I got a huge kick out of a small story in the newspaper this week that revealed Stephen Hargis and Mark Wiedmer had finished one-two in the annual Tennessee Sports Writers Association competition. When I hired each of them in what seems like years ago, neither of them could spell c-a-t and both thought the best sentence ever written was “For Deposit Only.”
There isn’t a Mother’s Day that ever rolls around that I don’t recall, with great fondness, the day that Stephen’s mother came to see me to ask if her son could have a job. I was a bit intrigued that she would have the gumption to do that but within 30 minutes I was sold and I’d never met the kid. After she brought him by the next day – he was still in high school – I don’t believe he has missed a day since and is today the Assistant Sports Editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The other writers immediately gave him the nickname of “Doogie,” believing he looked and acted like the teenaged TV character, Doogie Howser MD, but once we dusted the bashful off of him there was never any question we couldn’t teach him to be a writer. No, we never knew he would be this good or carry himself so well but he’s a prize and I love every story he writes.
“Weeds,” on the other hand, could actually be his own TV sit-com. What too few people know is that he is easily one of the best portrait artists I have ever seen. The day the late George Clark Jr. brought Mark by after begging me to give the then-starving kid from Birmingham a chance, there was a picture of my five-year-old son on the shelf behind my desk.
Wiedmer joked and laughed with Mr. Clark and me the whole time we talked in quite possibly the strangest interview for a job that has ever been and when I told him to start the next day, he gave me a drawing of Andrew’s face next to mine in a way I still have it.
Mark is a real wordsmith – that’s the artist in him -- and while he’ll flaunt any deadline he faces, the fact he was inducted into the Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame this spring affirms he has a great heart for those he writes about. So does Stephen, who relishes his meager South Pittsburg beginning, and I’m so proud of them I am about to burst with joy.
Back when I took over the sports department for the former Chattanooga News Free Press in the early 1970s, we had five sports writers and sometimes got turned down when we’d request press passes. Because my grandfather was the publisher and I could get away with darn-near anything, “Doogie” and “Weeds” became just two of the greatest crowd of people I have known in my life.
Looking back, I had such a bitter taste in my mouth for phony journalism professors I would only hire people who knew nothing about being a reporter but were instead quality people who each had a hot spark plug. I have no idea how I could tell but along came Clint Cooper, Paul Schultz, Steve Parker and Greg Carter, each a winner.
I hired lovable Stump Martin on a used-car lot. I believe James Beach, a sophomore at Tyner, was the youngest guy we ever hired and he was one of the best. I about had a heart attack when I saw a “James Beach” on the obituary page this week but it wasn’t him.
Randy Winton, Scott Farley and John “Moose” Hunt got in the mix early on and we had a whale of a time together. The late Conner Gilbert, Dan Cook and Rex Sanders were my “father figures” for my “pups,” this before former UTC sports guru Jim Bell steadied the tiller later. All of the Clark boys – George, Shelton and Jeff – worked in the summers with Chris Hayes and there were the girls, Christie Taylor, Joanie McCoy, Stacy Buzzanca, and Ann Dickerson who have turned out so well.
The sharpest sports minds – after Allen Morris died – were B.B. Branton and David Jenkins. They were encyclopedias but David Paschall comes close. David actually started predicting games when he was 8 or 9 and would stand in his driveway to hand them to me as I drove home. True story. I would have hired him at age 12 but the lawyers made me wait.
Trust me, I’m on real thin ice here … It is inevitable I’ll leave some real superstar, like Paul Payne or Glenn Draper or Greg out and they all could have had jobs for life. Paul and Glenn have struck it rich in Montgomery while Greg went to law school as our “Knoxville correspondent.”
I keep up with all my old guys, catching a snippet here and there, and this week, when I read about Stephen and Mark dominating the writers awards, it did me a world of good. Sometime this summer I’m supposed to be inducted into the writer’s Hall of Fame and, while I can’t recall any certain story, I can easily name the reasons I’ve ever gotten any award in my life.
Each is one of my guys and I’ll love them all until I die.