The press credential: A story

Weldon ticket
Ticket printed in Fort Smith, Ark., to 1934 college football game

My friend Mike Burrows in Denver finds and sends out all sorts of sport-related photos and news stories he comes across.

Mike and I worked together at the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith back in the late ’70s. Today, he is retired from the Denver Post, and I’m retired from The Oklahoman.

Anyway, this morning Mike sent out a photo of a ticket to an Alabama-Mississippi State football game from back in 1934. What caught my eye was the name of the Fort Smith company that printed the ticket, which was in small type at the very bottom.

The ticket and the name of the printing company brought back a vivid memory from my SWTR days.

One day in roughly 1982, the paper’s editor, Jack Moseley, abruptly called me into his office and shut the door behind me. I was the paper’s Sports Editor at the time.

“Did you give someone a press credential to a recent baseball game in Houston between the Astros and St. Louis Cardinals?” he asked.

Why, no I didn’t. Why?

Turns out that someone with a press credential from the SWTR showed up in the press box and disrupted a radio broadcast at the Cardinals-Astros game in the Astrodome.

Apparently, the SWTR “reporter” helped himself to the free beer served to reporters. And overindulged, to be nice.

Then he decided he wanted to meet Cardinals announcers Jack Buck and Mike Shannon.

So, he wandered around the press box level until he found a door that led into the radio booth from which the St. Louis announcers were calling the game.

The “reporter” burst into the room unannounced and caused a commotion. During the game. While Buck and Shannon were attempting to call it.

Needless to say, security was called and the guy was escorted out of the stadium.  Astros officials called Moseley demanding to know why he sent this guy to cover the game.

That’s when Moseley summoned me into his office.

Since neither of us knew what happened, an investigation began and soon revealed the SWTR “reporter” actually worked at the Fort Smith firm that printed the press credential. He merely added his own (real) name on the credential and showed up at the Astrodome.

Comedy ensued, I suppose.

It’s a funny story today, but there was nothing funny to me about this cringeworthy story 40 years ago.

Grateful for the impact of Jerry McConnell

In 1983, I was a very raw young sports reporter at the Southwest Times Record (SWTR) in Fort Smith, Ark., with dreams of some day working at the Dallas Morning news.

Fort Smith was my first stop out of college, and I worked on the sports desk, then the news desk for a couple years, then back to sports as the Sports Editor.

But I dreamed of Dallas and working with the likes of Blackie Sherrod and Randy Galloway. I even wrangled an interview there but came up with no job and the advice to gain more experience.

Then one day a friend with whom I worked on the SWTR news desk — I’ll call her “Patti” — suggested that I send a resume to the Sports Editor of The Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City. His name was Jerry McConnell, and Patti had worked for him when he was the managing editor the Arkansas Democrat in Little Rock.

So, I fired off a resume to Jerry with absolutely no expectations.

By coincidence, my timing turned out to be perfect.

One of the Sports copy editors at The Oklahoman had just quit, and football season was starting.

Jerry gave me a call and asked me to come interview. I drove over to OKC and met with Jerry and his Assistant Sports Editor, Bob Colon.

Jerry hired me, and I relocated to OKC in early September 1983.

Turned out that I was not well prepared for the daily pressure and grind of The Oklahoman Sports Desk. We put out three editions each night, sometimes fully remaking almost the entire section between editions.

I was mistake-prone and unlikely to make an edition’s deadline on any given night. I had no design skills.

But Jerry was a patient editor and boss. Rather than scream at me, or worse, fire me, he allowed me to make my mistakes, and gently helped me grow as a professional. He also was in the office every night until at least the first edition was finished, so he was accessible.

Jerry also shared many fascinating stories from across his long career. I loved to sit and listen to him spin a yarn in his gravely baritone voice.

So, I’ve always been grateful to Jerry for his kind and steady hand as a boss and a friend. He eventually retired from The Oklahoman and moved back to his hometown of Greenwood, Ark.

In retirement, he wrote a book, an oral history of the Arkansas Democrat.

Jerry passed away last June at the age of 92.

To my regret, I only recently learned of his death. You can read his obituary to see what impact he had on his profession and the community, both in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Jerry touched the lives of many, many people in the newspaper industry and beyond. I’ll always be grateful for what he did for me.

My friend Patti was one of those for whom Jerry made a difference. Here’s what she had to say about him:

“He was a super friend to me and taught me a lot in Democrat days… He passed peacefully at home just after we last saw him. His last words to me were, “Love you too babe”… He liked you a lot. I will miss him ever!”

Thank you, Jerry McConnell, for bringing me to Oklahoma City and making a difference in my life.