Springs and summers usually come and go but this year has been different. Let me count just some of the ways.
1 I am a member of Baylor’s Retired Professors and Administrators Club (Yes, I was invited years ago, while sports editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald, to teach an editing and page makeup class one semester at Baylor.) That made me eligible to belong to this club. While attending a luncheon meeting of that club on May 26 of this year, I was greeted by the news that Baylor President Ken Starr and Baylor football coach Art Briles had just been fired by Baylor regents that morning.
That was a luncheon I won’t soon forget. The luncheon crowd was stunned and it showed. And conversations about the regents’ decision that day have been going non-stop in Waco since that day. The comment I’ve heard expressed most often: “I thought Briles was hired to coach the football team, not to run the Title IX Office. So what gives?”
And when several weeks later Baylor formally installed three new members of the Board of Regents in a ceremony held at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame (which I attended), most people who were there seemed to be still stunned, shocked and maybe a little bitter.
A little later, Jim Grobe, former coach of Wake Forest, was hired as Baylor’s interim coach for this football season. Grobe was the main speaker at the Waco Rotary Club this past Monday and I was there. He impressed the Rotary audience, stressed all the right things and showed a good sense of humor. The large audience was impressed.
Since the day Briles was ousted, athletic director Ian McCaw has resigned and former Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades has been hired to replace him. Rhoades is now on the job, and I was told by one good source last week that Rhoades is saying he will have a new coach for Baylor football hired by the end of this season. I’m also told there are three top possibilities. But I’m not going to speculate.
2 Texas Football Magazine, which is now 57 years old (and I am now 91), started offering its many fans the annual summer edition that will have my autograph on the cover if those fans will buy a “Champions” subscription about 25 days before our next publication date (in other words, by May 30 of 2017).
Subscribe now or by Sept. 30 and you also will get a 2016-17 Texas Basketball Magazine, plus the 2017 summer football magazine. The Champions subscription package costs $35.95 if connected to a non-profit entity, which would receive a $15 donation. For more particulars on that, call one of my associates, Taylor Sexton, at 972-428-1990.
This June, for the first time, the Texas Farm Bureau Insurance started putting my autograph on the cover of certain 2016 Texas Football Magazines and providing them free to all Texas High School football coaches. That sound you hear from all over the state comes from coaches applauding that particular decision.
Many of them have told me they appreciate the decision and hope the Texas Farm Bureau Insurance will continue doing so. It was a great public relations move.
3 Back in very late July, former star Baylor golfer Jimmy Walker won his very first major golf tournament.
I watched Walker’s final round in the PGA Championship on my TV screen at home. You probably read more about that particular triumph in the Trib’s latest monthly magazine, “Waco Today,” and how two Wacoans, Jonathan Grant and his young son Luke, were there to see Walker win the championship personally. Julie Campbell Carlson wrote about it in her monthly column, “About Town.” (Julie is my daughter and my wife Reba, and she is a better writer than her father ever was.)
The last time I checked, since turning pro Walker has won more than $20 million. And surely there’s more to come.
He’s got many tournaments to go before he retires. As a matter of fact, I think he’s looking forward to being a part of the U.S. Ryder Cup team this fall.
4 As probably most of you old-timers know, I love tennis. I started playing regularly when my high school (La Vega in Bellmead) built some cement courts behind the high school when I was a junior, enabling some of us to play regularly.
Hornor Shelton and I played together in doubles when we were seniors, and we won both the county and district meets but got trounced in regionals held in Denton. But by then I was hooked.
I continued to play after returning from World War II. Lawrence Lacy and I once won the doubles championship at Ridgewood. But what I remember even more fondly is playing in a media-pro tennis tournament held at a new residential development near Conroe. I won my way playing singles to reach the finals, then drew the great Australian pro Roy Emerson as my partner for doubles.
Our opponents in the finals: the tennis legend and Grand Slam winner Rod Laver and his partner. So the Campbell-Emerson team won the ensuing set and I got to bring home a great color photo (which I still have hanging in my office at home).
