In the first week of January 2021, I began writing this weekly column in the newspaper you are now reading proclaiming the 51 columns that were to follow would be the “Old Sports Dude farewell tour.” That — surprisingly enough to me but not as much to my wife and those who know me well — proved to be incorrect.
What I thought would be my last year as a professional journalist actually became a bridge to another adventure. But you will read about that a little later in this column.
In fact, five newspapers, including The Meridian Star, has agreed to continue running my column at least through 2022. In today’s column, we are going to take a look back at the highlights of columns written during the first six months of 2021, one month at a time:
JANUARY: In Week 1 it was revealed I was getting out of the journalism business at the end of the year and would be writing about various people, places and things I had met, been and experienced over the 45 years I had been in the business. On Week 2 I shared how the 1969 World Series, a visit to an auto parts store and a couple of sick days from school changed the direction of my life. Week 3 gave me a chance to thank five teachers for the role they played in my life: Mrs. Jayne McKay, my first-grade teacher; Mrs. Judy McLeod, my eighth-grade English teacher and sponsor of the eighth-grade paper (yes, we actually had such a thing); the legendary Tommy Joe Miles, my freshman English instructor; Mrs. Jean Hendrix, who taught me sophomore English as well as speech; and Miss Martha Nabors, who taught me journalism my senior year in high school. I then closed out the month discussing Hank Aaron and his historic 715th home run.
FEBRUARY: We began the month with the story of my “interesting” relationship with former Louisville High School head coach Art Nester (who also coached at Kosciusko and Ackerman) who nearly changed my name, followed by the story of how I actually got into the sports writing business thanks to a phone number passed to me by former Meridian Community College head basketball coach Jim Redgate. The next two weeks I closed out the month sharing about how I interviewed Paul “Bear” Bryant at the age of 20 and then finally got a chance to meet and interview my childhood idol, Phil Niekro, in the Atlanta Braves locker room four years later.
MARCH: I began the third month of the year talking about the most influential coach in my life: my wife, Barbara Bishop. I was the sports editor of The Meridian Star, and she was the head women’s basketball coach at Meridian Community College when we met. We married in 1987 and are still getting a blast out of living life together. The second week I shared a column about the importance of youth league coaches that I had first written in 1991, while in Week 3 I shared a few highlights of my career, including being on the sidelines when then University of Georgia running back Herschel Walker put on a show in Oxford against Ole Miss. I closed out the month sharing about my time as a disc jockey at WLSM in Louisville, going by the name Steve Saxon.
APRIL: I began the month sharing my memories of covering The Masters in Augusta, Georgia, for six years from 1985 through 1990 before moving on to share excerpts from columns I had written 30-plus years ago, including a story about a crazy Shetland pony named “Smokey.” The third week revealed the thought behind my transformation from being a New Orleans Saints fan to a follower of the Carolina Panthers, while the month closed out with the republishing of a 1987 column detailing my total disdain for snakes.
MAY: In May I wrote of Madeline McCown’s first-ever homer and recalled the story of my son’s first and only home run as a high school baseball player. Next came a column analyzing my virtually unusable skill of knowing the mascots of most colleges in the United States — including the Fighting Banana Slugs of the University for California-Santa Cruz. That was followed by my shocking revelation that the NL needed to go ahead and add the DH. Then came the re-run of a 1985 column about my visit to Boston and majestic Fenway Park, followed by a list of 12 sports figures (including John McEnroe, Dale Murphy and the Manning family) with whom I would love to sit down and interview for two hours before my career comes to a close.
JUNE: The month opened with my recalling “massive” homers I witnessed off the bats of Daryl Strawberry, Scott Thorman and Scott Cheek. In Week 2 we discussed the changes that have taken place high school athletics over the years, followed by a column with opinions on expanding the college football playoffs. The next week produced another list of athletes I would like to interview including the pairs of Dennis Hobson and Jay Powell, Jerry Rice and Willie Totten and Bobby Thigpen and Jeff Brantley. The month closed out with the revelation that I was not retiring, but instead was buying the Kemper County Messenger newspaper in DeKalb. Here is the lead to that column: “A funny thing happened on my way to retirement, I bought a newspaper.”
Next week we will recap the last six months of 2021, beginning with July and ending with December. Until then, be blessed!
Austin Bishop, AKA The Old Sports Dude, has been covering high school, college, amateur and professional sports since 1975. He is currently pastor of Great Commission Assembly of God in Philadelphia. He may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.