In my early teens, I dreamed of being the next Grantland Rice, viewed at that time as the greatest sportswriter in the United States if not the world. He penned such prose as:
“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.”
This was written as Rice covered the Notre Dame-Army game Oct. 18, 1924, in a time when Notre Dame, Army and Navy were all perennial national powers.
At age 14, I determined that I was going to be the next Grantland Rice and be “the world’s greatest sports writer.
Alas, those young hopes were quickly dashed on the rocks of late 1950s reality.
After two years of college, I found myself lacking funds to continue even though I was a full time student with the very full time job of sports publicity director for then-Sam Houston State Teachers College in Huntsville. That full time job paid me a whole $45 a month and frequently took me away from classes to travel with Bearkat athletic teams to out-of-town games.
Reality changed my life course, forced less dreaming of glorious accomplishments, and shoved me into the dog-eat-dog world of earning enough money to sustain me so I could complete my college degree.
I LEFT my summer job on a pipeline right-of-way survey crew (at a whopping $1.75 per hour) and became the news editor of The Teague Chronicle for $45 a week, skipping college for a year.
Of the many valuable smaller lessons I was gaining at the time, supporting myself loomed large and definitely was not the stuff to which dreamers aspired except in the most grandiose of ways.
An equally valuable gain from that work experience was that writing about everything in addition to sports was much more fun and infinitely more rewarding.
To stifle those “greatest sportswriter” dreams even more, a temporary but a pressing family situation dictated that I had to leave the 1951 Ford sedan with twin Smitty mufflers I’d bought.
I moved to Houston to live with relatives and rode city transit buses to and from the University of Houston where I was employed full time and attended classes at night. Hardly the grandeur my dreams depicted.
A series of part-time and full time jobs supported me and paid my college expenses. One of those jobs was selling advertising for a weekly newspaper, which expanded my resume’ and nudged me more into a generalist newspaper person rather than a specialized peg in a hole, constricted by a job description and a specific beat assignment.
DREAMS OF one “route to glory” were dashed and replaced by dreams more realistic in a rough-and-tumble world. Plus, the instant gratification of seeing my now diversified work in print throughout a newspaper edition rather than on specific topic pages and sections was a real ego boost. And, not only did I get to write news and commentary but I learned my creative capacity could just as easily be used to design and produce ads that did the job for the advertiser.
Soon, I learned that a community newspaper can be, not only the purveyor of news, but also, through news campaigns and commentary, help a town grow in healthy ways.
Thus, dreams of “the next Grantland Rice” were supplanted by opportunities more tangible and more beneficial to more people.
There’s a newspaper man’s instant gratification…dreams come true.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.