SPORTSWRITERS

speaking the state’s language

By Berry Tramel, 2018 Inductee

I walked into the Shawnee High School football press box in 1980 as a 19-year-old Reporter who didn’t know a deadline from a dateline. I met the old guy covering the Shawnee Wolves. 

Roy Angel. I didn’t know I was in the presence of a legend. I know it now. 

Angel, the 35-year sports editor (1949-84) of the Shawnee News-Star, was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 2000. 

Over the next four decades, I would count Ray Soldan and Dave Sittler as staff colleagues, and Bill Connors and John Klein as press box contemporaries. In fact, among the sports writers in the Hall of Fame only one, John Cronley, did I never get to know. And in April 2018, I joined their ranks in the Hall of Fame, an incredible honor, considering what sportswriters have meant to Oklahomans. 

My dad, and sharecropper’s son during the Depression, would wait by the train tracks in the Ozark foothills of Mayes County, waiting for the eastbound train to drop off a bundle of the Tulsa World. Dad would unwrap the bundle, pull out a newspaper, and read the likes of B.A. Bridgewater, before tucking the paper back into the bundle to be spread to paying customers. Eventually, my dad became a subscriber to four newspapers a day that I grew up reading. 

Sports, then and now, is a state language. Be at the St. Louis Cardinals and the baseball town teams of the state’s early days, or Bud Wilkinson’s Sooners and Henry Iba’s Aggies from the post-war era, or the modern-day exploits of the Thunder, University of Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State University, sports bring Oklahomans together. And the honored scribes and many more have been instrumental in fostering celebrations in debates in memories of Oklahoma sports over the last century-plus.

It’s like the famed Red Smith once said. “People go to the ballpark to have fun, then pick up the paper the next morning to have fun all over again.”

That’s what people like Hall of Famers Frank Boggs, Ray Soldan, Dave Sittler, John Cronley, William Bryan Conners, Jr., John Klein, and B.A. Bridgewater have done in the major metros. Likewise, Angel is the patron saint of the community newspaper sports editors in Oklahoma, but Jim Weeks at the Norman Transcript, Joey Goodman and Herb Jacobs at the Lawton Constitution, Jim Ellis at the Miami News-Record, Jeff Cali at the Ada Evening News, Bruce Campbell at the Enid news & Eagle, Ron Holt at the Stillwater News-Press, and Fred Fehr at the Shawnee News-Star all have done the invaluable work of feeding Oklahomans’ insatiable desire to read about their sporting heroes. 

As a kid, I read those kinds of journalists. As a young professional, I followed those kinds of journalists. At age 58, entering my 42nd football season in the business, I stand proudly beside those kinds of journalists. And I cherish memories of the Hall of Famers.

Soldan, with his uncommon devotion to history. Connors, with his unmatched record of trust with our state’s most prominent coaches. Cronley with his turning of the phrase. Sittler, with his dogged reporting. 

And man, the stories. Back in 1984, I was sick as a dog, but we were short dash handed at the Transcript. I covered Wayman Tisdale’s announcement that he would return for a third season at OU, then went across the street to cover a sooner baseball doubleheader. In the Mitchell Park press box, I lost my lunch and sprinted to a trash can in the back of the room to throw up. Just then, John Klein arrived. He walked through the door and without breaking stride he looked at me and said, “My sentiments exactly.”

I remember calling Ray Soldan in 2000 for an Oklahoman project, asking who was the greatest high school player he had ever seen. By then, Soldan had covered a half-century of Oklahoma high school football. 

Soldan Selected Wes Welker, a contemporary pick from Oklahoma City’s Heritage Hall. I was skeptical, because our panel had selected all kinds of historical players. But Soldan was adamant that Welker was the best. And a few years later, when Welker was Tom Brady’s favorite target with the New England Patriots, Soldan stood on the solid rock of truth. 

I remember a drive to Springfield, Missouri, with Bill Connors for an OSU game, a quick trip to the Ozarks that was filled with stories of our state’s most legendary sportsmen, from Bud Wilkinson to Eddie Sutton. 

And I remember a television feature on Frank Boggs, when he was retired, in which he mentioned that I was one of the writers he liked to read. I felt stunned that a writer of Boggs’ skill would say such a thing. To be included with such Hall of Fame company is something I never dreamed.

We all got into the business because it was fun. Even when it turned serious, it remained fun. Still is fun. But it’s also important, because such sports writers have brought Oklahomans together daily, in the marketplace of shared memories.

John Cronley was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 1974, Frank Boggs in 1997, Ray Soldan in 2009, Dave Sittler in 2005, William Bryan Connors, Jr. in 1997, John Klein in 2013, and B.A. Bridgewater in 2020. Berry Tramel nominated Bridgewater after realizing that he wasn’t in the Hall of Fame while writing this story.

 

Berry Tramel (right) interviews Blake Griffin at The Oklahoman’s 2019 Prep Sports Awards banquet. Courtesy of The Oklahoman.