[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Gentry: We've talked about women in sports. What advice would you have to young women sportswriters starting out?
Garber: I remember when I was getting ready to go into newspaper work and well-meaning adults would always get me to meet with people who were in the newspaper business and have them give me advice and I always listened very politely and it went in one ear and out the other. And I'm sure anything I'm going to say now is going to go in one ear and out the other with young people listening to this tape. hat I have to say applies to women, of course, but if there happen to be any men sneaking in and listening to this, it applies to them just as much.
First of all, obviously you have to have a good education. And the debate with any person who goes into newspaper work is should I go to a strict liberal arts college or should I go to a journalism school. I've heard that debated over the years and I've debated it with myself. I went to a liberal arts college, never went to journalism school. I think it's really a matter of personal opinion, whatever you want to do. If you do go to a liberal arts college, you need to get as broad an education as possible. Even if you go into sportswriting, you need to have knowledge of a great many subjects and possibly it might be a good idea to major in something like sports management or something to that event if you are definitely going into sportswriting. But I would suggest that you don't paint yourself into a corner like that because you might decide at the last minute you don't want to go into sports.
Journalism school, of course, can give you a good background in practical journalism and how to write and how to make up pages and all the other things that you get in a journalism school. And it's a very good thing to have. The thing that you have to remember, though, is that when you go to work, you are going to have to follow whatever trends or whatever regulations or whatever ways that your particular paper covers what they're doing. And it may not be the same way that you were taught in journalism school. There's nothing that makes an editor madder than for you to come in and say, "Well, that's not the way we did it at such-and-such journalism school." If you want to lose your job in a hurry, that's a good way to do it.
And it's never too early to start if you are interested in newspaper work. You can start when you're in grammar school, as far as that goes, if anyone that young is listening to this. And you can certainly start in high school. One of the things that I suggest young writers doing, particularly if they go into sports, is to pretend you're covering the game. Go to it and watch it or listen to it on television or radio and keep a play-by-play. Then sit down when the game's over and write your story just as if you're a newspaper reporter at the game. Then compare your story with the story that is in your local paper or in the various local papers. Go to the library and see how different writers cover the same game. Do they all emphasize the same thing, do they all pick out the same highlight, how do they handle the play-by-play, how do they handle the highlights of the game? And just judge for yourself which story you found the most readable. It will help you a whole lot in learning how to write.
Gentry: Have you ever taught? You know, you'd be a good teacher, having listened to you.
Garber: No. No, I have never taught. That's one thing I don't want to do. Another thing, in both high school and college, work on your student newspaper. That's very good experience. And if your local newspaper will let high school students work, take a job with them. Go ahead and take what little pay they will
give you. Answer the phone or do anything you can to be around the atmosphere of the newspaper because then you can get a better feel whether you like it. In college, of course, work on your college newspaper. If your school has a sports information office, which most of them do, see if you can get on there. You'll learn how to keep statistics, you'll learn how to write stories, you'll learn how to handle a variety of things. It's very good experience.
Or you can be what they call a stringer for a local newspaper. That is, your responsibility is to cover things on your campus and send them in to the local newspaper. During the summer try to get a job somewhere on a newspaper. And wherever you go, don't just let them take your stuff. Ask them for criticism. If they leave something out, ask them why and ask them to help you. Try to get as much criticism and critique of your work as you possibly can. Once you get out of school, it's going to be tough to get a job. There are ten times more people—maybe that's an exaggeration but a whole lot more people trying to get newspaper jobs than there are newspaper jobs available.
So don't be too careful—don't be too critical in what you want, don't say I've got to have a certain kind of newspaper and I've got to have a certain kind of job and I've got to get a certain amount of pay. Get your foot in the door anywhere you can get it in because it's a whole lot easier to get a job if you have one than if you're knocking on the door and you don't have one.
Be willing to pay your dues. You're not going to start out covering the World Series and going to the Olympics and covering all the big events. You've got to be willing to begin with the less glamorous events and do a good job on those. If you can do a good job of covering a Little League baseball tournament or if you can do a good job on a high school cross-country meet or something that most people consider unglamorous, then you're going to get a chance to do other things. You can make yourself very valuable to the newspaper by being able to do a lot of different things. Some writers are very good at baseball, for example, but they're lost when they get in cross-country or track or swimming or football or something else. So be able to do a whole lot of different things and it will help you.
If you like make-up, if you like to lay out pages and decide where stories go and write headlines and read copy and you can do it well, I guarantee that you can get a job at any place, any time you want, and you can pretty well write your own ticket. Desk men are really, really hard to get because most people want to go to the games. And if you can do sports desk work well, you really have a future.
And never stop learning. Take time to read other papers, to look at what other people are doing and see what you can learn from them. There's always something new to learn as all of sports are constantly changing. And you keep up with them.
And don't be a clubhouse lawyer. If you're on a staff, there's always somebody there who's griping about everything. Don't get yourself involved with them. If you've got a complaint, go to whoever you've got the complaint with and sit down and talk about it. One of the first things you're probably going to run into is when a desk man takes one of your lovely stories that you have worked so hard on and changes the very catchy lead that you wrote, that you thought was so good and makes it a whole lot worse in your opinion, and then chops about twenty inches off the story. And you're going to get upset. But don't gripe and bitch around the office about it. Sit down with the guy and ask him why he had to make the changes and why he thought what he did was better than what you did. And even if you don't agree with him, listen, because you just might learn. If you have trouble with your boss, do the same thing. Make an appointment and sit down and talk to him. And talk out your problems. Tell him how you feel and why you feel the way you do.
And don't be a clock watcher. Sports take a lot of time. If you're not willing to put that time in, if you're not willing to work weekends, if you're not willing to be up late at night and come in early the next morning, you're in the wrong business, babe, and you'd better do something else.
Also, be willing to pitch in and work overtime and do extra things and give up something you might want to do when a big story breaks because when a big story is breaking, a sports department needs every hand it can get. And anybody that can help needs to be there.
