Sam Woolwine Enters Sportswriters Hall of Fame

Thursday, July 12, 2012 - by B.B. Branton

For more than 40 years sports writer Sam Woolwine has honored and given recognition to hundreds of athletes and coaches and their accomplishments through the printed word.

Tonight at Cumberland University (Lebanon, Tenn.) the Tennessee Sportswriters Association will honor Woolwine, a former sports editor with the Chattanooga Free Press, by induction into its hall of fame along with Ron Higgins (Memphis Commercial-Appeal), Marion Wilhoite (Columbia Daily Journal) and the late Tom Anderson (Knoxville Journal).

“I have never entered writing contests or sought awards, but have used my talents as a writer to give athletes and coaches the important platform of the newspaper to make others aware of their talents and accomplishments,” said Woolwine who is also a member of the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame.

“I am humbled with this honor as a hall of fame inductee and it was a big surprise when I was contacted a few months ago.”

The Ceredo, W. Va. native’s hall of fame career has run the gamut from the preps to the pros from writing weather reports at the age of 17 to covering the Masters, the NCAA Basketball Final Four and Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game.

He chaired the 1996 NCAA Men’s Golf Championship at The Honors, directed two NCCAA national basketball tournaments, has given leadership to numerous charity golf tournaments, including Bethel Bible Village and chaired the Nike Tour in Chattanooga for seven years.

“As a Christian, I believe our talents are gifts from the Lord and we are to use those talents to the best of our ability,” he stated.

“I feel I am a good writer, have a good vocabulary and do a thorough job in researching my subject and doing my homework.”

Those solid writing skills and subject knowledge has taken the 69-year-old Woolwine from that front page weather story as a teenager for a Huntington, W.Va. paper to bylines in national publications, including Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Golf World.

Life’s Mentors

Woolwine points to his first grade teacher, Eloise Cox, and award-winning newspaper columnist Jack Hardin, as key people in his life at a young age.

“I had asthma and pneumonia at an early age and almost died before entering kindergarten which led to a reading disorder in the first grade,” said Woolwine.

But thanks to Mrs. Cox, she took the time to work with a young Sam Woolwine to develop his reading skills so he was reading at a fifth grade level in the third grade.

“No doubt, Mrs. Cox had more influence on my academic life than any other teacher, including those in college,” stated Woolwine who graduated from Ceredo-Kenova High School in 1961 and lettered in football and baseball.

Woolwine credits Hardin with his journalism career.

“Jack helped me get a full scholarship to Marshall University where I studied journalism for two years before entering the Air Force. Without that scholarship no telling where I would be today.”

Golf Writing Career

Hired by owner and publisher Roy McDonald at the Chattanooga Free Press in the fall of 1968, Woolwine – who grew up playing baseball and football – the sports staples of the 40s, 50s and 60s – was given the undaunting task of covering golf and competing for stories with the established Chattanooga Times reporters.

“I didn’t know a birdie from a bogey when given the golf beat,” said Woolwine with a laugh.

Raised in a community engrossed in Little League Baseball - five state championships - and high school football - 10 state championships in 21 years - Johnny Unitas, Jimmy Brown, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were everyday words, rather than Ben Hogan, Sam Sneed and Arnold Palmer.

“I grew up following the Baltimore Colts in the National Football League and the Cincinnati Red and Brooklyn Dodgers in Major League Baseball. Reading about the leaders at The Masters and the British Open was not part of my sports page diet, to say the least.”

But thanks to Chattanooga Times and hall of fame golf writer Eddie Davidson and amateur great Betty Probasco, Woolwine quickly became adept at the finer points of the game and chased the little white ball around various 18-hole courses as well as reported on various tournaments.

“I am also forever appreciative that my boss Roy Exum at the Free Press, along with E.T. Bales and Austin White, gave me the latitude of covering and organizing so many charitable golf events over the years for adults and juniors, including the Cola Cola Juniors and the City Prep Golf League,”  Woolwine stated.

“Roy McDonald had the pulse of the people, knew what they wanted to read and allowed Roy Exum and others in our sports department to cover so many events in a wide variety of sports.’

“It’s mind-boggling that a paper our size had two big sports sections every Sunday for years. That was unheard of in the newspaper industry, but we did it.”

And it’s pretty impressive what Woolwine has done for more than 40 years with his God-given talents, whether it has been Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Reggie White football clinics for kids or Pat Boone and others at Bethel Bible Village.

“I am grateful for having worked at a paper which had Christians in leadership positions and allowed my to write so many stories about athletes and coaches and their faith in Jesus Christ.”

Tonight, his peers say thanks for a job well done.


contact B.B. Branton at

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