From the Wayback Machine: Tribute to a true sports writing legend

The other day I wrote about the sad departure of Burlington Times-News sports editor Bob Sutton after 25 years due to corporate layoffs related to the merger of GateHouse Media and Gannett. I noted then that I had worked with the best sports editor in the newspaper’s history — the late Bill Hunter — and Bob, the best to hold the job since Hunter’s retirement in 1989. Upon reading it, my friend and former newspaper colleague Gregg Dickson recalled a column I wrote about Hunter’s retirement that was published on his last official day at the newspaper, June 9, 1989.

I wondered if I still had a copy of that column, written after I left sports writing to be an editor in news. I couldn’t recall seeing it in years and frankly I don’t have many newspaper clips from that part of my career. So I decided not to pull down old plastic containers in what would likely be a fruitless search. But Thursday night I was moving some stuff around in my office at home as part of my ongoing project to tidy up while working in my house during the pandemic. I was reorganizing a plastic container packed with old newspaper stuff when I came upon a purple folder. Inside I found copies of my column and one written by Hunter published on June 11, 1989. The folder was sent to me Lord knows when by former Times-News staffer from that period Thomas Monigan. In an odd coincidence, it was Monigan who hired Bob Sutton as sports editor. I had no idea until Bob told me that himself the other day.

Cue music from “The Twilight Zone.”

So I’ll publish my column here since it hasn’t seen the light of day in a looonnggg time. It was a bit controversial because, well because. In Hunter’s farewell Sunday column he references my column this way, which made me happy to see:

Supposedly I retired Friday. I know because I read it in Madison Taylor’s column, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

This one really is from long ago, as my column photo can attest. And yes, Bill Hunter should still be in the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

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I once told Bill Hunter I’d trade my future for his past.

And I meant it.

But then again, as Yogi Berra said after Mickey Mantle’s MVP season in 1954, “I’d like to have a year like that but I think the nights woulda killed me.”

I think Yogi said that. If he didn’t somebody did but gave Yogi, the Minister of Mangled Language, full credit. Sort of a legend and the man kind of thing.

Not unlike Hunter, who conjured up a lot of legendary exploits  through his 60-odd years. Somewhere in there, down deep, is a dab of fact. And like Brylcreem, a little dab’ll do ya — especially in Hunter’s case. Because if it’s all true, like Yogi may or may not have said …

Oh, by the way, Bill is heading out as the Times-News sports editor today after logging in 37 years of noting the achievements of Alamance County’s sports elite. Some not-so-greats are in there too, but this ain’t no Hall of Shame.

The only shame here is that I won’t get to read any more Hunter columns like the one he wrote in April about GGO winner Ken Green’s pants — “puke green for lack of a better term,” he wrote.

Now that’s not exactly original. Sounds like the way people describe  Hunter’s corduroy pants with the little bitty golfers on them at places like Shamrock Golf Course — or Shamrock Billiards for that matter.

At Shamrock, the golf course, they just call him “Hunter.” The more respectful ones go with “Mr. Hunter.” At Shamrock, the pool hall, it’s “Billy Boy.” It’s an informal kind of place.

Anyway, I just call him “Mr. Bill,” which he doesn’t seem to mind very much. He liked me enough to drag me into Shamrock Billiards one afternoon for a long-necked Schlitz (I passed on the pickled egg.) For more to this story click here.

And it was on that day that I decided Mr. Bill had and will always have about as much fun as a human being possibly could — within the boundaries of good taste, of course. Here’s a guy, I recall thinking, who can start a sentence with “I remember when . . .” and you don’t have to find an excuse to slip away like you would when someone pulls out home movies of his family’s trip to Disneyworld.

It’s been nearly five years since I stumbled into Burlington and I’ve never heard him tell the same story twice. I probably still haven’t heard them all but I know enough to dispel some glaring inaccuracies floating around the county.

— Mr. Bill never kept a fifth of bourbon in his desk drawer. It was a half-gallon.

— He never did wear two left shoes for a solid week. It was really just one night out feasting at a local seafood house.

— He was not one of Alamance County’s most notorious bootleggers, he just knew where all of them lived.

— He does not spend every day at a golf course. It’s every other day and twice on Thursdays for twilight play.

— Hunter never did care who won any game — unless Elon or Duke was playing.

— Those weird cigarettes he smokes — Talls — are not specifically manufactured for him in Lower Alamance. He buys them at the King Bee Market. They are, however, flown in for him from who knows were.

— Dean Smith is not a member of the Bill Hunter Fan Club.

— Hunter did not introduce golf to the French during World War II. He had too many other items up his flak suit.

— Mr. Bill will never drink scotch, unless nothing else is available.

— Bill Hunter is not one of the best sports writers in North Carolina he is the best sports writer in North Carolina.

And by the way, if Bill still wants to trade, I’m willing to talk. But I might have to pass on those corduroy pants with the little bitty golfers on them.

You gotta draw the line somewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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