Gentry: When we left off, we were talking about some of the problems you had getting into the dressing room and also getting into the sports organizations. But you had some real advantages breaking into sportswriting when you did, didn't you?
Garber: I certainly did and I don't think I could have broken in in a better way or at a better time because I was on a—I don't think it's right to call it a small paper, it's probably a medium-sized paper. But Carlton Byrd and I were the whole staff. So I had a great deal of freedom and a great deal of opportunity to do a lot of different things. The organization I'm on now—or rather I was on when I retired—was a bigger staff. We had definite assignments and things that we had to do. It was a much more structured setup. I think I'd have had a whole lot more trouble if I had broken in in a situation like that. Carlton and I just sort of had a low-key, loosely organized operation and all I did was tell him pretty much what I was going to do and then I just went ahead and did it.
The dressing rooms were not a problem because even when I covered a college football game, I didn't have to write a story until Monday morning when I wrote the roundup for the Monday evening paper. So deadlines were not a problem. I had plenty of time to wait around until the boys had showered and dressed. I had plenty of time to think about my questions and to go over the game and to see what I was going to write. I just didn't have to write under pressure until I got on the morning paper.
I remember one of the things I used to do on Sunday morning, I'd call Earle Edwards who was then the North Carolina State coach and talk with him. And to show the difference, I had his home phone. Today coaches rarely give you their home phone. I used to call Earle every Sunday morning at 11 o'clock. And very often his wife would answer the phone. And she'd say, "Earle, it's your girl friend, come talk to her." And then we'd sit and talk about football and the game and everything else.
I covered a great variety of sports and that made a big difference. That gave me experience in football, basketball, baseball, track, swimming, cross country, just about every sport our newspaper covered. Working with high school kids made it much easier than it would have been otherwise because I was dealing with young kids who were more tolerant of my mistakes and much more willing to accept me. Also I think it helped working with Winston-Salem State which was a black school. They were tolerant of whatever shortcomings I might have. All in all, it was a much, much better setup, much more low-key situation and a much easier way for a young girl to break in.
Gentry: What kind of hours did you work on the Sentinel?
Garber: We had to be to work at 6:30 in the morning and Carlton and I would do the makeup on the Sentinel. We used to finish—I think the deadline was around 10:30 or eleven o'clock. Then I usually had some free time to do pretty much whatever I wanted to. In the afternoons I would go to high school football practice and they usually started about three o'clock or a little later than that. When I started covering Wake Forest, I went to Wake Forest football practices. I'd get home for supper about six o'clock. Then in the evening, I'd phone high school coaches and talk to them.
Those were long hours but it wasn't really working all the time because I would call one of the high school coaches and we'd talk about the practice that day. Then we'd just talk about what was going on so you
really couldn't count on it working all the time. As I think I've said before, I usually covered a high school game on Thursday night and another one on Friday afternoon and another one on Friday night and sometimes on Saturday night. I just didn't worry too much about keeping strict hours of how much I worked. I loved what I was doing. When I started, Carlton was going to a college game on Saturday afternoon, and not coming in on Saturday morning. I'd work on Saturday morning and I got paid overtime for that. Most of the time, it was my decision to work longer, my pleasure to do it and so I just didn't worry about the hours or how much time was being put in.
I was fortunate in another way that we weren't a union paper. If we had belonged to the Newspaper Guild, I couldn't have done that because they're very strict on overtime and what you can do. And I think that would have really been a handicap to me, even though I think unions have done a great deal of good. But at that particular situation, it would have hurt me.
Gentry: Now, when you went to the morning paper, it was quite a different situation, a lot more deadlines and pressure, wasn't it?
Garber: A lot more deadlines and pressure. And fortunately I did it sort of gradually when we first were consolidated, that is we brought the evening paper and the morning paper under the same staff. I was working largely with the evening paper. Then gradually I did more and more on the morning paper.
