Hall of Fame City

For many reasons, I count myself lucky to have grown up in Roanoke, Virginia.  First of all, it’s a beautiful little City surrounded by mountains.  The crime rate was pretty low compared to other cities its size and you were accessible by car to almost all parts of the state in less than 4 hours.    I had a great High School to attend in Northside and the opportunities for higher education were either right there in the city or just a few hours away.

Like all places, it has its problems and issues.  The City was built on the foundation of the Railroad, and there was a time when a person could graduate from high school, get a job at Norfolk and Western Railway and be right in the main stream and middle class of society.  Like most of America’s manufacturing based economy, those days are now gone and won’t come back.

Getting things done in the City of Roanoke has also proved challenging at times.  The City’s iconic Victory Stadium was a dump for years and the infamous Flood of 1985 started the beginning of the end.  It just took 15 or more years for the City of Roanoke to finalize realize it before knocking it down.  There were those who wanted it to stand forever, but the Stadium was too big for its two high school football tenants, William Fleming and Patrick Henry High Schools and two small for anything else.  True, Virginia Tech and VMI once played their annual Thanksgiving Day game at the stadium, but those days are also long gone.  Virginia Tech wasn’t going to play VMI again, and if it did, it wasn’t playing them at Victory Stadium.

But one thing Roanoke didn’t lack was a solid local media.  As a kid who was interested in the medium, particularly sports, there may not have been a better place to grow up.  My nephews will never been able to understand this, but we didn’t have cell phones, I-Pads and about the best we could do with an X-Box was an Atari gaming system that frankly looks ancient now.  What we had though was the newspaper and the 6 and 11 o’clock news.

I was obsessed with the local sportscast.  The first people I remember watching were Bill King, the Sports Anchor on WDBJ and Dave Ross, the sports anchor on WSLS.  King wore bizarre Lindsey Nelson type sport coats most of the time.  Ross, apparently wasn’t getting paid that much because he was – 4 days out of 5 – working as a substitute teacher at my Junior High School.

When King left for Richmond, and Ross moved on they were replaced by Pat Krueger at Channel 7 and Les Miller at Channel 10.  Kreuger was eventually shown the door at Channel 7 and replaced by the man who gave me my start in the business, John Kernan.  Hey not everyone liked him and that’s okay, but I owe him a debt of gratitude, because had it not been for him giving me my first job getting scores on Friday Night during football season, I would not be where I am today.  He – with News Director Jim Shaver – developed the concept known as “Friday Football Extra” and then gave the keys to it to a teenager.   Who the hell does that?  I didn’t always treat him fairly – something I’ve come to realize as a I get older, but he will always hold a special place for me.  He went on to work on ESPN as a pit reporter and now does NHRA for Fox Sports and I’m proud of his accomplishments as person and professional.

So, to do the other two  guys I had the pleasure of working with at Channel 7, Mike Stevens and Roy Stanley.  Today is the 16th anniversary of Roy’s passing in 2002.  He died at age 51.  He and I spent a lot of time together on the road during High School football pre-season getting to as many schools as possible.  One day we turned out about 150 miles and hit 5 schools which drew the line for the ages as we made our way back to the station:  “Brown (he always called me by my last name), this van done kicked my ass.”  That’s just one of a gazillion stories I could tell you about Roy.  If the man ever had a bad day, I never saw it.  He didn’t care that he was on television, he was doing a job to take care of his family which he did and did well.

Mike took over as the show host of Friday Football Extra in 1988 and again pretty much turned me loose on it for the two and 1/2 years I had with him on the show.   He remains the model for how I tried to do my own sportscasts when I got them in 1990 and beyond.  Talented beyond his position doing sports, Mike could have made it big in television had he wanted to.  Instead, he decided not to be quick to run away from being happy and remained at Channel 7 until leaving in 2008 to become the Communications Director for the City of Salem.  I cannot thank him enough for all he did for me and I was proud to be there in 2015 when he was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.  He remains a special part of my life, and still gets his hair cut at my dad’s Barber Shop and he clearly doesn’t have to do that.

