Press Pass

1971 Greenwood Bulldogs

“I learned a lot about sports, which had never been my favorite interest, but on things like golf tournaments I had to depend on someone more knowledgeable to tell me what was going on. I got pretty good at covering track meets, coming home and typing up all those statistics and sending them on to the paper for the next morning’s edition. Criss [Russell] helped me with football games.

A Commercial Appeal high school press pass, circa 1965

“Bill Street asked me if I would like to handle sports schedules and scores for all of North Mississippi and make a little extra money, so I agreed. I lined up student reporters in some 150-200 schools who called in their football and basketball scores right after the game. The paper paid for us to have an extra telephone put in so that Criss and I could both be taking scores at the same time. On Friday nights during football season and nearly every night during basketball season we sat in the kitchen taking calls until around eleven o’clock.”

 

 

 

 

Those were fun nights during football and basketball seasons. During the summer, there would be an assembly line on the kitchen and dining room tables as Sara and Cathy and I stuffed envelopes with press passes and instructions for student reporters. Sara paid us by the hour, much as she had with Tricia at her old Chamber of Commerce job. On Friday nights, we’d leave Bulldog Stadium in the third quarter so we could be home in time for the first phone calls. For a couple of hours, both phones would be ringing non-stop and we’d speak with each student reporter (some of whom signed up year after year), their voices betraying their school’s victory or defeat. Sara would be feeding the scores into the teletype and zipping them off to Memphis, and the next morning you could find out at the crack of dawn just how well Indianola or Pontotoc or Myrtle or West Tallahatchie had performed the night before. Now I suppose you just check the internet or have the scores zapped into your Iphone with an app, but something is lost in the process.

I tagged along with Sara to golf tournaments and track meets, helping her keep up with the results and marvelling at all those big high school kids who seemed so talented. I do remember one golf event at the Greenwood Country Club when Cathy and her friend, Sandra Spencer, told me that two of the participants were Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus and I should go get their autographs. So, of course, I went up and said, “Mr. Palmer, Mr. Nicklaus, could I have your autograph?” The golfers (who were probably from Yazoo City or some such) stared at me for a minute and then just fell apart laughing. Sara jerked Cathy and Sandra into knots for being such little smart alecks, but I thought the whole episode was pretty funny myself. Those two old duffers are probably still telling that tale in the clubhouse.

One other story: I met several folks in college who had been Sara’s “student reporters” at their high school. It was a big deal to them, as they carried a press card and had to scoot off to find a pay phone as soon as their team’s game was over. One of these friends has his press card in his wallet to this day and has used it to get in college football games, rock concerts and across police lines at crime scenes. He just flashes the word “Press,” looks important and off he goes. Sara’s kind of guy.

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About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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