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Dave Walsh: Four decades of sports coverage


The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — It started on Oct. 14, 1974. It ended on July 10, 2017.

What is it? My career in journalism that spanned 42-plus years.

Dave Walsh

On my fourth attempt at deciding on a major at Marshall University, I opted for journalism. History, no. Economics, no. Physical Education, no even though I came to Marshall on a football scholarship. Thank goodness for Dr. George Arnold, Dr. Ralph Turner and Dr. Daryl Leaming, professors in the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications. They were the guiding forces for me in the beginning. I made it past the first hurdle.

When it came time to enter the workforce, I applied for an opening at the Huntington Advertiser, an afternoon publication in Huntington. Managing editor Don Hatfield and sports editor Lowell Cade took a chance on a 22-year-old rookie. I got lucky/hired. My first job was just a few blocks from home (1006 12th Ave.). Along with Bud Perry, a writer on the Advertiser sports staff, they showed me the ropes. I remember my first interview. It was with Jim Thornburg, then head football coach at Buffalo High School. That should’ve told me something.

As the early years passed, I got more comfortable in my job. Then in 1979, Gannett merged the Advertiser with the morning Herald-Dispatch. What now? No job and a wife (Mary Ann) and two children (Amy and David Joe) at home. Went for interviews at The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., and Ithaca Journal in Ithaca, N.Y. Ithaca it was as I got to keep my Gannett years of service. On the flip side, the move to upstate New York meant trips to my wife’s home in Charleston and my parents in Suffolk, Va., would be lengthy to say the least. I won’t forget the day we left Charleston for our new home. My father in law couldn’t come out to say farewell. It was that tough on him having two young grandchildren move so far away. Remember, no cell phones and instant videos then.

The five-plus years in Ithaca proved to be a great learning experience. Ithaca was a two-college town. Division III Ithaca College on South Hill and Ivy League member Cornell on East Hill. The Ivy League folks. This is when I learned the sports world went past football, basketball and baseball. Boss Kenny Van Sickle assigned me to cover one I knew nothing about, but came to love over time and still watch to this day. Lacrosse. Van Sickle was to the Journal what my dear friend Ernie Salvatore was to The Herald-Dispatch.

Travel at the Advertiser wasn’t extensive. That changed in Ithaca and stayed that way to the end. Trips to Syracuse, Rochester, Lake Placid, Endicott, New York City and Boston to name a few. Saw West Virginia native Barney Thompson play a PGA TOUR event in Endicott and three-putt the final hole one year to miss the cut by a shot. Going to Niagara Falls was a scream. To see the powerful falls from the Maid of the Mist with wife and children in rainsuits was breathtaking. That trip included a 30-minute sojourn into Canada and back. I’ll never forget the trip to Lake Placid in 1980. Just two weeks after the USA hockey team’s “Miracle on Ice” in the Winter Olympics, I sat in the same building to watch Ithaca High play for a state title. I could only wonder how a town the size of Lake Placid pulled it off.

Winter weather was something else, but our daughter missed just one day of school and that was due to frozen pipes at the school, not roads. Career wise, our paper did win Best of Gannett in 1982. That’s the only time I got to meet Gannett boss Al Neuharth. We made one trip to New York City. My one regret is not making it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown which was about two hours away.

A few years later, another career move. The stay in Wilmington, Delaware was short. Worked on the desk. Rides to Charleston and Suffolk became shorter. Atlantic City was just over an hour away. Made that trip once, too. Then it was back to Huntington in 1984. It was still 473 miles to Suffolk, but only 50 to Charleston and my wife’s parents welcomed our return.

Since my return to the Mountain State, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover many major events. Marshall’s trip to the I-AA national championship football game in 1987 in Pocatello, Idaho (with a 10 p.m. kickoff). The Thundering Herd’s been on a roll since. Can’t forget 2006 when I got a part in the movie “We Are Marshall” as an assistant Xavier football coach and got to go to Hollywood for the premiere. Me and Matthew McConaughey! Top that! Been blessed to write many moving stories about people with connections to the Marshall plane crash on Nov. 14, 1970. And thanks to former Young Herd coach Jack Lengyel, I got to attend an Army-Navy game in Philadelphia and Notre Dame-Navy game in South Bend. Lengyel was AD at Navy at that time.

I came to learn just how big the name Bill Campbell was in golf. He called Huntington home. The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs has held a Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, Senior Tour event and now has a PGA TOUR stop. I saw Stuart Appleby hole a birdie putt on the 18th hole the final day in 2010 to shoot 59 and win the championship.

Huntington took a shot with hockey in 1993 with the Huntington Blizzard entering the East Coast Hockey League. Who can forget the 16-1 loss at Nashville on Jan. 30, 1994, the same day the Dallas Cowboys beat the Buffalo Bills, 30-13, in Super Bowl XVIII in Atlanta. The team closed up shop after the 1999-2000 season. In seven years, the Blizzard made the playoffs three times.

Sports also involves dealing with many personalities, one being coaches. They know it’s hired/fired. There’s been one constant. Wrestling at Huntington High (old and new). Since I’ve been around, an Archer has been in charge. First Bill, then son Rob. How special it was when the Highlanders won the West Virginia Class AAA title for the first time in 2013 and repeated in 2014. They made my job fun.

Over four decades, methods of covering events has changed. I learned on a typewriter. Now, it’s social media to the hilt. Texting, tweeting, snapchat, instagram and whatever comes down the pike, results are known as soon as an event is over. I have gotten better in that area. Should’ve seen all the texts I sent at The Greenbrier Classic.

There’s a flip side to all this work/fun. It requires being away from home a lot. Needless to say I missed out on some big family moments, managed to get recaps but that’s not the same as being there. It wasn’t easy for Mary Ann, Amy or David Joe, but they survived. Starting this week, I get to play catchup and I’ve got a lot of that to do. And add first grandchild Jackson, who turns 1 year old on July 26, into the mix and it’s let the good times roll.

I made many friends in and out of work over the years. My No. 1 goal was to serve the reader and be accurate doing it. I leave some good friends this week in boss Rick McCann, Grant Traylor, Tim Stephens and Chuck Landon. Believe it or not, I’m sitting in the same spot I did 42 years ago. I’ve offered to help out in the future if needed, but terms must be in my favor. I can remember when I was little and my dad often encouraged me to make sure when I went to work, I had a job I enjoyed doing. Dad, I did. And I got paid to do it.

So long.

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