If you're a woman and you're working in the sports department, don't look for discrimination. You can find it so you don't need to look for it. Your biggest asset is a sense of humor. Yes, the guys are going to tell stories around you that may embarrass you. Yes, they're going to tease you. Yes, they're going to pick on you. But you laugh at them and show them that you can take anything they can dish out, you're going to get along. If you're a man, you have to do the same sort of thing. You have to ride with the waves and realize that because you're new there, you're going to get kidded around and you're going to get some bad breaks. But don't let them get you down. As I said before, the sense of humor will pull you through a whole lot of times.
Be professional in everything you do: In your writing, in your conduct and the way you talk with people or the way your approach them. Accuracy is your most important asset. You can write the best story in the world but if it's wrong, it's not going to do any good. Don't be careless in your grammar and punctuation and your choice of words. You use a word incorrectly and you look like an idiot. Never, never quote anything, even "Do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do" without going to look it up, because you may think that's the way the quote was and you're wrong. I guarantee if you run it wrong, you're going to get forty calls the next day correcting it for you.
Your integrity is your most important asset. You must be a person that people can trust. And if you're not, you're just not going to last in the newspaper business.
Be able to admit you're wrong if you are and don't make a lot of excuses. Yes, you're going to make mistakes. Yes, you're going to screw up. Yes, you're going to get beaten on a story. But you just have to realize that this is part of the game. Learn from your mistakes. Accept criticism even if it's unfair. If your situation is intolerant, if you get on a paper, you don't approve of the way they do things, you don't like anything about them, then go look for another job but don't stab your paper in the back. Don't criticize it. Just get out of there. That's the best thing to do.
Gentry: This is the voice of experience speaking—
Garber: Indeed it is.
Gentry:—from fifty years of working on a newspaper. We've talked a lot about your positive writing over the years and your positive approach to a story but there's a downside of sports, a dark side—drugs, scandals. Have you ever covered anything like that?
Garber: Yes, there is a dark side of sports. And it's a side that right now in 1990 is getting a whole lot darker than it used to be. One of the biggest problems is gambling. Now, I know that probably everybody that's listening to me—and maybe everybody in the whole world—has gambled at some time. There are office pools and you and I bet on a game. And I really don't see anything that is all that bad about things like that. Gambling is illegal in most states in the United States but it hasn't stopped it, it is still going on. There are bookie sheets for college games, there are bookie sheets for pro games, I've even seen bookie sheets for high school games. And once you get into big-time gambling, the next step is point-shaving. I've covered a couple of point-shaving scandals and I am—
Gentry: Explain point-shaving.
Garber: Point-shaving is—if I'm a gambler and I come to you and I say, "Diane, you're playing for Podunk University and Podunk is supposed to beat Sucker City by twenty points. And I'm not asking you to lose the
game, all I'm asking you to do is to see to it that Podunk wins by less than that. So you just miss a few baskets and you throw the ball away a couple of times and I'll give you a thousand dollars."
Well, to a kid who doesn't have any money at all, a thousand dollars is a lot of money. Sometimes it's more than that, sometimes it's less. What the player does is to see to it that the team wins by a smaller margin than the bookie sheet has it. And it's very hard to detect because who am I to say that you didn't just miss those shots or who am I to say that it just wasn't a bad day for you? It's very, very hard to detect.
Gentry: And it's likely very common.
Garber: And it makes the bookie sure to win. I remember several years, North Carolina State was involved in one. And I went down to North Carolina State. For obvious reasons, I couldn't talk to the players who were involved because they had been arrested and they were afraid to talk to anybody because of legal advice. But I did talk to Everett Case who was the coach of the team. And he was just crushed by it. I asked him if during the season he had had any inkling that there was anything wrong and he said yes, he did. And that he had called in both the FBI and the state bureau of investigation to talk with the players. He had talked with agents from both groups, trying to find out what was going on and who were the ones that were involved. And I asked him if he had suspected certain players and he said yes. And I asked was he right, and he said he was right in some and wrong in others. I think there were three or four players who were arrested for this.
And one of the interesting things about it was that the contact for it was a reserve player on the team whose father was an executive secretary in a Tennessee YMCA. And I did get a chance to talk to his father. And the father was just crushed. And as he said, he had spent his whole life working with young people and trying to straighten them out and while he was so busy with other young people, his son had gotten into all this trouble. It was a really very, very sad situation.
Gentry: Well, how did you end up covering that story?
Garber: Well, all I did was just do that one story that day and then it went over to someone else, I didn't cover it all the way through. But we had another situation in baseball. When the Cardinals had a farm club here, a man came into the sports department one morning and said that the game the Cardinals had won the night before had been fixed. The Cardinals had been playing Reidsville. And the manager of the team was a man named Barney DeForge. And he said that Barney DeForge had thrown the game. Barney DeForge had gone in to pitch—and I have forgotten, anyway, it was late in the game when Reidsville was winning and Winston-Salem was starting to make a comeback. It was a logical move—the manager was a pitcher and it was a logical move for him to come in. But instead of being able to get the Winston-Salem players out, Barney was wilder than the pitchers that had been in there and he walked a lot of players and gave up some hits and Reidsville lost the game and Winston-Salem won. I was there and I didn't see anything wrong, it happens all the time, a pitcher can't get the ball over the plate and the hitters hit it.
But the man was right and Barney had been approached by gamblers and he had agreed to throw the game and he had done it. And one of the sad things about it was that the police officer who was assigned to the case was a very good friend of Barney's and they had been together in the service and played ball together in the service and the officer said it was one of the hardest things he had to do, go arrest a friend for something like that. But Barney was brought to trial and he was, of course, thrown out of baseball forever. And the man who Barney said was the one who had approached him of course denied it and it couldn't be proved in court. They had to dismiss the case. But there was never any question in my mind that Barney was telling the truth. That was a very sad situation, too.
