Friday, March 29, 2013

Scribing to daylight at the Journal

           Sports writing at the old Shreveport Journal, Part II:
          Jerry Byrd was the first outstanding sports writer at the Journal; Rick Woodson was the second. Those of us across the hall from them, at The Shreveport Times, in the early 1970s, had tough "opponents."
Shreveport Journal sports staff, December 1985, at
under-construction Fair Grounds Field: from left, Ed
Cassiere, Gary West, Jerry Byrd, Nico, John James Marshall.
          The Times and Journal was a competition, not a rivalry. It wasn't bitter like  Byrd High vs. Fair Park, or Woodlawn-Byrd.
         Each paper wanted to do good work, better than the other paper. We pushed each other.
          From my standpoint, just beginning my fulltime journalism career, I tried to learn from the people I worked with -- and from the Journal guys. Lots of respect for them.
          As I mentioned in Part I about Byrd's development as a writer, Woodson too -- I believe -- would have said he had a lot to learn in the 1960s. But once Rick, like Jerry, figured out how to do more than the routine '60s writing style, he was on his way to a prolific, productive writing career. Both earned respect and praise from thousands.
            Rick died two weeks ago at age 72, still a regular sports columnist for the Rochester (N.Y.) Business Journal, a radio sports talk show host (mostly on golf, a game he absolutely loved and loved to write and talk about) and a respected college journalism teacher.
            As I wrote in the previous piece, sports writing at the Shreveport Journal was as good -- or better -- than any paper in Louisiana during the '70s and '80s. Byrd and Woodson started that trend.
            What they did, the style they developed in our area, was more sharp analysis, and a more opinionated style than anyone had seen. The only other comparable sports writer -- again, this is my opinion -- in Shreveport to that point had been Jack Fiser at The Times in the 1950s and early 1960s.
             Jerry was unequaled in using historical perspective in his stories/columns. What Rick added humor; he admired the style of legendary Los Angeles Times sports columnist Jim Murray, and did a pretty nice imitation in his writing. Which means a lot of clever phrases one-liners that could make the reader laugh, and an often hard-edged look at the sports world. 
           Woodson, thinking of Vince Lombardi's "run to daylight" football philosophy, came up with "scribing to daylight" to describe what we did.
            As I wrote to a Rochester columnist who did a couple of beautiful tribute to Rick last week, Woodson scribed to daylight as well as anyone I've worked with in 40-plus years.
           But following Byrd and Woodson at the Journal in the paper's final 20 years, there were many, many people who could sports-scribe to daylight, and kept the tradition going.
            When Wally Rugg joined the Journal staff in 1972, and became the lead high school writer, he brought an aggressive, opinionated style, and he was excellent at finding hidden story angles. He also tended to make some readers mad (gee, I never did that). 
            Byrd-Woodson-Rugg was a helluva combination, and they won a bunch of awards in a three-year period. Modesty wasn't a strong suit, as I noted before in the blog on Byrd, and Byrd never hesitated to keep a count of the Journal sports awards and let the public read about them. If you can do it, Jerry would remind us, it ain't braggin'.
             (And we kept count in the '80s, too.)
             From the time Rugg left the staff in '74, and Woodson left the next year, the Journal sports staff had -- as I count it -- 20 fulltime people in seven years (see chart below). Quite a turnover; what a revolving door it became.
             The formula became to hire young people in their first or second jobs, almost a dozen of them straight out of college. But to bring in people from the J-schools at LSU, Missouri, Texas and, yes, Louisiana Tech wasn't a bad idea.
             They didn't have salary demands, so starting pay helped the Journal save money; most weren't married and were willing to work their rears end off for a demanding boss (Byrd) in a demanding situation (small staff, ambitious agenda).
              And most of them were very, very talented. No question. I was a parttimer -- the SID at Centenary and PR guy with the Shreveport Captains -- and it was fun to see how much talent came into town ... and soon left. Lots were looking for another job not long after arriving.
             But the Journal's sports tradition was the benefactor. And the Journal was a helluva stepping stone.             
             Here's where Journal sports writers of the 20-year period (1970-1991) became well-known names ... 
             -- Larry White: After sports information jobs at LSU, the University of Alabama and SMU, he returned to Alabama as the SID at the end of the Paul "Bear" Bryant era and years thereafter.
             -- Bob Tompkins, longtime sports columnist, Alexandria Daily Town Talk.
             -- John Adams, longtime sports editor/columnist, Knoxville News Sentinel, and radio sports talk host.
             -- Joel Bierig, baseball writer, Chicago Sun-Times (out of newspapers, but still doing some baseball writing).
              -- Steve "Tiger" Richardson, longtime executive director of the Football Writers Association of America and prolific book author, Dallas-based, ex-Dallas Morning News  writer on college football and college basketball  
              -- Jeff Rude, former Dallas Morning News assistant sports editor now longtime columnist/senior writer for Golfweek magazine
              -- Alvin Hollins, sports information director at Florida A&M University for three decades.
              -- Phil Rogers, baseball writer/columnist, Chicago Tribune, still one of the best in the country.
              -- Jerry Briggs, longtime writer/columnist, San Antonio Express-News.
              -- Paul Finebaum, longtime sports columnist in Mississippi and Alabama but even better known for his radio sports talk show, one of the best in the South; often appears on national television on matters concerning college athletics.
             -- Ed Cassiere, longtime SID at University of New Orleans and now Xavier (New Orleans).
            -- John James Marshall, still at Loyola College Prep (which he and Cassiere  attended when it was Jesuit, and JJ quarterbacked the 1976 football team to an unbeaten season and the Class AAA state championship). He's now director of alumni and public relations at the school.
            -- Ron Higgins, longtime columnist/writer, (Memphis) Commercial Appeal, multiple book author, one of the most prominent writers on all things SEC.
             -- Gary West, longtime horse racing writer for the Dallas Morning News around two stints at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (we were reunited there in the mid-2000s). Now writing about the ponies for
             -- Teddy Allen, publications writer at Louisiana Tech but still a popular man-about-town columnist for The Shreveport Times and Monroe News-Star.
             -- Scott Ferrell, longtime sports editor, The Shreveport Times, now its online editor.
             -- Tom Murphy, longtime Arkansas Democrat-Gazette beat writer covering the Razorbacks (ask him about Bobby Petrino).
             -- Will Weathers, after newspaper jobs in South Louisiana, he's managing editor of, one of the all-LSU web sites. 
             There were others who got out of the media business -- Rugg, Robert Steckel, Ed English, Tom Kleckner, Harriet Prothro, among them -- who were terrific journalists.  
              It was quite a collection of talent.
              Very biased here: In my return to the Journal, from February 1982 to August 1987, we had a tremendous sports staff.
               For almost five years, we had the same staff. Four of us were from Shreveport -- Byrd, Marshall, Cassiere, me -- with the great Mr. West (from New Orleans), who could write anything (book reviews, restaurant reviews, any sports topic) well and worked some 18-hour days). Not many better "kids" then in our occupation than JJ and Ed.
               At various points, we also big writing talents in Higgins and Teddy.
               We worked hard, and we produced tons of stories -- and awards. We were close, and we had tons of fun.
               Best time in Journal sports staff history? Tough to judge; many people scribed to daylight well at this old newspaper. But -- not modestly -- here's one vote for it.