You've got to realize that when we were consolidated and I started working for a morning paper, I had never (except for that one time with the Winston-Salem State) done what we called a spot news coverage, that is covering a game and sitting down and writing it right away. I had gone to the game and taken notes and talked to coaches and players and then gone back and done a roundup the next day. But I had never sat in the press box and written a game right there under the pressure of deadline knowing I had to get it done within a short time.
So Mal Mallette, who was our sports director at the time, knew I didn't have the experience and he wanted to give me a chance to do the coverage. So he sent me down to North Carolina and told me to sit in the press box and write the story of the game and do it just like I was really covering the game. But they weren't going to use it. He said, "Just bring the story home and I'll go over it with you and show you where you were right and where you were wrong."
Gentry: It was just a practice run, huh?
Garber: That's right. I went down there and I was the last person to leave the press box and it was dark and I was parked way away from everybody else. And I didn't like that too much. But it did give me the confidence to know I could do it.
Gentry: And then you started doing it?
Garber: Yes, on a regular basis. I did football first. I think probably because football was mostly played in the afternoon that gave me a little bit of leeway and time. I did have time to wait until the guys showered and dressed and came out to talk to me.
The first time I really ran into difficulty was when I started covering basketball. One of the first games I covered was—we had a professional team in the American Basketball Association called the Carolina Cougars. And the guy who was regularly covering the Cougars for us was working on a special story. So Mel Derrick said, "Why don't you go over with him and you cover the game and he'll be there to bail you out and help you if you run into any trouble. But I want you to cover the game."
So I went over there and one of the first things I had to do was what we call a first-half running which means that you rounded up what had happened in the first half and sent that back to the paper so they would have something to go with for the first edition. I had never done a first-half running in my life and I wasn't really sure how to do it. But I got through that okay. But what really ruined me was that the game went into triple overtime. And I was a basket case before it was finished. But I got it done and the big thing that that did for me was to let me know that I could work under pressure and I could handle situations like that.
Gentry: On those stories you did in the press box and under pressure like that, about how long would you have to write it at the end of the game?
Garber: It depended on when the game finished.
Gentry: Like an hour, often?
Garber: Well, sometimes you had an hour, sometimes you had more than that, sometimes you had less than that. It just all depended upon when the game finished. The thing that happened was that a lot of times you'd come back and all of a sudden your mind would go absolutely blank. You wouldn't have any idea of how to begin your lead or where to start or anything like that? And Mal was very helpful. He said, "It happens to everybody." He said, "When that happens and you can't think of something that really hits you to be a good lead, do what we call an AP lead and that's the straight news-type lead that such-and-such a team won and very, very routine. And he said, "Usually when you start that way, then you can relax and you know what to do and you can get your story done."
And it always worked with me. I found that it was sort of like when you took exams and you'd sit down and you'd look at the exam and you'd say, "Holy crow, I don't know anything in this!" But if you just skipped the ones you didn't know and went down until you hit something that you did know, then all of a sudden you're relaxed and you look back and you'll say, "Oh, yeah, I know the answer to that."
Gentry: So Mal helped you a lot—
Garber: Yes, he did.
Gentry: Wasn't he also quite critical of you?
Garber: He was terribly critical of me when he first came and I didn't like him at all and I felt sure he didn't like me. He was trying very hard to make the paper much better. So he used to write us notes and every morning when we came in, our mailboxes—at least mine would be stuffed with letters, notes from him that this was wrong and that was wrong and I didn't do this well and I didn't do that well. And I know he was trying to help me but newspaper people being what we are, we sort of turned our nose up at it. And we used to get together and I'd say, "I got six notes today, how many did you get?" And somebody else would say, "Well, I got seven, you aren't nearly as good as I am."
Gentry: That's unusual, isn't it?
Garber: Yes, it is, to get that close supervision. He used to sit down with me and go over every one of my stories, line by line. And I'd sit there and just listen to what he had to say. Maybe it's kind of like a parent sitting down and talking with a child, the child listens but he really doesn't hear. One day he was going over one of my stories and I don't know, I just had it. So finally I said, "Mal, I don't think I can please you no matter what happens." And he stopped and he looked at me and he said, "Don't you know why I'm doing this?" I said, "No." And he said, "Because I think you can be good." After that, gosh, I would have done anything for him. And he really, really did help me, he was one of my strongest supporters, he boosted me in
every way, he gave me good assignments, he gave me a chance to do a lot of things, and he really, really did help me.