Another big problem is drugs. A lot of people don't consider steroids a drug. And I had a trainer of a college tell me that even though they did everything to keep their athletes from taking steroids that kids would come to them from high school and their parents would put them on steroids so that they would be built up and
strong enough to get college scholarships. And the man said parents don't realize what they're doing to these kids. They're just killing them and it's a really, really dangerous thing.
One of the things about drugs is that it's so easy to get on them and it's so hard to get off. Carl Eller whom I knew very well got involved with drugs. When he had straightened himself out, he went on the road talking about drugs and the dangers of them. And I asked him—because he was a fine—he is a fine man, I asked him how he ever got involved. He said he just tried it one time and he just couldn't feel any effect. He felt that he could stop any time he wanted. And then he realized after he had gotten involved that he couldn't stop. And he didn't know where to turn, he didn't know what to do. He was spending all his money getting drugs. And I asked him, "Why didn't you go to some of your friends on the team and tell them what had happened and ask for their help?" He said, "You don't do that because you're so ashamed that you've been such a fool and gotten yourself in such a mess that you don't do it." He came down and talked to the Wake Forest and Winston-Salem State teams. They said he was really, really good at what he had to say because he'd been through it and he knew what it was like. And when you consider the number of really fine people—John Lucas is one, David Thompson is one,—who have gotten into drugs, it's scary. Most of them have been strong enough to get out. But it's really a really dangerous thing.
Gentry: Have you ever written about that?
Garber: Oh, yes, we've written a great deal about it. We wrote a story about the ACC players and the NBA. I called them and talked to them and one of the players I talked to said, "No, I'm never going to get involved with drugs because, I've got a good education and when everybody else is out running around, I go back to my room at night and read." And a year later he was on drugs. So it's an insidious thing.
Another thing is kiddie sports. When I say kiddie sports, I mean the involvement of eight, nine, ten—very young children in highly competitive sports. I remember one time I covered a tennis tournament. There was a little girl ten years old—by the way, her name was Diane. She was playing in the finals and she was losing and she started to cry. And, of course, the poor little girl playing on the other side didn't know what in the world to do. She kept looking at her, not knowing what to do. And finally Diane's father came to the side of the court and said, "Diane, do you want to stop?" And she sniffled and said, "No." And so he said, "Well, stop being so stupid, then."
So she finished the match and she lost and she shook the other little girl's hand. And then she sat down by the side of the court and just burst into tears and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. Neither her mother nor her father, who were both there, made any move toward her. I just couldn't stand seeing it—she was just a little girl. So sad. So I went over and sat down beside her and I put my arm around her and I said, "Diane, everybody loses." And she looked at me and she said, "But Daddy said that if I lost this match, I could never play in another tournament again." I said, "Oh, come on, Diane, Daddy was just kidding." And she looked at me and she said, "No-o-o, he wasn't." So after she stopped crying and went off, I spoke to her father. I told him what Diane had said. And he said, "She's absolutely right." He said, "I'm going to take her out of tennis. She's not mentally tough." And I ask you, how can anybody at ten years old be mentally tough?
And then there was the little boy who lost in the boys' twelves and sat on the sidelines and cried and cried. And his parents didn't pay any attention to him. I went to him. He said, "I'm no good. I might just as well give up. I can't do anything right." Well, now, it's terrible for a child to have a self-image like that. And when sports do that to a child, there's something very, very wrong that their parents are doing.
And then there was a Wake Forest student who came out for the tennis team—I think he was about a junior when he came out. And he sort of lackadaisically played. I talked with him. He said he played as a junior, as a child growing up. "They put me through so much when I was ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, that as soon as I got old enough to express myself, I vowed I'd never play tennis again." And he didn't come back for about five or six years. I hope he's playing now.
I remember I talked to a parent one time who had her kid at the twelves, clay courts, and she was telling me the rigorous schedule the child went through. He got up in the morning before school and went to tennis practice and he went to school and studied all day and as soon as school was out, he practiced until eight o'clock at night and then he did his homework and went to bed. He did this five days a week during school and then he worked on tennis all day Saturday and all day Sunday. I said, "Isn't this too much? When does he have a chance to be a normal little boy?" She said, "He's a normal little boy all the time. Of course, when the other kids go to Disney World, he can never go." How can you be normal if you don't go to Disney World when all the other kids are going?
But the flip side of that, there are a lot of good things about competitive sports for kids. I remember one little boy who came here to play in the USA Boys 12 clay courts. And when the kids came in, I didn't know one from another so what I would do on Saturday before the tournament came on Sunday would be go out to Hanes Park where the tournament was held and just pick up a kid. I just did it absolutely blind. I didn't care who he was or where he came from or anything about it.
I went out there this afternoon and the little boy and his coach were practicing. When they started to change courts, I stopped them and I said, "When you get through practicing, I would like to talk to the young man." And the coach said, "Well, we're hot and tired right now, we were just getting ready to go in and get a cold drink. We can talk then." So the three of us went into the tennis shop and they got cokes and we sat down and talked. The little boy's name was Tyler Jay and he was from Texas. And he had won some tournament so he got into the national championship. And I said, "Tyler, tell me something about yourself. What do you think your chances are?" And Tyler laughed and he said, "They're poor—none!" And he was absolutely right. But he said, "I'm so excited about being in a national tournament because I never thought I'd get a chance to play in a national tournament. I've never been to North Carolina before, never even been to the East Coast before."
So Tyler had a very accurate estimate of his abilities, he lost on the first round of singles, and then he played in the consolations and he lost in the first round of consolations and he played in the doubles and he lost in the first round of doubles. But instead of going home, as a lot of kids do when that happens to them, Tyler and his coach spent the whole week here in Winston-Salem. They came out and watched the matches and they went to the picnic at Tanglewood. They played golf, went to the movies, went to Old Salem—they just had an absolutely marvelous time.
And the last day of the tournament, Tyler and his coach came over to say goodbye to me and they asked me if I'd have my picture taken with them. And Tyler was just as radiant then as he was when he came. He said, "This has been the greatest week of my life. I will never forget it. I have had such a good time." I would guess that Tyler will play tennis all his life. He will always enjoy it, he'll always have fun. And I'm afraid that Diane will never play tennis and never have the joys of playing a sport that is a lot of fun.
