Jim Weeks: Farewell to an old mentor
I walked into the Norman Transcript office, 215 E. Comanche, in late September 1978, hoping to talk to Jim Weeks. Crazy me, I had no idea what kind of office hours a sports editor might keep. Probably had no idea what office hours were.
I was 17 years old, a high school senior who long ago figured out I couldn’t hit a curveball or dunk a basketball but loved sports and loved newspapers and figured there couldn’t be much better way to make a living. So I stopped by the Transcript to ask for advice.
Lucky for me, Jim Weeks was in. Lucky for me. Lucky should be my middle name.
I had a short conversation with Jim, he gave me good advice. Go to college, work on the school newspaper, see what happens. Then about three weeks later, the phone rang.
My brother, who was 11 in the fall of 1978, reminded me this week that he actually answered the phone and came running for me. “Jim Weeks is on the phone!”
You’ve got to realize, in our house, sportswriters were no less hallowed than Grecian gods. My dad took four newspapers a day, and we read them all. Transcript. Oklahoman. Oklahoma City Times. Oklahoma Journal. On Sundays, he would buy the Tulsa World and the Dallas Times Herald. I could imagine nothing more dashing, no one more exotic, than a Dallas sportswriter. When Jim Weeks telephoned the house, we couldn’t have had a more startling call than if Reggie Jackson or Steve Owens had dialed in.
Jim Weeks had written down my name and phone number. Then a part-time job came open. He couldn’t find a college kid to fill — I’ll never know why, other than this was during the oil boom, so guys could work for pretty good money doing most anything, and working Friday night and Saturday night on East Comanche for $2.75 an hour wasn’t all that appealing. But it was to me.
Thirty-one years later, I’ve pounded the keyboard in the pressboxes of Yankee Stadium and Notre Dame and Final Fours and a Super Bowl and more great sporting cathedrals than I can even count, and it started with that week-night phone call so many years ago.
Jim Weeks died last week at the age of 76. He had suffered from Alzheimer’s in recent years.
I worked 12 years for Jim. I was a high school kid when I started. I was president of the PTA at Eisenhower Elementary when Jim left the Transcript in 1990 and started a new adventure in Grove, with a beautiful house on the shores of Grand Lake.
When I went to work for Jim Weeks, I didn’t know anything about sportswriting. When I left, I knew a little something about this joyride that has passed for a job and a career. Jim taught me the little things, about word usage, what my friend Ed Frost termed “careful writing.” That’s exactly what Jim espoused. Careful writing. Say what you mean. Mean what you say.
Here’s an example. If you write “couldn’t,” mean “couldn’t.” Don’t say, the Sooners drove to the 4-yard line but couldn’t score. What does that mean? Of course the Sooners could have scored. They DIDN’T score. Say what you mean. I still use those lessons every day
Jim was an excellent mentor and a wonderful boss. I spent 13 years at the Transcript, where I learned the value and result of hard work.
The Transcript was what I came to term meatball journalism. I stole that from Hawkeye Pierce’s meatball surgery. Patch ‘em up and move ‘em out. That’s what our 31/2-man staff did. I worked many a 16-hour Friday, followed by a 12-hour Saturday, and I enjoed every second of it.
I have a soft spot in my heart for people who labor on their jobs. People who grudgingly go to work every day. What a testimony to dedication, because I never had to do that. I never once went to work, at the Transcript or Oklahoman, without a spring in my step. Never once went to work without thinking, wow, this is great. Must be awful if you’ve got a job that doesn’t lift your spirit.
I’ve had that job for 31 years. Thirty-one years of taking calls and typing agate and editing stories and laying out pages and planning stories and phoning coaches 15 minutes before midnight. Thirty-one years of covering junior high football and high school wrestling and college baseball and the Eli Manning Super Bowl. Thirty-one years of Jamelle Holieway and Big Country and Kevin Durant.
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