Gentry: A lot of people helped you on that paper over the years, didn't they?
Garber: Yes, they sure did. Leon Dure who helped me get into the press box and Nady who gave me my job and Carlton who put up with me over the years when I just know he was getting a lot of "Why you got that old girl on the paper for?" And I know he really had a bad time. But he never griped to me, he never let me know if he was having a bad time.
Gentry: You never had any trouble with anyone on the paper, then?
Garber: No, they were all just as supportive as they could be. I think I remember telling you about Mamie Braddy who was a woman reporter who'd been around for a long time. She had a big in with the police department. She covered the police and they really did whatever she asked them to do. We had a big football game here for the benefit of the police department. And there were some stories breaking on that and I was having a hard time getting them. So I said something to Mamie. And she said, "Don't you worry about it, I'll take care of that. You'll get all the stories you want." And the next morning, I looked up and here were three police officers standing there. They had their hands full of pictures and papers and all kinds of stuff. And they said, "Here you are, take your choice, anything you want, you can have anything you want, and if this isn't enough, we'll go get more. Just please get Mamie off our backs."
Gentry: Now, when you went on the morning paper, this is a paper much bigger than the afternoon paper, wasn't it?
Garber: Yes, it is.
Gentry: So you were really seen.
Garber: It was really—at the time, I wasn't sure whether it was a good thing to do but now I know it was because the circulation was so much more and the paper went all over the northwest area. So I got a much wider reputation than I would have if I'd stayed just on the evening paper.
Gentry: And you had your own column for a while, didn't you?
Garber: Yes, I did, on the evening paper. I had a column which we called "Skirt in Sports." Then we had a managing editor come in who said he didn't want anything like that, that he wanted the name connected with the sports. So it was always "Carlton Byrd on Sports" and "Mary Garber on Sports." But it was kind of fun to do.
Gentry: Did you have that also on the morning paper?
Garber: No. I had a tennis column in the morning paper and still do.
Gentry: You often have said that you worked twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year in your job. What do you mean by that?
Garber: I mean that I think that if you're going to be a newspaper reporter, you're available for duty and you're on duty and you're ready to come back to work any time, day or night, twenty-four hours a day. Because the world doesn't stop when you get off at five o'clock or at eleven o'clock or whatever time your actual day is supposed to end. You always have to be ready to come back and pitch in to do anything.
Even up until right before I retired, in fact, it's happened since I've been retired, they'll call me from the paper and say, "This has happened, we need your help." And I'll get in the car and go back to work and do whatever needs to be done. I think anybody who is a newspaper person is going to do that.
Gentry: Didn't you even work on a vacation sometimes?
Garber: Yes. When I went on vacation, I used to go up at a place called Hendersonville in North Carolina and I always would look ahead and try to think up stories that I could get in that area so that I'd have something when I came back, something to write. I'd go down to Furman and talk to people there. One year the Atlanta Falcons had a training camp at Blue Ridge Assembly and I went up there and spent a couple of days and did some stories on them. I just enjoy doing it because it gave me a whole new area, a whole new group of people to see.
Gentry: You just loved it so much you didn't care if you worked all day and all night.
Garber: It didn't make any difference to me. I liked what I was doing and I still do.
Gentry: On a big sports weekend, say when there were a lot of football games, what would be the typical hours you worked?
