- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 9, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

SALISBURY, N.C. — Here’s what the late, great Atlanta sports columnist Furman Bisher wrote nearly 50 years ago about sportswriters and sportscasters heaven — Salisbury, North Carolina:

“The swallows have Capistrano. The movie-makers have Cannes. Mountain climbers have the Matterhorn. The Irish have St. Patrick’s Day.

“Geese fly south for the winter. The dead ‘go west.’ Salmon swim upstream.

“Stanley had Livingston. George Burns had Gracie Allen. Tinker and Evers had Chance. Tarzan and Jane had ‘Boy.’

“Sports writing and sports casting types well, they have Salisbury, county seat of Rowan.”

To which, after spending three days here in Salisbury for the 56th annual National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association awards weekend, I can only add that, given the climate of the times and the regard for our profession — Butch Cassidy and the outlaws had Hole in the Wall, sports writing types and sportscasting types are still welcome with open arms in Salisbury.

Sports writers and broadcasters flocked to the small town outside of Charlotte to be honored for the work they do in their respective fields — at a time when that work is often publicly ridiculed and attacked by anonymous critics with keyboard muscles, or dismissed by wealthy athletes with agent-driven personal web sites.

Writers and broadcasters from each state — and the District of Columbia — are selected by the NSSA peers to be honored for that year as the sports writer or sportcaster of the year. I was fortunate enough to be selected for D.C. Sportswriter of the Year, and here is the rest of the local roll call:

CSN Washington’s Joe Beninati, the voice of the Washington Capitals, was selected as co-D.C. sportscaster of the year, along with Washington Nationals MASN Sports play-by-play announcer Bob Carpenter.

Maryland winners were Johnny Holiday, the voice of the Maryland Terrapins and MASN’s Nationals studio show co-host, and Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec. Our other neighbors south in Virginia were Wes McElroy, morning host on Fox Sports 910 radio in Richmond, and David Teel, sports columnist for the Daily Press.

National winners were Sports Illustrated Tom Verducci for Sportswriter of the Year and Mike Emrick, NBC Sports lead hockey announcer. Inducted into the NSSA Hall of Fame were legendary Dayton Daily News baseball writer Hal McCoy, and broadcasters Bill Raftery, Leslie Visser, and the great Dick Schaap posthumously.

It was McCoy who said it best when he described Salisbury as “the only town in America that still loves sportswriters and sportscasters.”

It is a weekend of sports panel and programs about the industry, but it is primarily a safe haven where a sportswriter like the great Bob Ryan from Boston can talk shop with a sportswriter from a small daily newspaper in Montana — or, as was the case before one program at Hendricks Motorsports honoring the contributions of the late Stuart Scott and Roone Arledge to the sports broadcasting business, a chance for professionals to join together as fans and watch history made at the Belmont Stakes as American Pharoah became horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since 1978. The crowd full of sportswriters and sportscaster cheered as the horse crossed the finish line.

NSSA was the brainchild of sorts of local boxing promoter and restaurant owner Pete DiMizio, who was friends with local media members and started the North Carolina Sportscaster and Sportswriters Association in 1953 to honor them. DiMizio died in 1958, but a group of Salisbury residents decided to not only continue the organization, but to expand it nationally. In 1960, the first awards program was held, and two years later the Hall of Fame was started, with the late Grantland Rice as its first inductee.

It has grown in stature and presence since then, and now, according to executive director Dave Goren, a former Winston-Salem sports broadcaster, may soon have an actual physical Hall of Fame and Museum soon, as the association has partnered with Catawba College, the local Division II school in Salisbury, to raise money for a headquarters and museum that would also house the school’s new sports communications program.

For an industry that often seems under siege, Salisbury is an oasis of hope. “We get to help young sportscasters and sportswriters,” Goren said. “And once a year, I get to meet some of the best of the best at what we do from all over the country. The awards weekend recharges batteries and — I hope — leaves people with hope about our business.”

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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