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SPORTS: Fixture on local sports scene continues 42-year run

May 15, 2006

Since he nearly died a couple of months back, now is probably a good time to write something about my friend, Bill York. After all, I'd at least like for him to be able to read it.

York is one of those behind-the-scenes folks who gives Indiana a good name. To the local and national sports media, he personifies Hoosier Hospitality.

For years, York has directed the media room operations at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Conseco Fieldhouse (Market Square Arena before that), the Pepsi Coliseum ... and even at Brickyard Crossing during those years when the senior golfers were having tournaments there.

York's primary job is to try to make the planet's biggest collection of whiners and grumps-the sports media-happy.

Sure, it's a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

York, and the crews he assembles, oversees the gathering and distribution of statistics, quotes, notes and general information distributed to the in-town and visiting media covering the Speedway races, the Indiana Pacers, the Indianapolis Colts, the Indiana Fever and IHSAA events.

Whatever the question or request, York is relentless in providing an answer or a resolution. By doing so, he spreads a lot of good will for the city.

He's been with the Speedway since 1964, the Pacers since their inception (1967), and the Colts since they came to town (1984).

York, 73, will be the first to tell you he's the beneficiary of those who work with-not for-him. "I've been blessed to have a group of incredibly dedicated and dependable people," he says.

Some, such as Bob Clidinst at the Speedway and Paul Furimsky (official timer) and Bill Bevan (official scorer) of the Pacers, have been with him all the way. It has become, as York observes, "just one big family affair."

York, however, is the patriarch.

A native of Peru and a Purdue grad, he got the Speedway gig from longtime IMS publicist Al Bloemker after York made himself known escorting Speedway rookies to promotional appearances for his employer, meat packer Stark & Wetzel, which sponsored the rookie of the year award.

When the Pacers were formed, their first publicist, Bill Marvel (another longtime Speedway fixture) knew they would require statisticians, timers and the like. He got in touch with York and told him to assemble a crew. And by the time the Colts arrived on the Mayflower, it was pretty much a given: Call Bill York.

York serves as the right arm of the local media relations directors. Their assessment?

From the Pacers' David (he ain't heavy, he's my brother) Benner:

"We named our media room in Conseco Fieldhouse after him. To him, it was one of his greatest honors because he was being recognized for his service to the media and his loyalty to the Indiana Pacers. That is what Bill is about: service and loyalty."

Says Craig Kelley of the Colts:

"Bill understands the pressures and needs of our team on game day, and the same services needed by the media in attendance. Bill and his staff are invaluable in that you do not have to worry about jobs being done and done well. He is a marvelous extension of my staff and a fine representative of the Colts in our press box. More importantly, he adds a friendship and trust that is uncommon, and he does this with every entity that uses him."

And from the Speedway's Ron Green:

"For 42 years, Bill has been working with the media and building relationships with journalists from around the world. His knowledge of the wants and needs of the media is irreplaceable. He has taught many young PR people the important lesson of never sending a journalist away without an answer. Bill might not be able to always give the answer the reporter wants to hear, but he always gives them the right answer."

Last month, York was recognized by the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association with its Bob Williams Helping Hand Award, named for the longtime sportswriter at The Indianapolis Star and the first information director for the IHSAA.

Oh, as for that little near-death thing, York badly fractured his ankle in December when he slipped on ice in the driveway of his Clermont home. A couple of months later, when the cast was removed, a blood clot broke loose and lodged near his heart. The quick action of his wife, Jay-along with some divine intervention-enabled him to survive.

On May 7, when the Speedway opened, York was back behind the desk in the media center. You can't keep a good man down. He's one of the best.



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.
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