I think one of the problems is that everything now, even when you start playing baseball in Little League and Little League Pop Warner Football, everything is based on what I'm going to get out of it. I'm going to be a pro star, I'm going to get a college scholarship, there's going to be a pay-back for this. And I think this is one of the big problems. College scholarships are fine, they've given kids an opportunity to go to school who couldn't have gone before. But it's not the end of the world and you've got to realize that sports are supposed to be fun. And if you don't enjoy them, it's sad. That's the whole purpose of playing, whether you're playing football or basketball or baseball or whatever it is. If it's not fun, don't do it.
I remember a college football player who quit the Wake Forest team when—I think he was a junior. And they asked him why. He said, "Because football isn't fun any more." They gave him a terrible time. I went out to talk to him. He said, "Please don't give me any more of a hard time, I've had all I can take." And I said, "David, I'm not going to give you any more of a hard time because I agree with you wholeheartedly. You are absolutely right. If football isn't fun, don't play it." And he looked at me and he said, "I do wish
you'd go talk to my parents." And he said, "All the other players and the coaches have given me such a horrible time. I wish somebody would say, sports are supposed to be fun." I said, "Well, I'm sure saying it."
Gentry: Did you write about Tyler and Diane?
Gentry: As examples?
Garber: Yes. And then another big problems is with all the emphasis on winning, colleges are recruiting kids who are not academically qualified. And this just isn't right. Now, I know that some of the coaches, John Thompson for one, have been very much opposed to this Proposition 48 which forces a college to sign athletes who have at least made seven hundred on the college boards and have got a "C" average in a core curriculum. Now, when you get four hundred for writing your name on the sheet and showing up at the test, seven hundred really isn't all that much. And these kids who are competing in athletics are competing against students who are not doing anything but studying. And they spend about forty hours a week on football or basketball or whatever their sport is. So they have got to be academically qualified to do it. And it's just not fair to throw a kid into an academic situation where he's in over his head. But it's being done. I remember one young man who I knew here in town, his name was Willie. Willie signed a basketball scholarship and he played four years but he didn't finish his college work. And there was no way for him to go to school and get his degree. It took him seven years. He worked and he finally graduated from Winston-Salem State. And it seems to me there should be some means whereby a young person who doesn't finish his work would have access to some sort of funds where he could maybe work or borrow the money or something that he could finish his education.
Now, I realize that college board tests are not really fair because with a lot of youngsters from poorer backgrounds, the tests really aren't an accurate measure of their intelligence. We had a young man here named Herman. At the time he graduated from Atkins High School, the Atlantic Coast Conference had a rule that a college athlete who's on scholarship had to make eight hundred on the college board. And of course, there's considerable difference between eight hundred and seven hundred. And Herman took the test over and over again and he missed it—I think finally he missed it by four points. But there was no question that he was a very intelligent young man. He was a very good student, a good academic risk. The school admissions board was more than willing to accept him as a student. But he couldn't have a scholarship.
It had been arranged in advance, when there was some question that he would get into the school, that he would go to Purdue if he couldn't qualify for the ACC school. So he went to Purdue. He played four years of basketball there. He majored in psychology. He graduated in four years with a "B" average. He had the highest academic average of any of the athletes at Purdue. So he wasn't stupid. And he went on and played professional basketball and is doing very, very well now.
And then some kids are not motivated. There's a kid named Charlie. Charlie was just as smart and sharp as he could be, an excellent basketball player. But school was totally and completely not his main interest. The basketball coach got in touch with one of the deans and said, "Let's put Charlie on academic probation. Then if he doesn't go to class, he can't play basketball." So they put Charlie on academic probation. Charlie got out of bed and he went to class. And in about three or four weeks, the dean called the coach back and said, "We can't do this because Charlie's going to make the dean's list this semester." So they took Charlie off academic probation and Charlie went back to bed. He was in trouble again. He played four years there and he never graduated.
Charlie played professional basketball for a while and then he came back here and went to work. He married and had two little girls. And I saw him one day and I said, "How about your little girls, do they play basketball?"
And he looked at me and he said, "My two girls have got good sense." He said, "They're excellent students and they're not going to waste their time doing nothing but concentrating on athletics." Charlie got a job at the college and they arranged for him to go back to school and he graduated this spring and got his degree. I think it was something like thirteen years after he had finished his career. And when he got his degree, the president was shaking hands with every senior who got his degree and when Charlie came up, the faculty on the platform stood up and applauded and the president gave him a big hug. And we wrote a big story about that in the newspaper.
And I think one of the cruelest myths of all is so many kids think that well, if I concentrate on sports, then I'm going to be a professional athlete and I'm going to make a whole lot of money. I covered high school sports here in Winston-Salem for twenty-five or thirty years and I would guess during that time it would be a fair estimate that I dealt with about a thousand students a year. So you're talking about twenty-five to thirty thousand students that I dealt with in the years I covered high school sports here. And of those twenty-five or thirty thousand students, I think they're twelve who ever made it professionally in football, basketball, baseball, tennis, any sport at all. Now, I don't believe there are very many people who would give away odds like that. They're just astronomical.
And I think another thing that is bad is the tremendous emphasis on winning where winning has such a big pay-off, with bowl games. Now, the NCAA just this year in 1990 is setting up a new means of distributing the monies from the basketball tournament. It used to be that the more you won, the more money you got. And now it's based more on your participation and your basketball history, how you've done in the past and how many sports you offer and how many students are involved. It's a much better way of doing it. I think it's going to help a whole lot. We've got an awful lot of problems still. And I just hope by the time people are listening to this tape that at least some of them will have been solved.
Gentry: In the 1970s, as we spoke before, it suddenly got hot to hire women in sportswriting and so you had a tremendous amount of national publicity when all the networks found you and found you were doing sportswriting since the forties. So you were on the "Today" show and on "Good Morning, America," and CBS, and written about in Time, Newsweek, Parade, USA Today. How did you feel about all that national attention when you'd been working quietly all those years? And can you tell me some stories around that?
