficiency that made him 4F, ineligible to serve in the military. Orville couldn’t eat regular bread or gluten.

Orville grew up on the edge of Little Rock, the fourth of nine children and the son of a traveling salesman. He began working for the school paper in ninth grade at Pulaski Heights Junior High. His school ran a program that allowed students to volunteer at the Gazette. He finished high school at 16 in January 1942 and went to work as a copy boy at the Gazette, filling in at the switchboard.

Henry worked at the newspaper full time while continuing his education at Little Rock Junior College, which is now Arkansas-Little Rock. He graduated from the junior college at 18.

Butch remembered his father coming home for dinner, then returning to the office to put out the next morning’s newspaper, often not getting home again until 2 a.m. But Orville was up at 7, cooking breakfast for his four boys, often his special apple pancakes.

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Pillars of the FWAA: Bob Hentzen (1932-2000), Topeka Capital-Journal 2

ffaw_redesignThe Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the stories of the members of the organization, we will publish sketches of the FWAA’s most important leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.

For a list of all the winners go to:  http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.

The following is the 22nd installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Bob Hentzen was the 1993 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

By Gene Duffey
Bob Hentzen, 1993 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

Bob Hentzen, 1993 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

His license plate probably described Bob Hentzen best. It read “GOBBH,” which stood for Good ‘Ol Boy Bob Hentzen.

He worked in a different era, when access to athletes was much easier, when writers and coaches could become friends, and the smaller the paper you worked for, the more you did.

“His idea of a perfect weekend was covering a prep game Friday night, a college game Saturday and a Chiefs or Royals game Sunday,” said Rick Dean, a colleague of Hentzen’s for years with the Topeka Capital- Journal. “He got to know coaches really well, when you could do that, without ever being a homer.”

Hentzen was named sports editor of the Topeka paper in 1968 and didn’t retire until 1996. He wrote approximately 8,500 columns in those years, in addition to writing game stories and still working the desk one night a week into his 50s. He continued to write a weekly column in retirement.

He covered the first Super Bowl in January 1967 at the Los Angeles Coliseum between Kansas City and Green Bay. The game was known as the World Championship Game: NFL vs. AFL. The term Super Bowl hadn’t been invented yet.

“He interviewed (Chiefs coach) Hank Stram in his hotel room the week of the game,” said Dean.

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Jimmie McDowell, Sportswriter, Football Executive, (1926-)

ffaw_redesignThe Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the stories of the members of the organization, we will publish sketches of the FWAA’s  most important  leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.

For a list of all the winners go to:  http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.

The following is the 21st installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Jimmie McDowell was the 2000 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

By Gene Duffey

Whenever college football history was made in the state of Mississippi, it seemed that Jimmie McDowell was there.

Working at the Jackson States-Item, McDowell covered the famous 1959 Mississippi at LSU game, when the Tigers’ Billy Cannon returned a punt 89 yards to beat Ole Miss 7-3.

Jimmie McDowell, 2000 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

Jimmie McDowell, 2000 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

“It was Halloween night,” recalled McDowell. “(Mississippi coach Johnny) Vaught kicked a field goal and sat on it, relying on his defense. Cannon wasn’t supposed to field any ball inside the 15. The ball bounced up right in his face. Some of the Ole Miss players didn’t think he would field the ball and eased up.”

McDowell served as director of public relations and athletic publicity, the precursor of sports information directors, at Southern Mississippi in 1953. The school, then known as Mississippi Southern, scored one of its biggest upsets, knocking off Alabama and quarterback Bart Starr, 25-19 to open the 1953 season in Montgomery. Later, he helped start the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and worked with the Jackson Touchdown Club in acquiring a building in 1992. Three years later he founded the All-American Football Foundation, which has honored media members, athletic directors and college presidents as well as players and coaches.

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Pillars of the FWAA: Dan Foster (1928-2009), Greenville News

ffaw_redesignThe Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the stories of the members of the organization, we will publish each week a sketch on one of the FWAA’s  most important  leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.

For a list of all the winners go to:  http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.

The following is the 20th installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Dan Foster was the 2003 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

By Gene Duffey
Dan Foster, 2003 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

Dan Foster, 2003 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

Dan Foster turned to Blackie Sherrod, who was seated next to him in the press box of a World Series Game. “Quit shaking my seat,” Foster told Sherrod.

It wasn’t Sherrod that was shaking Foster’s seat. It was an earthquake! Game 3 of the 1989 World Series between the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park was just about to begin.

“That was a memorable night,” said Foster, who had already filed a column back to the Greenville News.

Foster hung around with three other writers at that World Series and other major sporting events around the country. They were among the best writers in the business: Sherrod of The Dallas Morning News, Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times and Edwin Pope of the Miami Herald.