The Journal sports line ...
(dates and order are approximate)
Sports editors: Otis Harris (mid 1930-mid 1950s), Jimmy Bullock (mid 1950s-1970), Jerry Byrd (1970-91); *Larry Stephenson (1981); *Nico Van Thyn (1982-87); *Tom Seltzer (1987-88); *John James Marshall (1988-91).
*executive sports editor   
Sports writers: Jerry Byrd (1957-70), Jimmy Bullock (1970-72), Rick Woodson (1964-65, 1969-75), Ronnie Crain (1967-72), Ken Rominger (1972-74), Wally Rugg (1972-74), Larry White (1974-75); Bob Tompkins (1975), Robert Steckel (1975-77), Anthony Lacour (1975), Joel Bierig (1975-76), Steve Richardson (1975-76), Jeff Rude (1976-78), Ed English (1977-79), John Adams (1977), Jerry Briggs (1977-78), Paul Finebaum (1978-79), Larry Feese (1979), Alvin Hollins (1978-79), Phil Rogers (1978-80), Tom Kleckner (1979-80), Keith Hartstein (1979-80), Bill Banks (1980-81), Ed Cassiere (1981-86), John James Marshall (1981-88), Gary West (1982-86), Ron Higgins (1982-83), Teddy Allen (1986-87), Harriet Prothro (1986-91), Scott Ferrell (1987-89), Tom Murphy (1989-90), Will Weathers (1990-91).
Parttimers: R.C. "Cotton" McCoy (bowling; high school football; desk); Harvey Laing (college/high school coverage; desk); Ed Pettis (newsside editor; high school football); Betty Ghio (golf, mid-1970s); David Garland (Two-Dollar Bettor, 1981); John Sands (bowling, 1980s); Glynn Harris (outdoors, 1980s).


  1. Great post, Nico! A lot of us miss the Journal!

  2. Great two-part blog, Nico. I can't argue, and I was on "the other team" for several of those years. I held you and your staff in the highest regard from '83-87 -- and still remember the group fondly.