Garber: I don't know. When it first started, it was real exciting. I remember the "Today" show was the first one and I was real excited when they called because I just couldn't envision myself doing anything like that. The only problem I had with the "Today" show was that I went up during the Christmas holiday and you don't get the real VIP treatment when you go during the Christmas holidays. When I went with "Good Morning, America," I've never been such a celebrity, it was really marvelous. Of course, they pay everything. And they flew me up there. When I heard they were going to land me in Newark, I started to dig my heels in. And they said, "Oh, but we'll have a limousine and driver meet you." So, you know, that was fine.
And I got off the plane and here was a guy standing holding up a sign, "Mary Garber." And so I went over and introduced myself. I had a little overnight bag because you just spend one night. He took that out of my hand and then he took off across the Newark airport. And I couldn't keep up with him, he went so fast. I was running behind him. But he drove me into town and let me out right in front of the hotel. And the next morning he met me at the hotel in time to take me over to the studio.
And after we were on the program, Mary Flanagan, who was from the New York Daily News, was on it with me. And when we got ready to leave, I asked the director of the show could we go out and eat breakfast and she said, "Oh, by all means!" So we went back to the hotel and had breakfast together and talked about women in sports and all the mutual problems we had and everything. We had a perfectly great time and sent the bill to "Good Morning, America."
But it was real interesting how they did it because you'd go there, then they'd take you up to the make-up person and they'd make you up and try to make your hair look like it was fairly decent and try to make you look like you didn't look like a fright or something like that.
Gentry: Did you have to take off your jogging shoes?
Garber: Oh, goodness, yes. Neely carefully supervised what I wore when I went up there. There was no jogging suit and there were no sneakers. I had to be very careful in what I did. But it was amazing the number of people who watch those things. Gosh, I got letters from all over the country from people. And CBS came down here and spent three days. And they came out here to the house where we're talking now and rearranged the furniture and Dismas—who's asleep on the floor now and I'll poke her if she snores—was just a puppy then. I'd just gotten her. And she came in. She loves everybody in the world, and has always loved everybody in the world. The CBS people were absolutely enchanted with her and they left me sitting in here while they took Dismas outside. And every one of them, the photographers, the interviewers, the editor, everybody had their pictures taken with Dismas.
Gentry: Dismas is named after the patron saint of sports.
Garber: Yes, Dismas is named after the good thief who was crucified with Christ and he's the patron saint of sports. That's the reason for her name. And I can't explain why when she's a female, she's got a male's name, but I guess most people don't know what Dismas is, anyhow.
Then one of the things they wanted to do was follow me around on a typical workday. And what I had to do when they came was to talk to a Wake Forest player. They were sort of interested in that but they said, "Aren't you going to do something more glamorous than that?" Jesse Owens happened to be in town at the time. So I called Wake Forest and asked them if I could work out an interview with Jesse Owens. And they said, "Well, Mr. Owens was going to be here only a very short time and he was tired and he didn't want to grant any interviews." So I explained the situation to the man—and he sort of owed me one because I'd done something for him several months ago. And he said, "Well, let me see what I can do." And he called back in about thirty minutes. I think the real magic of it all was he mentioned those very nice call letters, C - B - S. And I think that had a great deal to do with Jesse Owens agreeing to let me interview him. He was staying at one of the motels and it was all set up. I was to walk down the aisle and knock on his door and then he was to fling open the door and welcome me. And it was hilarious because he didn't know me and I didn't know him and we fell on each other's necks like we'd known each other for a million years. We went through the interview and everything went just fine. But half way through the interview, he got a coughing spell and so he waved for the photographers, to stop the cameras. He went and got a drink of water and he was all right. And we didn't think too much about it at the time but of course as you know, he died of lung cancer just a few months after that. So I think that probably was the big problem.
But after the interview was over and we were standing around talking, he said to me, "Miss Garber, you're a very rich lady." Well, I had told the man at Wake Forest to, you know, really lay it on about how good I was, trying to get him to do it. But I didn't think that he should lie about my financial situation and make me a millionaire to influence Jesse Owens. And so I said that I really wasn't rich. And he said, "Yes, you are." He said, "You're rich because you're doing something you love and you've earned the love and respect of so many people." And I thought it was a very nice touch for someone who really didn't know me at all to say something like that.
When CBS was here, one of the other things I had to do was to cover a Wake Forest-Carolina basketball game. And I knew that they were going to want to go in the dressing room and at that time women were not allowed in the dressing room. And I just didn't want Carolina to be embarrassed. They were good to me and Rick Brewer, who was the sports information direction, was always so nice about fishing players out of
the dressing room for me. And Dean Smith was always helpful and the Carolina players were always nice to me. So I just didn't want anything bad to happen.
So I called Rick and told him that they were coming. And I said, "Would it be possible for me to get into the dressing room this one time?" He said, "Don't worry about it, we'll arrange it." CBS, again! So we went down to the dressing room and I went in with the cameras going after me and talked to the players and everybody acted like this was something that went on all the time. But it worked out real well.
And one of the funny things about it was when I was being interviewed I told them about how I was always running into high school kids whom I had written about and they would stop and want to talk about their high school game that had occurred many, many years before. They looked sort of skeptical. And when we went out to eat and we walked into the restaurant this young man came up who I don't ever remember seeing before and started talking about a high school basketball game that he'd played and I'd written about some ten or fifteen years before. And I looked around and all those CBS people were standing there sort of shocked—well, I guess it really did happen!
You can't imagine what it's like to be wired all the time. I was sitting at the basketball game and all of the sudden I felt this man's hand in my pocket. And it was one of the engineers straightening up the microphone wire. Evidently it had gotten twisted or something else like that.
The national publicity, of course, was nice to have but you just felt "Why are they doing this to me?" And it got to that point. I think the reason I went through it—I know the reason I went through it was because I felt that it was good public relations for my newspaper and that's very important to me.
