Sports Business

SPORTS: A tribute to the sportswriter who took a chance on me

March 26, 2007

Most of us have those "who-knows" people in our lives.

Meaning, "who knows" what might have become of us had these people not come into our lives.

P r o f e s s i o n a l l y, right at the top of my list is Cyrus W. "Cy" McBride. Cy died last week in Montgomery, Ala. He was 78. I would be remiss if I let his passing go without sharing the profound impact he had.

For instance, I might not be writing this column if it hadn't been for Cy. He was the one who gave me my chance to see if I could make it in newspaper sports journalism.

He did likewise for another scribe many of you know, my former Indianapolis Star colleague Robin Miller, a columnist and motorsports writer who, these days, is breaking news almost weekly for Speed.com.

So, yes, to some of you, Cy would be the one to blame for unleashing the rants, ravings and writings of Miller's and mine on the sports pages of the Star for more than 30 years.

Cy also gave guidance to another youngster who chose not to continue in sports writing. He, instead, went into broadcasting. Today, you know him as Emmis Communications Corp. CEO Jeff Smulyan.

Our paths converged back in the '60s, when the sports department of the Star was augmented by a service in which college-age youngsters would provide sports results over the telephone. Miller and I were two of those pups.

Just out of high school and unable to afford tuition at the Bloomington campus of Indiana University, I enrolled at the IU-Indianapolis Extension (the forerunner of IUPUI) and landed a job as a "score boy". Our little cubbyhole of an office was just across the hall from the main sports department of the Star.

And that's where the legends I had grown up reading resided.

Bob Collins. Bob Williams. Harrison Howard. John Bansch. Ray Marquette. Max Greenwald. Max Stultz. "Bayou Bill" Scifres.

And Cy McBride.

While Collins was the sports editor, his primary duty was to write a daily column. The Star has never had one better, before or since.

That left the task of actually running the sports department-making out the schedule and assignments-to Cy, the executive sports editor who had come to the Star years earlier after working at his hometown paper, the Richmond Palladium-Item.

Cy also usually assumed the role of laying out the sports section (sitting in "the slot" as it was called) several nights a week including, almost always, on Saturday.

These were the days long before computers. AP and UPI teletypes delivered the wire-service news while everything else arrived over the telephone or via Western Union.

Saturday nights in the sports department-especially from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.-was utter chaos. The phones rang constantly with correspondents calling in high school and college games. Reporters would call to dictate their stories.

Cy would sit in the middle of it all, guzzling coffee, chewing Dentyne gum, smoking non-stop, shouting orders, continually running up and down a flight of stairs to the composing room to make the pages work as he had designed them.

In those four hours, five editions-the bulldog, first state, second state, city and city makeover-would roll off the presses. And in a few short hours, the Morning Miracle would be in homes and businesses throughout the state.

Anyway, after a year as score boys-dishing out scores and settling bets-Miller and I pleaded with Cy to let us come across the hall and become cub sportswriters. He made it happen.

Then, later that summer-August of 1969-he tossed this kid a bone and handed me my first writing assignment. With Cy's painstaking editing and advice, the story turned out pretty well. Which led to another, and another and, well, here I am, 38 years later.

Sadly, Cy didn't remain with the Star much longer. He got crossways with the managing editor and chose to quit rather than accept a demotion to the copy desk. Cy wasn't about to back down from anyone, especially when he was right. And in this case, he was.

But he reinvented himself, managing shopping malls here locally, then later, becoming a tax adviser in Alabama.

We last saw Cy when he came to Indy for a visit last year. He never changed: irreverent, irascible, incredibly funny.

Upon learning of his death, Miller sent an e-mail to several of us. "We loved his spunk, his logic, his humor, his compassion, his sass, his work ethic, his guidance and the time we spent together," he wrote.

Did we ever? Thanks, Cy McBride. Without you, who knows how it might have turned out?



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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