Roy Exum: Skywriters, Friendships and a Bucket List

Saturday, July 12, 2014 - by B.B. Branton

Every sports writer who ever worked for Roy McDonald Exum back in the day at the Chattanooga News Free Press understood the five keys to being a good writer.

First - be first and be accurate ... "we are a daily (not a weekly) newspaper so get the story in the paper," Exum would say.

Second - be fair

Third - hold 'em accountable

Fourth - get as many names in the prep football story as possible and spell the kids' names correctly .. "because grandmothers buy our paper,too," Exum stated

Fifth- Beat our competition every chance you can

Thursday night at the Tennessee Sports Writers Hall of Fame dinner at Cumberland Univ. in Lebanon, the Lookout Mountain native, who was inducted along with longtime Nashville writer Larry Woody and Knoxville News Sentinel writer John Adams  into the Tennessee Sports Writers Hall of Fame, elaborated on No.4

"We had this one young writer who put 36 players names in his football story which was great. But the only problem was there weren't 36 guys on the team roster," Exum said with a laugh.  "We liked his enthusiasm, but he just got a little carried away."

"X" as his friends call him, also made it clear that while you are in a competitive business to get the big scoop and great story, the friendships one makes over the years with coaches, athletes, parents and other writers are, well, priceless.

"I feel like the man in the New Testament who wanted to see Jesus, but couldn't get in the front door so his friends let him down through a hole in the roof by ropes," Exum stated.  I'm that guy who has been helped by so many friends for so many years."

Yet, hall of famers Joe Biddle and Adams will tell you Exum's friendship to them is priceless and with much humor.

"Roy took me to my first Kentucky Derby and I thought we might meet a few people he knew," stated Biddle, the long time Nashville area sports columnist. "Well, you would have thought Roy was D. Wayne Lukas (hall of fame horse trainer) as everybody, and I mean everybody, there knew Roy. It was incredible and eye opening to say the least."

Adams told a similar Masters episode.

"When we got inside the gates at Augusta National, you would have thought Roy was part-owner of the place as he knew all the waiters, barbers, as well as big time execs and all by first name."

Skywriters: "X" had the great opportunity to be on the college football tour each August prior to the season as writers from all over the South flew from campus to campus (SEC schools) from the late 1960s to early 80s. Thus, the group became known as the Skywriters.

"It was the great era when a ticket was known as a ducat, cagers was slang for a basketball team and writers were known as scribes. It was typing (sometimes on a manual typewriter) faster than one thought possible on deadline after a double overtime game on Saturday night.

"We all wanted the best and most interesting story at each school we visited, but after we all had filed our stories each night, we hung out together, sometimes long into the night, and lifetime friendships were formed over those many years," said Exum.

"I have not seen Joe in 15 years and Larry in 25 (prior to Thursday night) so to be inducted into the hall is great, but having dinner with these guys and other hall of famers and telling old stories is the best part."

Roy's Bucket List: After his induction speech, Exum was asked what his bucket list is for the near future.

A guy who has covered the World Series, Kentucky Derby (25), The Masters (25), the Final Four (8), the Summer Olympics and has seen football games in the L.A, Coliseum and Notre Dame Stadium and all the great places in the South, he kept his requests fairly simple.

"I haven't been to an SEC football game since I left the paper (1999) so that is on my list. But actually, I look forward to making a concerted effort to renew so many old friendships, watch my grandkids grow up and then the one at the top of the list - make it to heaven," he stated with a smile.

At the end of the night, this statement was made.

"Do something for somebody each day to make a difference in their life."

Through his seemingly endless columns and stories over the years, Roy McDonald Exum has done just that, as well as taking a chance and having great insight to see potential (when no one else did) in a young kid looking for his start as a writer. Even one who couldn't type, but would eventually be a national award-winning writer.

contact B.B. Branton at


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