Gentry: This was a flurry of publicity in the '70s. These things were pretty close together, weren't they?
Garber: Yes. They came all on top of each other. And most of the guys in the office were real nice about it and they'd tease me and say, "Well, how many people have called you today," and all that kind. But there were a couple of them who just couldn't understand it and one of them said to me one day, "The only reason you're getting all this publicity is because you've been in it a long time." I said, "That's right, that's the only reason." And he never bothered me again after that.
Gentry: Just jealous, huh?
Garber: I don't know what it was. I'd try to think about it from how I'd feel if I were in a reverse situation. And I just don't think I would have had any resentment toward somebody that got that kind of recognition because I'd understand why.
Gentry: Well, a lot of people helped you through your career. With all that national publicity, did you sort of become a mentor for a lot of other women? Did you get a lot of correspondence?
Garber: Yes, I heard from a lot of people I hadn't heard from in a long time—friends from school and friends from camp and all of that was very nice. And of course, I heard from old sports friends, baseball and football and basketball, people like that. That was one of the real plus sides of it. Then I did get letters from young people who were interested in going into journalism. And whenever I get anything like that, I'm always very careful to answer it because I would want them to do that for me. I'm always going to do that for them.
Garber: Are there any women sportswriters whose work you particularly admire?
Garber: Oh, there are a lot of good ones. I don't think I could pick out any one particular one. I think that the level of women's sportswriting now is really, really excellent. And there are so very many good ones, if I started listing them, I'd leave somebody out and that wouldn't be right.
Gentry: Back to CBS for a minute. When they came here and filmed you for three days, did you ever get to see that and how did it run?
Garber: No, I didn't. I never got to see it. We asked them when it was going to run and they said that they wouldn't know until the day it was used and that they would call us, I think it was 5:30 in the morning or something like that. Now I don't have to get up at 5:30 in the morning, and I can't think of any reason to get up at 5:30, certainly not to look at Mary Garber. And so we told them, forget it. What my sister and I did was to look at the CBS Morning News every day and hope maybe we'dpick it up. And then one day, we got in a telephone conversation with one of our friends and we forgot to watch. And of course, that was the day it was on. So we didn't see it. My brother-in-law who lives in Denver called that morning and said that he'd seen it. And I said, "How was it?" And he said, "Oh, it was okay but I thought it would never be over." That's the only comment I ever got on it.
Gentry: Not a very nice comment.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Gentry: What is the story in your career you really are most proud of and why?
Garber: Well, I think the story I'm most proud of was the story I did on Everett Case, who was the North Carolina State basketball coach. And after he died, they established an Everett Case award which goes to the most outstanding player in the Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball tournament each year. And after it had been given several years it occurred to me that some of the kids that were getting it didn't have any idea who Everett Case was—I mean I think they knew he was the coach at State but they didn't know anything about him.
And he was a man who had been very, very kind to me and we had been close friends. So I wrote a reminiscence of him. And I really put my heart and soul into the story. One of the things that I won on it was the state press writing contest. And I remember the comment that the judge made that this was a good story. And he said about half-way through this story, the writer stopped writing with her head and started writing with her heart. And I thought that was a very, very good comment. That story won the state sportswriting contest and it also won the basketball writers feature contest, which was a national contest. It's nice to win a national contest.
Gentry: And he had died by that time?
Garber: Oh, he'd been dead several years by then. Then I won first place in the college baseball writers, college baseball coaches feature writing contest. That was when I was still on the Sentinel, back in the fifties, I think. I was just really getting started. And that was an important one to me. And then one year the state sportswriting contest was based on overall performance—you have to submit three different stories. And I won second place in that. My boss won first so you know that wouldn't have been fitting, for me to win and beat him. But I was pleased at that because I felt that that was a much better way to judge sportswriting than to just base it on one story. And I won a couple of seconds and thirds in sportswriting and I've won women's contests—but I really don't keep up with all that. And I've been the tennis writer of the year in North Carolina at least three times.
And one of the most interesting ones I ever won was the baseball writer of the year which was kind of funny because I hadn't written baseball in a couple of years and I won it. When I came back home with the award, Chuck Mills, who was football coach at Wake Forest at the time said that what I ought to do was to get out of sportswriting altogether and I might win the Pulitzer Prize for sportswriting.
Gentry: How did you happen to win it, when you hadn't written about it?
Garber: I don't know. Then there's another one that meant a lot to me, the Associated Press sports editors give the Red Smith award for the most outstanding sportswriter in the country. I did not win it but I was nominated one year. And that meant a lot to me.
And I think I've told you that the local Sportsman's Club has made me sportswriter of the year not once but several times. I'm a charter member of the Winston-Salem-Forsyth County high school sports hall of fame which the Sportsmen sponsor. And Carl Eller and Happy Hairston and I were inducted at the same time. And being on the board of directors and president of the Atlantic Coast Sportwriters of course meant a great deal since I hadn't been in before.
Gentry: You were barred from it originally—
Garber: Right. For several years they had an Atlantic Coast Conference men's athlete of the year and then when women started competing, they opened it up to women, too. And Julie Shea of State won it one year. But then they decided year before last that they ought to have one just for women and they named it after me. That really did mean a whole lot because it was an indication that they really accepted me. It meant a whole lot.
I've been on the board of directors of the Football Writers Association twice. Remember, I was originally barred from that. And I was on the All-American nomination committee for the Southern Conference—that was for football. And then another year, I ranked small college football teams for the Associated Press. I enjoyed both of those, they were really nice. I've had quite a number of things named after me and gotten awards from organizations. The CIAA which is an organization of black schools.
Gentry: What does that mean?
Garber: Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. They call themselves fourteen of the finest and indeed they are. They are small black schools and they are really lovely, lovely people. They have been very, very good to me and I really enjoyed my relationship with them. And they invited me up to their basketball tournament and gave me an award right before I retired for all I had done. It was a very nice thing to do. I really appreciate all that they've done.
