CRAWFORD | Tribute Tuesday: Longtime C-J preps reporter Bob White
Eric Crawford recounts some of the work of Bob White, and reports on a night when a group of his friends gathered to show their support for him.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- When I think of Bob White, I always think of the little index cards.
Everybody had a different memory of Bob when a crowd of us gathered Monday night at Bellarmine to celebrate the long career of the veteran Courier-Journal high school sports reporter. It was a gathering of appreciation and love. Bob was the victim of identity theft earlier this year, and lost nearly everything. This meeting was part of the effort to give something back to a man who has given everything he had to telling the stories of sons and daughters around this city and state.
Back when I started at the newspaper, if you were getting ready to go cover a high school basketball or football game and needed a team’s record, or to see how it did the previous week, or how it did the previous season against its upcoming opponent, you wandered back to Bob’s file cabinets, found the index cards, and there it was, in Bob’s handwriting, or maybe a schedule typewritten on the card, with the scores written in.
There was no Google. There was no record book. The record book was back there, in that corner of The Courier-Journal, where if the Kentucky High School Athletic Association needed to know if a given performance was a state record, often they’d call Bob, or Earl Cox.
As a young kid, just getting started in journalism and the newspaper business, that, to me, was a lasting lesson. Somebody has to collect all that information, basic as it seems. Somebody has to care enough about it to organize it, analyze it, and yes, save it.
In those days, we viewed news as something to be frozen each day, its snapshot taken, set in type, and sent out not only to the streets and breakfast tables, but to the library, a half floor down from the newsroom, where it was cut up, cataloged, archived, and preserved, we thought, forever.
News was history. It was perspective. It was calm and cool in the face of heated events.
Today, news is gone as soon as it is reported. Right or wrong, it rolls along, with new information to replace it. I’ll never forget the new publisher who, upon first seeing the C-J library, questioned why it was even necessary. News today is a river. We stand on the banks and watch it go by. Before we can even digest what we’ve seen, it’s disappeared in the current, and we’re looking at something new. Want to go back? It’s like swimming upstream. If I want to find a television news commentary I did on this date three years ago, I could probably do it. But I’m not sure I could do it. And I am sure that you couldn’t do it.
That’s why, on Monday night, with a community of old journalists, mostly, and coaches, athletic directors and even city officials, we gathered to raise a few dollars, tell a few stories, and recognize all that Bob has done through the years, because Bob not only wrote all those stories, but he is all of them, remembers them and can pull them up at a single mention.
Can it have been back in 2000 when White retired from the newspaper? It’s hard to believe, because he kept on writing, on a free-lance basis, for the next 16 years. His byline has spanned 57 years in the newspaper. I can’t imagine many people who have spent more time in its pages.
Former C-J copy editor Dave Roos remembered a phone conversation from not too many years back with Bob in which they got lost in talking about some great Louisville basketball players of the 1960s. Roos thought Bob was at home, he was well into his 70s by then, free-lancing for the C-J, when he told Bob he’d let him go, to which Bob replied, “Yeah, traffic’s getting pretty bad on the Watterson right now.”
Shoot, Henry Watterson himself was only at the C-J for 49 years.
Bob has gotten locked into some of the most storied sports venues in the state of Kentucky, including Manual Stadium and the press box at the old Cardinal Stadium. He had kept on working, long after everyone else had left. Turns out, he did that at the C-J, too,
Bob's presence at a game came to be something that stamped it as an event.
“If you looked down the sideline and saw Bob White sitting there, you knew it was a big game,” Oscar Brohm said.
“I used to think sportswriting was an art, because I would read him, and you could listen to the stories that he would tell through his writing,” former Kentucky Wesleyan coach Wayne Chapman said. “You could go quarter by quarter, and it sounded like you were at the ballgame. Then you might look at the box score. Now things have changed. Now you might get a little one line, maybe a YouTube video, somebody has to criticize somebody, but he was a real gentleman in the way he handled everyone in sports. He didn’t just cover one town or one county, but he covered all of Kentucky. He’d be in Eastern Kentucky one day, Western Kentucky another day.”
Sacred Heart coach and athletic director Donna Moir praised his contributions to girls’ high school sports. And Jean Porter, a former Courier-Journal editor herself, brought a proclamation from Mayor Greg Fischer’s office.
The last event I recall covering with Bob was a King of the Bluegrass Tournament some years back. Bob was calling a box score in to a paper down in Florida, and the person on the other end of the line was having trouble understanding him. He kept trying to give the school name, “Christ the King,” and I heard him repeat it three or four times, before he got exasperated and said, in his trademark high voice, “Jesus Christ, you've heard of him, haven't you?”
Bob has seen it all, and written about most of it. He's seen every Trinity-St. Xavier football game since 1968.
“I got interested in high school sports when I lived in Lexington, and I was reading the Herald-Leader every day, and they’d run all these little shorts, on schools that no longer exist, but had basketball teams, North Middletown, Great Crossing, Stamping Ground, and I kept reading about those small schools in Central Kentucky, and finally I listened to some games, and I was hooked,” he said. “I saw my first state basketball tournament in 1949 when I was in the eighth grade.”
White had no trouble recounting the best state tournament he ever saw – it featured the great “King” Kelly Coleman, though the 1987 and ’88 duels between Clay County and Ballard ranked high on the list.
“The best I ever saw was in 1956 when Kelly Coleman and Wayland played Shelbyville in the first round at Memorial Coliseum, and it was so crowded there was standing room only,” White said. “Kelly Coleman got 50 that night, and he got 68 in a consolation game on Saturday night after Carr Creek beat Wayland by two points in the semifinal. That was just a great tournament.”
It’s been a great run for White, but he has endured difficulties in life. In two years, he’ll celebrate the 70th anniversary of the first Sweet 16 he ever covered. He wasn’t sure he’d make this year’s event, after his financial difficulties hit, but the KHSAA stepped in, and friends helped out.
“In these past two months, it’s been a wonderful feeling to see how many people realize that they appreciated what you did,” White said. “People from Ashland to Paducah. I went into the state tournament this year and got a $50 handshake from a Hopkinsville man. I guess it wasn’t illegal, but it felt good. When they put up a fundraising site on the internet, I read through the list of people who had given, and it brought back a lot of memories. Every name, and just what they did. Just that they remembered me, and what I did. It really lifted me up, and I was down for quite a while. For all the people who donated and contributed to help me get back on my feet, it just shows you how wonderful people really are. When you need them, they come through for you, and I’ll never forget that.”
Bob didn’t always write the stories that splashed across the front pages of the newspaper. Sometimes, they didn’t even hit the front pages of the Sports section. But today, they fill the pages of scrapbooks from one end of Kentucky to the other. He asked all those who helped support him, also to help support high school sports.
“They’re where it all starts,” he said. “That’s where I saw Wes Unseld play, or Darrell Griffith, Rex Chapman, Jim McDaniels, so many of them, Dicky Lyons, the Brohms, Oscar, Jeff, Brian, Greg, you see them when they start, and get to follow them as they make a name for themselves. I thank the Lord for what he’s done for me, and for letting me stay on high school sports for all these years, from 1959.”
If you want to help Bob White financially, you may send contributions to The Bob White Fund, care of Eugene “Judge” Mosley, 214 Breckenridge Lane, Suite 214, Louisville, Ky. 40207. All money received at that address will go directly to Bob.
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