REFLECTIONS OF A RIVER RAT: Promoting Myself To Columnist
BY JIM HOLLERAN
A few of my old colleagues in the sports department must be snickering today.
“Did you hear that Holleran is trying to become a columnist at 63?’’
“Holleran thinks he can write?’’
“All he ever did was meddle with our copy. Damn editors think they are gods.”
It’s true fellas. In retirement from the Rochester City School District, and before that 30 years in newspapering, I am returning to my roots. I yearn for the joy of storytelling, letting your mind through memories and finding a way to entertain readers.
This foray I can dub Newspaper Lite – I won’t have to worry about edition deadlines, space budgets or job appraisals, or the worst of all – autocratic bosses. I’m shielded from career climbing; I’m focused only on writing.
The origins of this column harken to the mid-1960s when I would tag along with my father, Fran, to the Ogdensburg Journal office. He would drop off information about a Morristown Central School sports banquet or news from the Valley League, a small-schools conference for the likes of Morristown, Hammond, Lisbon, Heuvelton, etc.
In the time it took him to confer with sports editor John O'Donnell, I would wander through the desks or be mesmerized by the teletypes. Their bells announced each story and their typewriter keys hammered out each word from The Associated Press or United Press International onto narrow rolls of newsprint. The newsroom desks were covered in stacks of paper and folders, perhaps an empty styrofoam coffee cup, or an ashtray with butted cigarettes. I found this news nerve center fascinating.
In high school, I asked sports editor Dave Shea if I could cover neighboring schools when Morristown had a basketball bye, and he pitched me $5 for the game story. Holy crap -- I got paid for going to games. What a life!
I remember meeting Chuck Kelly, the big man, not just because of his girth but because he seemingly knew every person, every cause and every controversy in St. Lawrence County. He knew my parents and talked to me like I was already in the newspaper fraternity. “Jimmy,’’ he cautioned, “you have got to be able to cover more than only sports."; His deep baritone had a purposefulness and directness. It was his mildly gruff way of saying, "Be versatile. Get a broad education. Challenge yourself." That led me on the path to Buffalo State College. I was from a sports guy so I initially covered the basketball team, making round trips through the night on buses to Fredonia, Mansfield and Akron. Soon, I was trying to make sense of students arguing at council meetings, running the op-ed page, and managing a staff my senior year as editor of The Record.
The odyssey continued through Bellevue, Ohio, and Lake County, Ohio, and Rochester, through a marriage, three children, four consecutive Super Bowls, a graduate degree in education, three positions within the schools, refereeing high school basketball and lacrosse, a history book, Lyme disease and assorted injuries, a pandemic, and the inability to break 80 on a consistent basis. A friend once told me I should write down all my stories – I am beginning.
When I asked Dave Shea if I could contribute columns to this website, I judiciously neglected to mention that two of the three newspapers that employed me have since folded. It would be like bring up your prison record on the first date.
I want this column to be good for Frances Murphy Campbell, the BSC professor who on the first day of Newswriting 101 gave me 15 minutes and a fact sheet, then admonished me for writing on a legal pad instead of “thinking on a typewriter.’’
I want this to be good for my former French teacher, Mary Spilman, a savvy news connoisseur who daily sampled the Journal, Watertown Daily News, Time, Newsweek and WWNY.
I want this to be good for former Morristown mayor Cindy Bailey Holmes, who always got a kick out of my letters during college, and continues to keep the pulse of the North Country.
I want this to be good for local sports devotees like Larry Casey of Canton and Robin Dulmage of Hammond, or Ogdensburg lifers like Toots Tooley and Stevie Boy LaRose, who dubbed me Home Run Holleran even though my father the baseball coach announced in front of the team, “You didn’t knock down any fences this spring.’’
I want to tell stories about the runaway cart at St. Lawrence State Park golf course and my friend’s cottage at Blind Bay and life at St. John the Evangelist with Sr. Ironpants and thrillriding in eight-passenger school vans on the Pope Mills Road, before they straightened out some of the curves and moguls.
For myself, I want these arrays of words to be humorous, nostalgic, clear and concise, but most of all entertaining. I hope you’ll return on a regular basis.
Jim Holleran, a Morristown native, is a retired teacher and registrar for the Rochester City School District and former sports editor of the Democrat and Chronicle. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.