From the Daily Tar Heel to Sports Illustrated

RamFanatic note:

During my recent quest to locate a copy of the Sports Illustrated article on Bill Curry, I electronically met Larry Keith. I had been given his name by Woody Durham as someone who could help me locate the article and an earlier phone call to SI when I talked with one of his work associates convinced me I was on the right track. When I explained to LK's co-worker what I was trying to accomplish, he replied, " Well, I'm sure he will help a fellow Tar Heel". That was all I needed to know.

On the same day I received the BC article, I received an e-mail which contained the following article LK had written a couple of years ago for The Daily Tar Heel. I don't think you are going to like it. I know you are going to like it.

 

Memorial Hall is gussied up now to its former grandeur, but there was a time when it was comfortably worn and welcome. While students lolled in the couches on the first floor or crammed into the tiny "television room", future journalists toiled on the levels above in the frenetic offices of the Daily Tar Heel. Although I worked there for less than a year ( 1967-1968 ), it had a profound effect on the rest of my life. The people I met, the experiences I had, the doors it opened and the paths it cleared made my life what it became. For better or worse, I guess.

If I hadn't heard DTH alumni extol the paper while I was a high school intern at the Charlotte News, I might not even have gone to Carolina. But to hear Pat Stith, to name one alumnus, speak so passionately about his experiences there, left a vision of glamour, excitement and just plain fun. My gosh, think of it... a daily newspaper... covering what they wanted.. the way they wanted... unimaginable.

And so, in the fall of 1967, I transferred from UNC-Charlotte, and became a part of it all myself. As Daily Tar Heel sports editor I traveled with the football and basketball teams, directed a small staff, and put out the pages. It was as unimaginable as I had imagined it to be.

This was a newspaper, a real newspaper, all right, with its own characters and character. I remember a freshman walking into the office one day, wondering if there was something he could do. I gave him an assignment on the spot. Twenty six years later Rick Brewer is still at Carolina as the recently retired Sports Information Director and a member of the SID Hall of Fame. I can remember a sportswriter on the staff, a descendent of William R. Davie, the man who founded the University 200 years ago. This kid had already made a name for himself by pissing off the freshman basketball coach.. The coach went on to become Larry Brown, and the sportswriter, Owen Davis, became an editor at the Detroit Free Press.

I don't mean to run on, but, while I'm at it, I might as well tell you about a few other people. I remember giving some assignments to a cartoonist on campus named Jeff MacNelly. I tried to tell Jeff how to do his work because I was the big shot editor. A few years later Jeff became the youngest person in history to win a Pulitzer Prize. Regrettably, the author of the cartoon strip "Shoe" is dead now, much, much too soon.

I won a prize that year. I was named the top collegiate sportswriter in North and South Carolina.. Impressive, right? So I called the previous sports editor, Sandy Treadwell, to tell him my good news. I knew he would want to hear this because he had failed to win the award the year before. Quite unexpectedly, he said he was glad I called because he happened to have some good news for me, too. Big deal, Sandy, where you going to work, and by the way, did I read you my award certificate? "Sports Illustrated", he said. "Oh", I said, duly chastened. True story. Eventually, he wised up and went on to other things. He's Chairman of the New York State Republican Party now, and despite his politics, a very close friend to this day.

And, how about this for coincidence? MacNelly and Treadwell shared an off-campus apartment that year with another undergraduate and DTHer, an aspiring sportswriter from Boston. He wrote a story for me about baseball at Fenway Park. I mistakenly left off his byline, but if I had remembered to include it, the name would have been Peter Gammons. The same Peter Gammons became the best known baseball writer in the country at the Boston Globe, Sports Illustrated, and now, ESPN. Should you wonder, I can think of at least seven Tar Heels who later joined the SI editorial staff.

Although my Daily Tar Heel tenure coincided with the arrival of football coach Bill Dooley, my favorite sport to cover at Carolina was basketball. ( This was long before the admirable explosion in women's sports. ) I remember going out to Los Angeles for the 1968 Final Four and seeing three things that left a permanent impression on my psyche: Lew Alcindor crushing the Tar Heels, and the UCLA song girls watching Lew Alcindor crush the Tar Heels. Time has changed the name of Alcindor but not the memory of the song girls.

