By Herb Stutz
For Ike Gellis and Jim Tuite, it was a stone’s throw from offices at the New York Post and New York Times. For Larry Press, it was a trip from Bakersfield, Calif. Those three were joined by 123 others who decided it was time to rally around a cause. They descended on New York’s City Squire Inn June 4, 1974.
It was the first meeting of an organization that later that day was named the Associated Press Sports Editors. For most it was a first meeting of people who for years had talked by phone about the Associated Press service. It was the day of the slower-than-slow sports wire, when editors viewed the AP as an expensive cooperative that left much to be desired.
So they came to tie the can to the AP’s tail, and tie it they did. Fortunately, as in the case of any infant, APSE grew up. The constant harping is gone, thanks to the hard work not only of the APSE leadership but also of a succession of AP sports editors, Wick Temple, Byron Yake, Darrell Christian and Terry Taylor.
Those adversarial experiences have been replaced by serious endeavors that have immersed us in the important issues of the day. As a result, APSE continues to make a huge impact on the journalism profession.
But, as APSE prepares for its 25th convention, it should be noted that growing up didn’t come without stress, concern, sweat and tears. Nothing of value ever does.
One stressful issue was financial stability. The organization has been close to bankruptcy three times: in 1978, when the convention was at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas and we were charged heavily for everything, including in Dave Smith’s words, “even the ashtrays;” in the winter of 1979-80, when president Bill Millsaps and treasurer Hal Bodley lent $5,500 to keep APSE afloat, and then again after the 1986 convention in Phoenix, where, after the bills were paid, the treasury was almost empty.
Enter USA Today’s Henry Freeman, the first vice president who would become president in June 1987. Freeman formed a small committee at the winter meeting, and, after two days of discussion, came up with APSE’s version of the Gramm-Rudman Act. Freeman persuaded each Executive Committee member to consider a change in the bylaws that would require presidents to live by a budget. The Executive Committee approved the first reading, and, in June at the Orlando convention, the bylaws amendment was approved on second reading and became official. APSE is now on sound financial ground.
In our near quarter-century history, no year was more significant than 1981. That’s when the Red Smith Award was initiated, with Red himself selected as the first honoree. A long list of those who made major contributions to sports journalism followed, with Sam Lacy of the Baltimore Afro-American scheduled to become the 18th honoree June 26.
It was also the year that the contest was started, with its purpose to single out the best writing and sections. As one wag has often said, “The contest always brought out the best and worst in us; from honoring the best, to the sacrificial effort everyone put into the judging, to the constant complaining and changing of the rules.”
The contest has been a flashpoint of disagreement, but it has been invaluable, not so much for who won but because it provided an opportunity to see how others did things, to discover story ideas you could adapt, to display your work to a lot of peers.
The next year marked the introduction of professional development workshops to the convention program. Van McKenzie, first vice president and planner of the 1982 convention at Tarpon Springs, was the force behind the idea after seeing it work for the College Sports Information Directors of America. The workshops were a hit and have been a staple of each convention since then.
Since its inception, APSE has moved conventions around, with the idea that sports editors from even the smallest papers might be able to attend occasionally. Many felt that APSE had arrived in 1983, when the convention was on the West Coast — Santa Monica — for the first time. A record 153 registered. Seven years later that record was smashed by the 220 who attended in Boston.
In the early years the leadership was concerned that newspaper management might think the winter meeting was a boondoggle. So we went to places like Indianapolis, where in 1978 the members awakened to a temperature of 22 degrees below zero. Since 1982 the meetings have been held in warmer climes — at Tampa from 1982 through 1988 and alternating between Los Angeles and the Florida West Coast since 1989.
Ethics have always been a major concern, from that June 1974 day when Norman Isaacs, editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, ripped sports editors for “running the toy departments” of their newspapers — thus not being taken seriously by their peers — and for taking free tickets and accepting free travel.
APSE’s leadership, led by founding fathers Dave Smith (Boston Globe), Joe McGuff (Kansas City Star and Times), Wayne Fuson (Indianapolis News), Earl Cox (Louisville Courier-Journal) and Ed Storin (Miami Herald), responded. Bodley drafted ethics guidelines, and he says he still bears battle scars. The guidelines underwent a major revision in 1991. Harsh discussions are always involved in this area.
Ethics are one of many sticky subjects APSE has tackled. Locker-room access is another. The organization got involved in 1984, when incoming president Jay Searcy appointed outgoing president Vince Doria to chair a committee to draft guidelines that were later sent to each professional sports league and the NCAA.
The outgrowth was the 1985 formation of the External Affairs Committee and its commissioners subcommittee. APSE members meet each spring in New York with commissioners of most of the pro leagues to share concerns. This April the committee also met with Cedric Dempsey, executive director of the NCAA.
Another outreach that has paid dividends has been the credentials cooperation between APSE and the U.S. Olympic Committee and the NCAA. The APSE/Olympic Committee venture dates to 1987; the NCAA has enlisted APSE’s help for the Final Four since 1992.
Those ventures have been mostly positive; relationships with the writers groups have not always been so successful. Some reporters who work for us belong to groups that often differ with us on ethical grounds. Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times attacked the problem during his presidency (1988-89), when he appointed Storin, then associate managing editor of the Miami Herald, to chair a 16-member writers group subcommittee to act as a liaison. Ten years later, we’re still trying to get a handle on this. At this year’s winter meeting in St. Petersburg, president Tim Ellerbee asked Dwyre to take over the chair of the writers group subcommittee.
At that same meeting, Ellerbee took a significant step to insure the continuation of one of APSE’s most important efforts — the Sports Journalism Institute. Begun in 1993, the Institute brings together female and minority college journalism students for a week of instruction and production of the APSE Bulletin at the convention. The interns go on to summer jobs at member papers and receive small APSE scholarships.
In the five years of its existence, under the leadership of former president Sandy Bailey and Leon Carter, the effort has produced 65 graduates, many of whom are sports journalists today. At Ellerbee’s urging, the Executive Committee voted to commit $21,000 in unbudgeted funds over the next three years as seed money for the program.
Two other initiatives that have had an impact are the drive-in workshops and the one-on-one section critiques at the convention.
The brainstorm of former president Dale Bye, the twice-a-year workshops were begun in 1995 to afford reporters and editors the opportunity to learn from the best clinicians at a nominal cost. The program has moved around the country; the most recent was in April at Concord, Calif.
The idea of convention registrants critiquing other registrant’s papers was fostered by Rick Vacek at the urging of former president Paul Bowker and has been a feature of the two most recent conventions.
From those beginnings in New York, when the main goal was to do battle with the AP, APSE has grown into a viable force to help newspapers improve their products by helping to train, polish and challenge their sports editors.
Herb Stutz, who contributed the piece above prior to the 1998 convention, attended every APSE convention until he retired in 1994 as sports editor of the Orange County edition of the Los Angeles Times. He was APSE’s president in 1985-86 and served as the organization’s convention coordinator 1997-2007.
Stutz passed away on March 23, 2020 in Prescott, Ariz. He was 90.