Today is Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Fun at Cumberland -- Part II

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Joe Biddle, Roy Exum, Larry Woody and John Adams

The laughter erupting at Cumberland University’s Memorial Hall last Thursday (July 10) was proof something special was going on inside the historic landmark.
    
It was the induction of three sports columnists into the Tennessee Sports Writers Association’s Hall of Fame.
    
Thanks to the generosity of Cumberland President Harvill C. Eaton, the university provides a sit-down dinner and what sports writer is going to turn down a free meal?
    
Knoxville News-Sentinel columnist John Adams was in the 2013 Hall of Fame class, but surgical complications prevented Adams from attending last year.
    
Adams was inducted Thursday along with retired Tennessean columnist Larry Woody and retired Chattanooga News Free Press sports editor Roy Exum.
    
Serving as emcee, I notified the trio I wanted them to pick out some of the funniest stories gathered during their careers.
    
They delivered the goods. If time permitted, we could still be there.
    
One guest told me she hadn’t laughed that much in years.
    
Yes, those of us who wrote and talked about sports for decades are blessed. I often told my wife it was a job I would do for free. She reminded me that would be fine, but we wouldn’t have any food, clothing or shelter.
    
I was particularly interested in hearing Exum and Woody tell stories about the Skywriters Tour, an Animal House-like air adventure that shut down in the early 1980s. The late Elmore “Scoop’’ Hudgins was the SEC’s sports information director and the Skywriters founder.
    
Neither Adams, nor this writer, ever had the pleasure of being a Skywriter. We valued our livers too much.
    
They would jump aboard an old twin-engine charter airplane and visit every SEC school’s campus, when their football teams were involved in fall practice.
    
They would meet with the head coaches of each team, get stories on their local players who were on that particular team. It was a great way to get SEC football fans’ motors running with a preseason preview as seen through the Skywriters’ eyes, bloodshot as some of them may have been.
    
The stories were priceless. They told of their favorite pilot, who earned the nickname, “Crash.’’ The veteran Skywriters would spend all year prior to departure gathering harrowing news stories about fatal air disasters and would distribute them to all the rookies. I’m told they drowned their fear of flying.
    
Despite the schedule of sometimes visiting two schools in one day, the group was accustomed to early morning flights as they nursed hangovers. A Skywriter boarded the plane one morning and asked the stewardess (they weren’t flight attendants then) if he could get an adult beverage. She informed him they didn’t have any, until he noticed several cases of beer hidden behind a curtain.
    
“Those are for the pilots," she barked.
    
Believe it or not, there was some work that got done. Can you imagine having dinner with the late Bear Bryant? All the coaches were receptive to answering questions about their teams.
    
It would never happen today. This week the 14-teams will attend staged press conferences at a Birmingham hotel. They produce little or no insight on much of anything pertinent to their upcoming seasons.
    
The coach and three players are ushered to some 12 different media stations where they face rounds of questions, many of them repeated at almost every stop.
    
You can forget any one-on-one interviews with coaches or players.
    
It’s herd journalism at its worst. The social media butterflies of today are too busy tweeting to get any meaningful stories.
    
All the fun has been reduced to 144 characters.
    
Contact TSWA Hall of Fame Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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