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Sports writers honor their own at conference



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J. Stewart Bryan III, Chairman of the Board for Media General Inc. and Bill Millsaps, 2011 Red Smith Award recipient, laugh with each other after the Red Smith Award Luncheon on June 24 in Boston. Courtney Deckard

BOSTON — Usually they’re the people behind the camera, with a single byline as their source of fame.

But from June 22 to 25, sports editors from newspapers across the nation gathered in Boston for the 2011 Associated Press Sports Editors conference. The conference featured panels and workshops as well as two award ceremonies.

One award ceremony honored multiple newspapers and sports writers. The other ceremony, for the Red Smith Award, was held June 24 and honored a single person: Bill Millsaps.

Millsaps retired in 2005 after working for the Richmond Times-Dispatch for 39 years.     In addition to being this year’s Red Smith award winner, he has been named Virginia sportswriter of the year 11 times.

The Red Smith Award, which is sponsored by The New York Times and Indiana University, was established in 1981 when famed sportswriter and award namesake Red Smith was the recipient of the inaugural award.

Nineteen years later, 2009-10 APSE President Garry D. Howard created the Red Smith Award Hall of Fame housed in the National Sports Journalism Center on the campus of IU-Purdue University Indianapolis.

“It was a no-brainer,” said Howard, editor-in-chief of The Sporting News. “When (NSJC Director) Tim Franklin came to us to pitch an alliance, I thought to myself, ‘This could be a great opportunity to display the greatest sportswriters of the 20th century.’”

During his acceptance, Millsaps paid tribute to the award’s namesake, recalling his first meeting with Red Smith at a World Series game in the early 1970’s. “I went up to him and told him I thought he was the best there ever was, and I always wanted to be like him and be able to write as well as he did,” Millsaps said. “His response, which I’ve never forgotten was, ‘You do me honor.’”

That honor now belongs to Millsaps.

“Saps had a passion for writing that came through in every line, every word he wrote, “ said Jack Berninger, APSE Executive Director and former sports editor and colleague of Millsaps’ at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

As he received the award, Millsaps recounted those who inspired him.

“Willie Nelson sang that his heroes have always been cowboys,” he said. “My heroes have always been sports writers, such as Blackie Sherrod, Jim Murray and Red Smith.”

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