Garber: The thing is if you work on a morning paper, you are going to have some real problems. And the guys that are working there do it now. I'd cover a high school football game on Friday night and get in from covering the game maybe at 11:30 or 12 o'clock. Then I'd have to get up the next morning at 6:30 or 7 to drive to cover a college football game. When I was working the consolidated shift and working on the evening paper, Carlton and I still had to go in at 6:30 in the morning and put the Sentinel's page out before we went to a college football game. When I'd get back from the college football game, it was 7:30 or eight o'clock by the time I'd written my story. So it made for long days. The men who work on the staff now work long hours—and I did the same thing—I've seen those kids come in from a high school football game at 11:30 and 12 o'clock at night and discuss whether they were going to drive to Clemson starting then or whether they were going home and get a few hours sleep and then drive to Clemson.
Gentry: So it's not just the old timers that had that kind of loyalty, it's the young kids today—
Garber: It goes with the territory. If you're not willing to do it you shouldn't be there. I know we had one kid who came in and wanted to be in the sports department. We tried him for a couple of weeks and finally he said, "Look, when do I get a weekend off, I can't work every weekend." And we told him, "Hey, baby, if you're going to work in the sports department, you're going to work every weekend." So he quit. And he might just as well have because we would have fired him, anyhow.
Gentry: Are you all paid straight salaries or do you get overtime for those—
Garber: Yes. It sounds real bad but it isn't. It's sort of a you-help-me-and-I'll-help-you. Sure you work long weekends and sure it's hard when basketball games and football games pile up. But then I might go in Monday or Tuesday and work an hour.
Gentry: Oh, I see.
Garber: You see, you just sort of—
Gentry: You don't punch a time clock.
Garber: No. I don't have to be in at any special time. I have assignments—that is when I was working full-time, never did I have to be in at any special time. We had an assignment sheet and I knew what my assignment was and I did it. And if I could do it in an hour or two hours or half an hour, or any way, just so I got it done, that's all that mattered. And then I could go do anything I wanted to do.
Gentry: And you were pleased with your salary? Was it equal to the men's?
Garber: I don't have any idea because—this is something people always ask, were women paid the same as men? I don't have any idea.
Gentry: As long as you were satisfied.
Garber: I know that two of my friends, one was a woman who worked in the arts department and one of the guys that worked on the sports department got together one night and compared salaries and they found they were pretty much the same. I just never did that—I was satisfied with what I was getting so I didn't care what anybody else was getting. That's not my problem.
Gentry: As a woman, did you also find time with a schedule like this for social life and home and friends and family?
Garber: Very little.
Gentry: Very little, huh?
Garber: The problem was that I could not be sure when I was going to be free. And I lived with my sister and she'd say, "We've been invited out to dinner on next Thursday night. Can you go?" And I couldn't tell her because I wasn't sure whether something would come up that I'd have to cover. And I used to have a foursome I played tennis with in the morning. They were continually annoyed with me because I'd have to call them on the night before and say, "I'm sorry I can't be there tomorrow, I've got to go to Durham."
Gentry: So they never really understood?
Garber: They never understood, no. I think Neely understood and she'd just plain go ahead by herself if I didn't go.
Gentry: Then your parents lived with you and didn't your mother live to be quite old?
Garber: Yes. My father died when he was sixty-seven but my mother lived to be ninety-three. And for about the last eight years when she was home, she was an invalid and poor Neely had the responsibility of taking care of her and looking after her and it was really an awful lot on her because she couldn't count on me to help her out. And we would try to work it out when she had something she really wanted to do that I could be off and stay here with our mother. And then our mother was in a nursing home for five years after that. And I always worked out time to go see her every day and Neely did, too.
Gentry: So that was tough. Neely and you had a kind of a organization where she kept the house and you kept working—and it worked out.
Garber: She kept the house and I worked. I couldn't have done what I did if she hadn't done what she did.
Gentry: Right. And she didn't mind.
Garber: I don't know. I'm sure she did. I'm sure she got very annoyed at times but she went ahead and did it, anyhow.
Gentry: I've heard many people say that you've been married to the paper and that your colleagues were almost like family. I think you've said it yourself. Do you think that's a fair statement?
Garber: Yes, I think so. I know that the newspaper has been my life. I have loved it since I first went there and I just think about it all the time. I criticize it and get upset about it when it doesn't do what I think it should do. But I really, really love it and I'm just happy that I had the chance to be with it as long as I have. All the guys who work there and the gals, too, have been my friends.
