The Tipoff, The joy of delivering good news in tough times

For career writers like us, choosing our favorite story is like choosing our favorite child. But I'll always have a spe­cial place in my heart for a story I wrote for the Jan. 9, 2015 issue of Sports Illustrated. It was a lengthy profile of former Washington State, Iowa and USC coach George Raveling that centered around his remarkable role in witnessing history. Raveling was an assistant coach at Villanova, his alma mater, when he stood a few feet away as Martin Luther King delivered his famous "I Have A Dream" address on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963. When the speech was over, Raveling asked Dr. King to hand him the papers that sat on the podium. Raveling still has those three sheets of paper, framed and stored in a bank vault in California. They're worth millions of dollars, but Raveling refuses to sell them.

My story was actually a twin profile of Raveling and King, the coach and the preacher, both of whom spent their lives trying to make things better for others. So it was a great honor for me to join Philly sports writing legend Dick Weiss and call Raveling in January to inform him that he had been selected to receive the USBWA's 2021 Dean Smith Award. Raveling was quite pleased, as you might imagine, to be associated with Coach Smith, who used his platform at North Carolina to help break down racial barriers in his quiet, dignified way.

The Dean Smith Award is a great example of how the USBWA can also be a force for good, both in our profession and society at large. I'd like to think this organization tries to honor the legacies of people like King, Raveling and Smith by using our own voices in a productive manner. Lord knows, there are enough forces – economic, political and cultural – that are working hard to drown us out.

Making that call to Raveling with Weiss was one of the great highlights of my tenure as USWBA president. I felt the same gratification as I joined Malcolm Moran to inform the five members of our 2021 Hall of Fame class of their induction. Bill Benner, Pat Forde, Brian Morrison, Dana O'Neil and Loren Tate were all surprised and thrilled to hear the news. They expressed their thanks over and over again, but Malcolm and I reminded them that they had done the hard part. We were just the lucky messengers. Ditto for Doug Vance, who is receiving this year's Katha Quinn Award. In his role as executive director of CoSIDA, Doug has provided extraordinary leadership as we have tried to iron out all the complications of covering college basketball during a once-in-a-century global pandemic.

Now the USBWA is setting its sights on the next generation of journalists as we launch our national mentorship program. We put out the bat signal to our membership asking for volunteers to be mentors, and then blasted out our application inviting college students across the country to apply. On both ends, the response was overwhelming. We were all young once (though that is getting harder to believe for some of us), and so it is my hope that this program will serve as a renewal for our members as well as a stepladder for the students. There are a lot of young, eager, talented men and women out there who are ready to get to work. It is gratifying to know that the USBWA will do our part in showing them the way.

Along with all this usual business, the USBWA leadership has been hard at work preparing for the very unusual process of preparing to cover the 2021 NCAA tournament in Indiana. Putting on this event is extremely challenging as you can imagine, but all the communication channels that were set up last fall have been plenty active as March Madness draws nigh. I am confident that our colleagues at all the schools as well as the NCAA understand and appreci­ate the essential role of independent media in covering the tournament and enhancing the experience for fans and readers. That's not to say everything will work out smoothly and to everyone's liking, but there is a real respect and cooperative spirit at work here. That is something that will serve us well long after this pandemic is over.

So congratulations, again, to our 2021 award winners, and thanks to all of you for your continued good work. The best two months of the year are finally upon us. Let's get out there and do our thing! Warmly, Seth.