Saturday, February 7, 2015

The passing of two legends: Charlie Sifford and Don Shea

Two legends of sports passed away this week. Monday it was Don Shea, most notably the sports anchor for WTVD-TV for 17 years and 30 years associated with the NC State Department of Athletics, and Charlie Sifford, a pioneer of minority representation on the PGA tour. Shea was a young 77 who died in his sleep; Sifford was a young 92 who just last year received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Several stories have been written about the two over the last few days. There’s little reason to repeat what the previous writers have penned. However, relating a couple of stories might be appropriate. Sifford was an African-American who had an interesting professional golf career. He wasn’t an overwhelming great player, but a trailblazer of the sport. For the most part, he was classy in public. Shea was a friendly man who cared a lot about others and put on a great appearance with his dapper outfits. He knew his sports, and even when he didn’t, he made it up so well you thought he knew his sports.

In 1974, the PGA conducted two events simultaneously at MacGregor Downs Country Club in Cary: the US Match Play Championship and the L&M Open. Sifford was in the latter. He was not playing particularly well and finished the tournament near the bottom. He came to the 18th hole not really interested in his game, just wanting to finish, get off the course and head to his next stop. After a wayward drive and bad second shot, he hit his third shot just short of the front of the green of the par four. As he walked up the fairway, he took his putter from his caddie and basically slapped at the ball as he continued walking. The hole was cut in the back middle of the green, and Sifford’s halfway attempt rolled up the hill and into the cup for a par. Those watching near the green applauded. Sifford laughed, retrieved his ball, tipped his cap to the fans and exited.

The various stories the last few days about Shea say he went from being stationed at Fort Bragg to the Durham Morning Herald and to WTVD, but that’s not quite the whole story. The reason he made his way to Durham was because of Ed Seaman, the longtime Sports Information Director at NC State who was previously the sports editor of the Fayetteville Observer, at the time an afternoon paper. According to Seaman, who passed away in October 2013 at age 91, Shea was on his staff a short period of time. Due to his late nights in Fayetteville, Shea consistently had a tough time reporting to work for the early morning schedule of the Observer. Seaman warned him that tardiness would be reason for dismissal. Soon thereafter, Seaman came through on his promise; Shea was off to Durham, the newspaper and WTVD. Seaman, in a light-hearted way, always took credit for Shea’s success as a television sports anchor/reporter.
-------------------- word of the day
epistolize (verb) [ih-pis-tl-ahyz]: to write a letter

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