Tears well in my eyes as I write this: It’s time to log off.
Time to say goodbye to Bee colleagues and Bee readers.
After more than 41 years as a writer at The Bee, I am retiring. Not to the journalist graveyard. But to life sans Bee assignments and deadlines. I started with black hair and end with gray. And gratefulness. My final day is March 26.
My Bee career started on Feb. 4, 1974, the same day the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped newspaper heiress Patty Hearst from her Berkeley apartment, and sparks flew in newsrooms around the world.
That set a tone: A career of banner headlines for me.
The Bee broke me in as a cub reporter for my first two years. Then, I hit a groove as a sports writer for 25 years. Next came Features for these last 14 years.
That adds up to more than 8,500 stories.
I leave grateful for all the opportunities. All the places I’ve seen. All the people I’ve written about. All the emotions I’ve felt.
When you cover the Olympic Summer Games, you reach a mountain top in sports writing.
In 1984, I shared a hotel room with Bee sports columnist Bill McEwen, covering the Los Angeles Olympics. I worked for the Olympics as a press aide by day and for The Bee by night.
I helped with major news conferences at the L.A. Convention Center. After gymnast Mary Lou Retton won all those gold medals, we steered her to a table behind a sea of TV microphones. Problem was, nobody could see her. So I grabbed some L.A. phone books and said, “Sit on them.”
My assist for Retton.
In 1996, I sat in center field with the fans, covering the U.S. softball team during the Atlanta Olympics. The U.S. team boasted several Fresno State players, including Laura Berg, as well as coach Margie Wright as an assistant. The Olympics granted just one credential to The Bee, and it went to Bee sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski. Wright bailed us. She came up with tickets to every Olympics softball game, and The Bee bought them.
After games ended, I yelled from my seat in Columbus, Georgia, to Fresno State players and motioned them to come to the fence for my questions. They obliged. After weeks in the stands, my back and rump ached, but the U.S. won a gold medal.
So worth the aches.
In 1998, I left the press box and hugged the fence near the Fresno State softball team’s dugout at the NCAA Softball College World Series in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The Bulldogs were down to their final outs to capture their first national championship. I needed an unobstructed view.
When it happened, a victory over Arizona, pitcher Amanda Scott tossed her glove high into the air. Players jumped. Hugged. Prayed on their knees. Wept.
I wiped back tears, too.
People who stick out
As a sports writer, you have the ultimate backstage pass.
In the mid-1970s, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and the Lakers came to Selland Arena for an exhibition game. My day off. But I still went and sat at the press table. Early in the game, Jabbar turned an ankle and hobbled to the bench. After halftime, he never returned to the court.
So I went back to the Lakers’ locker room, thinking scoop.
Jabbar sat, his leg resting on a bench, reading a book, “The Lord of the Rings.” I fired away. “Puh-leeze,” came the looks. Then came his one-word responses — yes or no. Until I asked about the book. Then came replies in full sentences. Eventually, he opened up about the ankle.
Toughest nut to crack.
I befriended many Fresno State fans over the years. And they always opened up.
In the late 1970s, they wouldn’t settle on watching the men’s basketball team play just at Selland Arena. They also hit the road. So many that Fresno State chartered buses. About a dozen formed a caravan across Pacheco Pass for a game at the San Jose Civic Auditorium. They took over the place. Spartan fans rubbed their eyes in dismay. So many wore red, I named them the “Red Wave.”
After that, fans waved signs at games: “We’re the Red Wave!” The name grew like a monster.
The Bulldog Foundation called one day, saying it conducted a search to determine who coined the phrase. “We give credit to you,” the caller said.
It was easy to write about Rod Higgins, Fresno State basketball player.
I traveled by Greyhound bus from Chicago to DeKalb, Illinois, to cover the Bulldogs in a game close to Higgins’ home town. His family turned out in droves. And Higgins, who had the smoothest style, hit from every angle. Amazing player. Amazing game.
All the emotions
I helped develop a new concept in covering religion —The Bee’s Faith & Values section, which debuted in March 2001. Bee executive editor Charlie Waters picked me as religion writer, saying he wanted someone covering religion who also had a faith.
Six months later, 9/11 rocked us.
That evening, I visited NorthPointe Community Church, where hundreds of people gathered for training for the Central Valley Billy Graham Crusade, scheduled over four days in October at Bulldog Stadium. People felt numbed. They wept. Many turned to their faith.
I reported from the crusade with a team of Bee writers. On the last night, I stood on my chair at the press table on the stadium grass so I could clearly “see” Graham’s final words. He was in a wheelchair. I wanted to see how he departed. I pulled out my binoculars and dictated what I saw to our lead writer, who was on deadline. “He is being wheeled off, and he never looks back.”
I choked with emotion reading the account in the paper the next day.
Part of the responsibility of the religion writer is to regularly visit places of worship in the central San Joaquin Valley. Synagogues. Mosques. Temples. Churches. Big boxes to storefronts. The count stands at 380 visits.
Two stick out.
I received an invitation from Manger Ministries’ Cowboy Bible Study, which meets in a stable in Prather. Congregants, instead, gathered in a barn for a service. After it ended, they line-danced. So much fun.
Another invitation came from Visalia Senior Citizens Ministry in Visalia. They gathered for Bible & Breakfast service at HomeTown Buffet. Yum. Like no other place.
I leave blessed beyond measure.