My mother, bless her heart, used to cut out my stories from the newspaper and paste them in a scrapbook. She did it for years, until she passed away in 1990. After that Orletta Angle, a friend of hers who lived across the street from us in Derby, took over.
I basked in their pride.
Working at The Eagle was my dream job. It would be difficult for me to imagine a job that better fit my personality, my interests and my passion than writing about sports.
I’ve loved sports since I can remember. I started going to Wichita State football and basketball games when I was 6 and I became a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals at about the same time. I jumped on my father’s coat tails and rode them to a life-long love of sports.
I remember the sheer panic of being in high school and thinking about the reality of having to soon make a living. I had to — HAD TO! — figure out a way to make money through sports.
It wasn’t going to be as an athlete. But maybe as a broadcaster? Maybe working for a team? Maybe writing about sports?
Door No. 3 proved to be the winner. I took a journalism class during my sophomore year and discovered I had some aptitude. I parlayed that into becoming the sports editor of the school newspaper, The Panther’s Tale, during my junior year. I was hired to work at the Derby Daily Reporter in 1972 and it was a great training ground as I covered everything imaginable, in and out of sports.
The goal, though, was to get to The Eagle. It’s the newspaper I grew up reading. My heroes were, of course, those who played sports. But close behind were those who wrote about them for this paper. I read their work every day, from a young age. They helped hook me.
It’s strange to leave the only place you’ve ever worked, at least as an adult. I started at the Eagle when I was 19 and I’m leaving at 62. I’ve taken on some other projects and want to devote more of my time and energy to League 42, a youth baseball organization that caters to urban children in Wichita. We have 580 kids on 42 teams this season and my life now is devoted to those kids.
I will miss newspapers, especially the way we used to operate. I’m old school, admittedly, although not intimidated or put off by the technological advances that have led us down the digital road. I loved the process of working on a printed product and the pride we took in the morning (and, early in my career, afternoon) paper.
When I was young in the business, the first thing we sports folks did when we arrived at our desks was to grab a Sports section and critique the day’s product. We spent a lot of time doing that and it was a daily journalism class in what was good and what wasn’t.
The business of covering sports in Wichita and Kansas was and has always been important to me. I love sports, which means I love competition. I wanted to be the best and I was driven.
Being that what we do as journalists and writers is subjective, it’s hard to quantify success. I suppose lasting as long as I did at The Eagle means I did something right. But I also heard the howls of the haters and it took some effort, at first, to cast aside criticism as a part of the process.
Writing sports columns for the past 21 years has been the highlight of my career. The only way to be a successful columnist is to have opinions and the ability to articulate them. Engaging readers is the most important thing a columnist can do. It’s important to keep them coming back and not be cast aside as a lightweight who never attempts to challenge an establishment, whatever that might be.
Opinions are easy for me. They swirl in my head, looking for openings to get out. Writing a column has been unleashing my thoughts. Sometimes readers agree, sometimes they don’t. That’s not how a columnist keeps score, though. Engagement is the key.
Columnists tend to want to gravitate to the biggest markets, where professional sports drive the audience. I’ve always been content in Wichita, though. This is my home and I love it here. It was a great place to raise my son, Jeff, and to forge long-lasting friendships. My talented and determined colleagues at The Eagle are doing what the best journalists do, which is to keep readership informed and entertained.
I have learned so much from those who preceded me and from so many who I’ve worked with in the Sports department. I took something from all of the sports columnists who came before and worked to improve. I’ve always been a sucker for a good story and hope I’ve told a few through my writing over the years.
I’m going to miss readers. I’ve heard from so many over the years and that’s the reward, really, for doing this job. News flash: None of us get rich doing this, but we enjoy the opportunity to express ourselves and to hold people accountable. It really is the job of a journalist to serve the citizens of the community and I hope that’s something that continues to be valued.
I’ll be around with a daily radio show on KFH and as the leader of League 42, which puts a smile on my face. I’m not one to find a recliner or a fishing hole. The plan is to stay relatively busy, just not as busy.
I hope my mother, from her lofty perch above, preserves this final column. I’d like to read it again with her someday.
Bob Lutz: @boblutz