Then Appalachian (State University, Boone, N.C.) had a day for me at one of their football games. The only catch to that was that I got sick before it and had the flu and couldn't go. One of the guys on the staff went up there and he came back with the award and all the things that I got. He said that he didn't mind doing that but he said, "When they walked me out on the field and gave me a damned armful of roses, that was the last straw."
Gentry: Did you get them back?
Garber: No, the roses were dead by the time he got back. But they didn't know I couldn't come. It was supposed to be a surprise. Terry was in on it and he had assigned me to cover the Appalachian game. And I wasn't supposed to know anything about it until I got up there and saw the program, "This Is Mary Garber Day."
Gentry: That would have been great!
Garber: It would have been really nice.
Gentry: I bet they were disappointed.
Garber: I was disappointed but in a way, I don't know what I would have done if I'd gotten up there and found it was Mary Garber Day. I probably would have—
Garber: I probably would have blown so high I would never have been able to cover the game. But it was very nice. And the things that are named after you always mean a lot to you because it's something that is a recognition and a tribute. We have a boys basketball award for Frank Spencer. Just several years—I think it's about twelve or thirteen years ago they established a similar one for girl basketball players in West North Carolina high schools. That's named after me. And of course that means a lot because this comes from the people who are very important to me at the Journal.
And Winston-Salem tennis had a sportsmanship award that they gave at the USTA clay courts and that was important to me because I believe that sportsmanship is extremely important. And there are some mighty good kids on that trophy. Of course it had to be stopped when the USTA [United States Tennis Association] stopped national competition for twelve-year-olds which was, I think, a very good move. And so then I was inducted into the tennis hall of fame here last year. When you're inducted, you have to give something, and most of them give trophies that they've won. I've never won a trophy in my life, so I didn't have anything to give. I was just desperate, I didn't know what I was going to give. And Neely suggested that I give them some old dirty notebooks filled with illegible notes. So finally the Winston-Salem tennis said that I could give the USTA award since it couldn't be given any more. So it's in the tennis hall of fame. I thought it was a very good thing to give.
The private high schools here have an organization. And they give an all-sports award to the school that does the best in county all-sports—volleyball and girls basketball and swimming and track and everything counts the same as soccer or any of their big sports. And that's named after me. And I have two tennis tournaments named after me. One is with Dave Lash which is sponsored by the Sportsmen. And having it with him means a whole lot because he's a very old and very dear friend. And then Wake Forest women have a tennis tournament in the fall which is named after me and all the college kids come.
Gentry: With all these awards that you've won and recognition of all kinds, what's the greatest compliment you can remember ever receiving about your work?
Garber: The greatest compliment I ever received I really didn't hear first-hand. I got it second-hand from Mamie Braddy who is a friend of mine. And I was covering the soap-box derby out at Bowman Gray Stadium. I was down on the field talking to some of the kids. And Mamie was up in the stands. And there were two little black boys; she said they looked like they were about ten or eleven years old. And they were up in the stands. And one of them said to the other, "Do you see that lady down on the field there?" And the other kid said, "Yeah." And the first kid said, "That's Miss Mary Garber. And she don't care who you are, if you do something, she'll write about you." And to me that's the greatest compliment that anyone could possibly make for me.
Gentry: That's great. Many times you have referred in these series of tapes about your retirement. You don't look very retired to me. At seventy-four you're working full-time, covering tennis tournaments and press conferences. Would full retirement be depressing to you at this stage?
Garber: It would. I think I'm better prepared for it now than I would have been when I officially retired in 1986. But I hope I never have to really just completely get out because the newspaper's been so much a part of my life and it's meant so much to me. It would be hard for me to think of life without it. I know that maybe sometime it's going to come and I'll have to adjust to it but I hope it won't come any time soon.
Gentry: How was the question of retirement handled?
Garber: Joe Doster handled it for me and he handled it in a very, very kind and very considerate way. At the time, they were changing the tax laws and he pointed out to me that the money I had in the retirement fund might be affected by the changes in the tax law and he suggested that I look into it with a lawyer and see if it wouldn't be advisable for me to take my retirement in 1986 rather than risk running into the tax law changes that might come. And I did check, not only with a lawyer but I checked with my nephew who is an expert on taxes. And they both agreed that that was very, very good advice.
And I also realized that I was slowing down. It was hard for me to do the things that I needed to do as a full-time staff member. And it wasn't fair to ask the guys on the staff to do things because I wasn't able to do them. So we agreed that I would retire officially but Joe Doster offered me an opportunity to stay on. I cover tennis full-time from the 1st of April until the 1st of September. And then in the fall, I cover coaches' conferences and do a column on small-college football and do a column on the college football games that are coming up on a particular Saturday. And then during the winter I do a column on small-college basketball and one on women's basketball. And then I'm there in case they need somebody to fill in and do some kind of stories. I'm going to cover a couple of cross-country meets this fall. I'm sort of an extra pair of hands around there, but I'm not under any obligation to come in when the weather's bad. I'm not under any obligation to come in if I don't feel well. It's a good arrangement for me and I hope it's a good arrangement for them.
Gentry: You're not covering the major basketball and football games any more?
Garber: No, I don't.
Gentry: But you're still working pretty much full time. As a freelancer, is that how it's handled?
Garber: Yes. I am a freelancer. I have a contract with them.
Gentry: Didn't they have a great big retirement party for you?
Garber: Oh, they had a great big retirement party. First the brass had a retirement dinner for me down at the Twin City Club. And Neely made me buy a dress for that. And that caused more of a sensation than anything—
Gentry: One of two dresses you own?
Garber: One of two dresses that I own. Then they had a retirement reception for me in which I went around and solicited people coming and offered them all kinds of prizes if they'd come so I wouldn't be there by myself. But it was really amazing the people that turned out. There was a mob of people there. And television came and covered it. It was a really exciting time. I didn't realize you got presents when you retired. But I did. I got a number of nice gifts.