Roanoke is a city of about 100,000 people with a metro area of about 250,000.   So, not only was the area lucky to have the television personalities, just try the depth of talent at the local newspaper, the Roanoke Times.  My parents were regular subscribers to the Roanoke Times (true story, my first two jobs were paperboy for the Times and sweeping the floor at my dad’s Barber Shop and neither paid very well).  I didn’t waste much time at all with the other parts of the paper, just the sports section.  And I wonder if others and I realized at the time just how lucky we were to have the talented sports writers at the Times.

Consider at one time, the paper employed Bill Brill as its Executive Sports Editor, Jack Bogaczyk as the Virginia Tech beat writer, and Doug Doughty as the University of Virginia beat writer.  With Doughty’s induction this past Saturday into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, all three are now enshrined in the Hall as some of the best in the business.

Of the three of them, Bogaczyk is the only one I know.  And, I don’t even know him that well, but honestly he’s the prime example of never judge a book by its cover.  Seeing him around at different events after I started working in television at WDBJ, I always thought he was kind of arrogant.  In all reality, he’s not.  He did a profile piece on our Friday Football Extra show and couldn’t have been nicer while doing it.  He clearly was a talented writer and was among the first – if not the first writer – to do a local television/radio sports column.   Those columns were must reading for me.

Brill I only saw a few times at Virginia Tech games.  I didn’t know, and had no opinion of him really.  He was the paper’s prime sports columnist and apparently constantly ruffled the feathers of Virginia Tech fans.  He hated Virginia Tech as a staunch ACC loyalist.  He knew Virginia Tech wanted into the ACC and he wanted nothing to do with it.  He hated the idea of ACC expansion, and after he retired to Durham, North Carolina he skipped the 2005 ACC Tournament in protest of the conference raiding the Big East.  Make no mistake however, I read his columns and I also tried to beat his ass each week during football season.  The newspaper had a contest each week to pick football games against him.  If you beat him you either became the proud owner of an “I Beat Brill” t-shirt or bumper sticker.  I got a few of those over the life of the contest.

Doughty, I don’t know.  Again, I saw him around a few times and I’m sure like his cohorts he was probably wondering who the hell this little fat high school kid was with the Channel 7 microphone.  Hey, no offense, is the same thing I would wonder.  But, like the others I read his stuff everyday and enjoyed it.  Clearly talented, he like the others is clearly worthy of the Hall of Fame honor.  He’s been covering U.Va. Sports since the 1970s.  In this day where people often don’t worry about the job at hand, but the next job, that’s unheard of.

Those three are the Time’s Hall of Famers, but the staff also included Metro Sports Editor Bob McClelland a local icon who not only wrote about high school sports, he coached many of the players through their recreation years.  After as a College Senior I anchored my first sportscast at WDBJ in July 1989, he was the second phone call I received (behind Kernan), who congratulated me on the job I did.  He didn’t have to do that, and I was honored that he did so.

And then there was Bob Teitlebaum, the High School Sports Editor.  “Teits” as he was known, was everywhere.  Go to a Patrick Henry Basketball game, he’s there with his own little press table in the corner of the gym.  High School Football, don’t be thinking you were getting in Teits way.  He was standing right on the damn line of scrimmage to made sure the stats were accurate.  He traveled in tandem with his wife Binky.  If Teits was covering a game, Binky was right there with him to the end.

The fact is that there’s always been a sort of a battle between the print and television media.  They thought TV people weren’t real reporters and we though they asked some of the dumbest questions you could ask, and that was no clearer than the battle we had with Teits at Channel 7 on High School Football.  Frankly most of the time he beat our ass.  I remember an ass chewing I took from the News Director at Channel 7 because he beat us on Pulaski County Coach Joel Hicks retiring (which, by the way, he didn’t do, later changing his mind).  The ass chewing was deserved particularly when the very day he announced it, I saw coach Hicks scouting a William Fleming football game.  Lesson one learned the hard way as a reporter.  When you see someone talk to them because you never know what you might learn.

Three of the last four years the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame Media Inductee has come from Roanoke roots.  Mike in 2015, Bogaczyk in 2017 and Doughty this year.   In a City its size, that’s frankly miraculous but also an lesson to be learned for those always looking for something bigger and better.  Maybe all you need is right in front of you and the quicker – I can tell you from personal experience – you learn that, the happier you will be.

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About mbrown021851