The 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.
“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.”