The UCLA cheerleaders are not my fondest vision of those days, however, that may have been the DTH office itself, a second floor walk-up in Graham Memorial. ( This is where I once reserved a 24 inch hole for a 12 inch story, truly a master stroke in the annals of page layout.) Or it could have been the print shop on Franklin St. when the pages started to roll off.

Meanwhile, my grades were going straight to hell. I mean, I couldn't run back to the dorm each night and study after such an exhilarating afternoon and early evening. I was obliged to join some friends at the Rat or the Zoom Zoom Room . Besides, that's what real newspaper men did, and the DTH was definitely a real newspaper

Finally, after the basketball season ended, I had to quit and tend to my grades. I did make a brief comeback after Martin Luther King was assassinated . At the request of editor Bill Amlong, I sat in as managing editor and did my best to bring some journalistic reason to what could have been incendiary coverage of a tragic occasion.

A word in passing about Amlong. After several years as a national political reporter for the Miami Herald, Bill went to law school and now has a successful practice. I introduced Bill to the woman, Pam Amlong, who first became an editor on his staff and later became his first wife. She and Bill used to confer, for long uninterrupted stretches, behind closed doors. Story conferences, I'm sure.

In my mind, at least, the DTH editor always had an advantage in such matters. Before I even transferred to Carolina, I remember the paper giving an editorial endorsement to birth control pills. I wasn't nearly as impressed by the fact that editor Scott Goodfellow wrote such a scandalous thing as by the fact that he needed to ( or so it seemed ). Scott later became a friend, a summer apartment roommate and a television news executive.

I once thought, very briefly, about running for editor myself. I was going to team up with Ron Shinn, another good friend who worked in the Sports Information Office. Ultimately, I chickened out, but it was fun observing the political process at work. The two guys who ultimately opposed each other (Steve Knowlton and the eventual winner, Wayne Hurder, both talked to me about being managing editor if I supported their candidacy. In truth, I was neither a king or a king maker.

I had two other senior year options, though, thanks to two other press box habitués of Kenan Stadium ( where the Brady's fried chicken was the highlight of a fall afternoon ) and Carmichael Auditorium. Orville Campbell, the publisher of the Chapel Hill Weekly and Jim Heavener, the Manager of WCHL, offered me jobs as sports editor and sports director of their respective enterprises. I opted for broadcasting, my father's trade. Campbell, a former DTH editor, is dead now and Heavener developed a Chapel Hil media empire known as VilCom.

Eventually, I wound up at Sports Illustrated, and I can thank the Daily Tar Heel for that too. As DTH sports editor, I had the pleasure of meeting Curry Kirkpatrick, whose own DTH tenure ended when he was fired for writing the immortal headline "Ad Staff Takes It In the Ear." Curry was at Sports Illustrated when we met, and helped me get my job there in the spring of 1970, a few months after I graduated.

I met my future wife at SI and now live in a New York City suburb with the residue of our four kids, one a Georgia graduate in Atlanta, one a senior at Carolina, one a freshman at Georgetown, one a high school freshman and a black Labrador Retriever. The Lab's name is Tara which, by my reckoning, is the female of Tar, as in Tar Heels or Daily Tar Heel. Believe me, she would have been offended if we had named her Duke.

I have to ask myself, what if I had not been enraptured early on by stories of the Daily Tar Heel? What if I hadn't had the opportunity to try it myself. I loved the Tar Heels then, and I love it now. I amazed, truly amazed, at how good it often is, by the excellence of its staff. I hired a former sports editor, Alec Morrison, myself, but I was obligated to do this, having once recruited, in a moment of weakness, a former Duke Chronicle sports editor. In any case, the DTH of today regularly surpasses the work of my era, though I doubt the current phenoms enjoy their experiences any more than we did.

Larry Keith (AB'69) Editorial Projects Director Sports Illustrated