All that is history. What is more recent is the story that ran recently in “Tennis Magazine.” The story was about the great Andre Agassi, and his unforgettable retirement speech at the 2006 U.S. Open. By then he was 36 years old and ranked No. 7. He had won a Grand Slam in 1999 but now it was 2006 and he was through after beating two quality opponents, Andrei Pavel and Marcos Baghdatis.
The fire in his back raged. His loss to 112th-ranked Benjamin Becker was a sad journey to a safe place. He was “ready for the end,” the story said.
I remember standing in a restaurant in downtown Waco with my daughter Julie, watching Becker win that televised match and celebrating. In my opinion, Becker and Benedikt Dorsch were the two best tennis players Baylor has ever had. They were the standouts when Baylor won the NCAA men’s championship in 2004 in matches played in Tulsa, and they took unbeaten and the No. 1-ranked Baylor team to the NCAA finals played at Texas A&M the next season.
But there they were upset by UCLA. I was stunned. Becker won the NCAA men’s singles championship in 2004 and Dorsch did the same in 2005. I was fortunate enough to see all those matches while serving as editor of the Baylor Bear Insider.
Both Becker and Dorsch were great players. Becker turned pro and is still winning matches, including early matches in the latest Wimbledon. I’m told Dorsch is gainfully employed, living in Chicago and playing tennis for fun.
5 A story on page one of the Trib’s sports section on Aug. 24 said “It’s Official,” and went on to say “Investors reveal plans for pro baseball in Bellmead.”
Too bad my old tennis-playing buddy Bernard Rapoport (we played a set of singles six days a week and doubles on Sunday for about 25 years) is not still alive to be a part of it. I can’t count the times Rapoport talked about bringing pro baseball back to Waco.
The Baylor baseball stadium certainly was inviting enough — baseball diamond, scoreboard, fences and grandstands — but the sale of beer would be a no-no and Rapoport did not think a franchise could survive under such circumstances. How about the MCC diamond? Not enough seating, not enough parking area. He kept looking as he kept getting older. But of course he finally gave up.
What he did not do was give up on baseball. He loved baseball. And so he rounded up about four of us one spring day and paid for a plane to fly all of us to Florida once to see the Houston Astros in spring training (when Drayton McLane Jr. owned the Astros). He also flew us to Scottsdale, Arizona, to watch the Texas Rangers go through their spring paces.
What I will never forget is seeing the Cleveland Indians in one of those spring games when Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller was there. Once a famous fireballer but now old, like “B,” and sitting in a chair on the third base side of the stands, Feller was signing autographs. Rapoport stood in line for maybe 10 minutes and he got the autograph, but most of all he got to talk to Feller for an extra five or so minutes. I don’t think he ever forgot it.
6 On April 12, 1992, a year or so before I retired as sports editor of the Trib after a tenure of 40 years in that position, the Sunday editor asked me to write a history of sports in Waco. It was a very long story, going back to the pioneer days in Waco when horse racing was highly popular and the city had a track. This past spring I was asked to bring that story up to date, and I tried to do a more thorough job this time and widen the search to McLennan and Bell Counties. If put together, those two stories would run as long as the proverbial well rope.
But much has happened here and thereabouts since 1992. Indeed, so much has happened both at the high school level, the junior college level, the senior college level and even off the field of play that I had to research for days to finally get it all down on paper. That’s quite a bit of sports history that occurred in the last 30 or 40 years in those two counties.
7 This was a long-sought triumph: I have landed Baylor’s all-time winningest football coach Grant Teaff to speak on the annual Dave Campbell Night at Austin Avenue Methodist Church on Thursday, two nights before the SMU-Baylor football game here at McLane Stadium.
This will be a significant time for Teaff to speak. He can tell us what coach Grobe faces in view of what he has inherited, and Teaff can recall how he handled the situation at Baylor after stepping into the head coaching position Bill Beall had lost and Rudy Feldman had accepted and then turned down about 24 hours later.
It promises to be a special night. I hope you will be there. The activities begin at 6 p.m. with a barbecue dinner provided by Uncle Dan’s. Admission fee is $18. Call 254-754-4685 before 5 p.m. on Tuesday to make reservations.
Another Baylor football season is upon us. As for me, I refuse to be a pessimist. The Bears will have some good weapons, they will create some headlines. You can count on it. But I do think they will have to be lucky on injuries.