  3. From Dr. Leonard Ponder: You did two nice pieces on the Shreveport Times and Journal sports departments. I couldn't relate to any of the writers except you, Byrd, and Jack Fiser (I was too far away and too much in the Baton Rouge Advocate territory during those years), but I sure loved those two papers while in Pleasant Hill and Shreveport. I didn't read the Journal until I moved to Shreveport. In Pleasant Hill, my family only subscribed to the Times. So far as I know there was no reason. That was just the way it was. One of my best friends was a carrier for the Journal. He would have to leave our corkball games every afternoon in the summer to deliver his papers. Pleasant Hill was pretty small so it didn't take him very long. We admired him for having a job. Making money in Pleasant Hill was a challenge until I was old enough to work for my Dad.

  4. From Tommy Youngblood (the Fair Park/LSU one, not the Woodlawn/La. Tech one): You do a great job of being the memory of Shreveport. ... Thamks for all the stories.

  5. From Patrick Booras: Great memories; enjoyed working with everybody when I was in the SID, sports business, 1984-90.

  6. From Teddy Allen: This was big-time. Thank you for writing it. Man, I am honored to be mentioned alongside any of those guys. We had fun. Did it right, too.

  7. From David Garland: I am honored to be mentioned as a Journal parttimer. As a bonus, this bolsters my street cred as far as handicapping goes. The blog brings back lots of memories. We were a Journal household and I read the sports section religiously, starting in elementary school and running through graduation from LSU-Shreveport. ... This made my day. Thanks.

  8. Another great job, Nico. Thanks for throwing this old Journal hand into the mix. We did have some great times, both in and out of the news room. I remember many a ball game you and I covered together while you were at the Times and I was at the Journal. I hadn't thought about it for a long time, but the Journal DID serve as a stepping stone for some big-timers, didn't it? Our good friend Rick Woodson was one of the best. May he rest in peace.

  9. From Tom Kleckner: Very nice, Nico. As Teddy said, I am honored to just be included with that group. We knew we had a lot to live up to. Phil [Rogers], Keith [Hartstein], JJ [Marshall] and I used to get in a lot of golf at the muni [Querbes] near Centenary. We liked to think of ourselves as the best-tanned staff in the South. And you’re right about the salaries. At my next job after the Journal, management twice had to give me above-normal increases just to get me on par with everyone else.

  10. From Patrick Locke: Enjoyed it Nico.......

  11. From Phil Wehrle: Hey Nico, did you write those pieces on the Journal from memory? Enjoyed reading them; it was a different game back then. It's funny, I remember most of the people you mentioned well but a few others I don't remember at all. I got to be pretty good friends there for a while with Phil Rogers and Jeff Rude. I'd forgotten that Higgins was at the Journal, too. It was always a challenge to see who could scoop the other in those Times-Journal days.

  12. From Jimmy Russell: I really enjoyed this and the comments from your colleagues. I did not realize Ron ”Mad Dog” Higgins worked at the Journal. When I was in Jackson, Miss., I read his columns and also heard him on the radio a few times. I was going to call him then and make the hour ride to Memphis and see him, but never did. You do good with all of this. As I said, much of it is great therapy for me.

  13. Thanks, Nico. Great memories. When I'd come home every evening from my job as Managing Editor of The Ruston Daily Leader, I'd read the Journal, cover to cover, before I'd sit down for dinner. Probably one of those things leading to my divorce. Hard for spouses to understand us journalists back in the day.

  14. From Doug Bland: The Journal blog brought back a lot of memories. You probably know this, but Jerry loved track. During my sophomore summer we had a SPAR track program. Jerry was always at the meets and interviewed us, took pictures and always printed all the times and distances. The program ended with a decathlon. My Mom cut out everything and saved them. She loved Jerry although she never met him. He also did a great job on football, I'm not telling you something you didn't already know. Mrs. Adams and Coach Williams' wife gave me a lot of the pictures he took of us. I have a great one of Joe [Ferugson], Ross [Oglesby], myself and Tom Hagin.
    He also did a great article on our son Jason when he kicked his first and only field goal of 48 yards (longest in Byrd history, at the time and I think the second longest in Caddo schools at the time.) There was the same type pictures he always took and a complete breakdown of all the field goals ever kicked. I was able to thank him in person, and you'll appreciate this, what I got was "Yeah, thanks" and on his way he went. It was like he was embarrassed to accept thanks.

  15. From Joel Bierig: Meant to drop you a note mentioning how much I enjoyed these reminiscences. Can't believe you remember all the names and even approximate dates on all the sports writers who passed through!

    1. My memory is good, but not perfect. Got help on the list of Journal sports writers from several sources.