Gentry: Didn't you get a letter jacket?
Garber: Oh, yes. One of my friends who I went to school with retired from the Richmond papers at the same time that I retired from the Winston-Salem paper. And they gave her a ride around the park in a horse-drawn surrey, and did all kinds of nice things like that. And what my guys gave me was a letterman's jacket. Lenox Rawlings who was our columnist came up to me at the reception. He said, "We've got a present for you. Do you want me to make a big deal of it or just give it to you?" And I said, "Just give it to me." And so he handed me a sack. And in the sack was a Reynolds High School letterman's jacket and there were two letters with it, one was the "R" for Reynolds and the other was the "WS" for Winston-Salem when I went there. And Bocock Stroud called me and wanted to know how I wanted them placed. I made a mistake. What I should have done was put the Winston-Salem on the front and the Reynolds on the back. But I told them it didn't make any difference and they put the Reynolds on the front which means, of course, that I can't wear it
whenever I go to a high school game. But it's in black and gold and it's got my name on it and it's one of my pride and joys. And that's another thing, Neely won't let me wear that certain places, too, when I'm going out, she'll say, "Now you can't wear that letterman's jacket because that looks awful."
Gentry: On a seventy-four-year-old, huh? Is Neely your fashion coordinator?
Garber: Yes, she's my fashion coordinator. She tells me when my clothes don't do as they should. I'm always one of these people that says, "Well, I'm getting ready to go out. Any of your clothes that want to go, come on."
Gentry: When I talked to your publisher, Joe Doster, he said that you were a real living legend in the area and a valuable member of the staff. He said as far as he was concerned, he hoped you'd never retire. If you wanted to die in the newsroom, that was fine with him. There's always been that kind of mutual loyalty and respect with you and the paper, hasn't there?
Garber: Yes, there has. It's been a very important part of my life and I hope I've been a very important part of it. Joe Doster and I have a very interesting relationship. I understand that he's my boss, there's no question about that. He's the man in charge, I have no question about that. But we have a very warm and friendly relationship with each other and he calls me "Girl" and I call him "Boy." And I realize that I get away with a lot with him that a lot of the young people can't do. But he's been very tolerant of me.
And just the other day we were in talking about renewing the contract for this year. Joe Doster said something about retiring and I said, "Don't you retire, 'cause if you retire, then I won't have anybody to look after me." And he said, "Well, if I did, I might make you a living legend and pass you on as a legacy to whoever takes my place." So I hope he does that.
Gentry: I'm sure he will. I'm sure he will. Let's look back on your career of fifty years and just talk in retrospect about some of the things that you've done. Have you pretty much met all your goals that you had as a sportswriter over those years?
Garber: I don't think anybody ever meets all the goals they have in anything they're doing. I know that there are always things that I wish I had done. I can't be specific but I don't think any of us do everything we want to do. But I've done pretty well—I'm certainly happy with what I've done. I'm pleased with what I've done and I just wish I'd done it a little better.
Gentry: As you look back, what were some of the most fulfilling times for you during your career?
Garber: Again, no particularly fulfilling times. I think I've been over the different things I've talked about and the incidents that have happened to me. And all of these are important. All of them have been fun. But it's kind of like when I used to cover high school sports and there'd be a real good class and the kids would graduate and I'd say, "There will never be anybody as nice as those kids." Then another group would come along and those kids would be just as nice as the ones that had gone before.
And sports keep changing and you think, well, gosh, things aren't going to be as they were. They just get better. I think the saddest thing is living in the past. I know I have several elderly friends who are always looking back. They're always saying, "Well, things were so much better. I'm so glad that I worked at a time when things were so good and I've retired now and things are not as good as they used to be." I think that's crazy. The world is getting better every day that it exists. Sure there are problems. People today are just as good as they were when I began. And there're good people everywhere. I never want to look back. I never want to live in the past.
Gentry: That's great. That's a great attitude. Were there any really bad times that you can remember?
Garber: I think the bad times are like the good times. During the times you go through them, you just think that "I'll never survive this," but you do. I'll admit I've shed a few tears and I've been unhappy at times. I've been frustrated; I've been tired. This happens in any profession. I don't think that the newspaper business is any different. I've been disappointed when I didn't get stories assignments I thought I ought to get and that I wanted very much. And for a long time, I told myself that this was because I was a woman. Then one day I was talking with a friend of mine who is a male sportswriter. And I told him about how disappointing it was not to get assignments because I was a woman. And he said, "Well, you've got an advantage over me. When I don't get an assignment, I don't have any excuse." And that helped me a whole lot. I never griped again after that.
But I think the little things annoy you more than anything else. As I've told you before, having your credentials checked when no one else's credentials are checked. And just little things that really aren't important, you know they're not important but they do annoy you. And I think the thing that annoys me more than anything else is that whenever I'm introduced now, people say, "Mary's the one that broke the barrier—went into the men's dressing room." And that just annoys me so much because I didn't go into the dressing room until it was legally cleared and everything was okay. I never went into a dressing room when the guys were dressing and just barged my way in. I never was comfortable when I was in the dressing room.
Gentry: Then they all giggle, I'm sure.
Garber: Then they all giggle, yes. That's supposed to be so funny. It gets a little tiresome after a while.
Gentry: Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?
Garber: I don't know. Sometimes I think I would have done better if I'd spent a little less time on the job and developed other interests. But then I thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing so why stop doing something you like doing to go do something you don't want to do. So, I guess not.
Gentry: How would you like people to remember you?
Garber: Oh, goodness, I don't know. I think that all the things I've said on this tape pretty well indicate what kind of a person I am. I guess if I had to be remembered, I think the main thing I'd like to have known is that I'm accurate and fair. I'm someone who when a reader reads my story, they can be sure that what I have had to say and what I've put into the article was accurate so far as I could get it, was fair so far as I could do it, and was as complete as it was possible for me to do it. And that I wrote it without any fear or favor or allegiance to any individual or any person or any school or any group. I think that's the most important thing of all.