Foster became the foursome’s designated driver, mainly because Murray and Sherrod had poor vision.

Sherrod received the Bert McGrane Award in 1985 and Pope in 2001. Foster joined them in 2003.

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Pillars of the FWAA: Jack Hairston (1928-2010), Gainesville Sun

ffaw_redesignThe Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the stories of the members of the organization, we will publish each week a sketch on one of the FWAA’s  most important  leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.

For a list of all the winners go to:  http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.

The following is the 19th installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Jack Hairston was the 1990 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

By Gene Duffey
Jack Hairson, 1990 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

Jack Hairson, 1990 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

Jack Hairston worked for the Jacksonville Journal in January 1968 when he attempted to interview Joe Namath. The New York Jets quarterback was in town for the American Football League All-Star Game. Hairston met Namath at 10 a.m. in the hotel lobby.

“He was nice as could be,” said Hairston. “I walked around with him for 15 minutes. He introduced me to other players. Then I asked him to sit down for an interview.”

“I don’t have time for no (bleeping) sports writers,” replied Namath.

Hairston went to the East team’s practice that day and received the same type of rejection from Namath after practice. Later, Hairston attempted to call Namath at the hotel, but the operator told him that all calls to Namath’s room were blocked.

“I went back to the paper and blistered the son of a bitch,” said Hairston, who joined the FWAA in 1954. “I must have gotten 250 letters. Most of them were pro Namath.”

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Pillars of the FWAA: Jim Brock (1934-2008), Cotton Bowl Athletic Association

ffaw_redesignThe Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the stories of the members of the organization, we will publish each week a sketch on one of the FWAA’s  most important  leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.

For a list of all the winners go to:  http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.

The following is the 18th installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Jim Brock was the 1989 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

By Gene Duffey

Several reporters were attempting to gain access to the Olympic Village at the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal. Because of the massacre at the 1972 Games in Munich, security was extremely tight.

Jim "Hoss" Brock, 1989 winner of the Bert McGrane Award

Jim “Hoss” Brock, 1989 winner of the Bert McGrane Award

One of the reporters finally got hold of Jim Brock, one of the press stewards for the American delegation, who could approve entrance to the Village.

“I’m burning my feet in that direction right now, Hoss,” replied Brock. The line became the most repeated of any among the media covering the Games and Brock became as popular as U.S. boxer Sugar Ray Leonard and high jumper Dwight Stones for his unlimited cooperation.

You couldn’t help but have a good team if you were around Jim Brock. If he had been an actor he would have been perfect for movies like “The Sting” or “Eight Men Out,” wearing a black bowler hat and handling an unlit cigar.

The name “Hoss” became Brock’s trademark. He called nearly everyone “Hoss.” He never had to worry about forgetting anyone’s name. And if the guy’s wife was along, she was usually “Darlin’ ” to Brock. Even though he knew thousands of “Hosses,” the way Brock said it made every one of them feel special.

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Pillars of the FWAA: Tom Mickle (1950-2006), Florida Citrus Sports

ffaw_redesignThe Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the stories of the members of the organization, we will publish each week a sketch on one of the FWAA’s  most important  leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.

For a list of all the winners go to:  http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.

The following is the 17th installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Tom Mickle was the 2010 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA Past President Alan Schmadtke (2005)   for writing and researching this sketch.

By Alan Schmadtke

College football historians link Tom Mickle’s legacy to a cocktail napkin, his vehicle of choice for game-planning a playoff.

For those who knew him best, memories take them to his unending optimism. They remember his small, perpetual grin that made them wonder if they were about to laugh or be amazed. They remember his owl-like glasses, a raspy voice and a wry delivery. They remember him hoisting a glass of wine in the fall and winter, a gin-and-tonic when it turned warm.

Tom Mickle, posthumous winner of the Bert McGrane Award in 2010.

Tom Mickle, posthumous winner of the Bert McGrane Award in 2010.

Mickle had a passion for work and play.

“Once you’d been around him, you didn’t leave and not smile about things or have a better perception about things. He had that effect,” one of Mickle’s best friends, Rick Chryst, told the Orlando Sentinel upon Tom’s death at age 55 in 2006.

Former Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Gene Corrigan called Mickle the best hire he ever made, and no one argues the point. One morning in the early 1990s, Mickle walked into his boss’s office and handed him brackets on small paper. The last remnant from a brainstorm dinner was the framework of a No. 1 vs. No. 2 New Year’s Day football game – the end result of Corrigan’s dream-shot request.

The commissioner wanted to secure the ACC’s football champion an annual New Year’s slot somewhere alongside SEC, Big Eight, Big Ten and Pac-10 champs. A de facto national championship game for college football as part of the solution worked fine, too.

Few remember now how land-locked college football used to be, when a 1 vs. 2 matchup was an anomaly.

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