Gentry: Looking back, do you ever regret working that hard for fifty years, now that it's the fiftieth year?
Garber: Not really. This was something I felt I had to do and I don't think I would have lasted as long as I have without spending this much time.
Gentry: Do you think now that sportswriting would be a tough juggling act for the modern women who wants everything—the home, the husband, the kids and the career? Could they do it?
Garber: I think they can do it but I think you've got to give up a lot and I think you've got to make a decision whether you think you can handle everything. You know the old story of supermom, can she work full-time and still raise a family? And the problem is that if you're working for a sports department, there are a lot of demands on you. Several years ago I met a young lady named Mary Flanagan who was covering the New York Islanders, I think it was, for the New York Daily News. And she was married and had a baby. And she said her husband was very understanding and they had good sitters to be with the little girl during the day and her husband was home at night. But she said that she realized that as the little girl got older and wanted Mommy to go and take part in PTA and make costumes for the Christmas play and do all the things that mothers usually do. She couldn't be on the road ten days a month with an ice hockey team.
And I think this is something that women have to choose. It's a tough decision to make. And I think it's awfully hard for a girl who's dating and interested in a young man to say, "Hey, I'm sorry but I can't go out with you tonight, I've got to go to a football game." That's fine for a while but, you know, the guy gets kind of tired of it after a while. It's a really, really tough decision for a woman to have to make—I think sports people have a lot of problems anyhow in their marriages because they're on the road so much. There are so many demands on them. And I think that probably the divorce rate is pretty high and I would think it would be even worse with the woman doing these things because our society today still doesn't understand that women's careers are important to them, too.
Gentry: Would you have any special advice to a woman wanting to start out in your field today?
Garber: You mean if they're going to try to juggle both?
Gentry: Right. Or any advice. Any warnings?
Garber: Warnings is that you're going to have to work awfully hard and you're going to have to be a whole lot better than the men are.
Gentry: You still have to be better?
Garber: Right. And you're going to have to give up an awful lot of things that other women do and enjoy and you're not going to be able to do them. And it's not just sports, we have a woman who has a six-year-old son. She's the city editor. And she's had to have him in day care ever since he was about three or four years old.
And you know, she doesn't like to have to do this because of course she wants to be home with him. And after she's worked all day, she's got to go home and feed him and read to him and put him to bed and bathe him and do all the things any other mother does. And it's tough.
Gentry: It sure is. During your long career, how many sports or what sports have you covered?
Garber: I think in the forty-five or more years that I've been in sports, I've covered every sport that our newspapers cover. I've covered football, basketball, baseball, swimming, tennis, golf, cross-country track, boxing, wrestling—
Garber: Right. Even down to soap box derbies and marbles tournaments and kite-flying things and the steeplechase. I've covered wheelchair tennis, international competition, really just about everything. I haven't done them all well because nobody knows that much about everything.
Gentry: Do you have any background, for instance, in the steeplechase?
Garber: Absolutely none and I'm absolutely terrified of horses.
Gentry: You are?
Garber: I don't like anything about them. My philosophy is that if horses will stay on their side of the world, I'll stay on mine, and I'll not bother them if they won't bother me. But I covered the steeplechase one year. And I went out a couple of days ahead and met some of the people.
And I was talking with the wife of one of the men who was going to be riding. And she told me about their horse—I've forgotten what his real name was but they called him Charlie Brown. Their little girl rode him. He was just a pet when he wasn't steeplechasing. Charlie Brown ran in the main races. By that time I kind of liked that horse. I was afraid he was going to get hurt. I hid my eyes every time he went over a jump. So when the race was over and Charlie Brown had won, I went to the girl and asked, "Can you tell me when Charlie Brown took the lead because I hid my eyes every time he jumped." She said, "I hid my eyes every time he jumped, too." Then she said, "We'll go ask my husband; he'll tell us." So we went over and asked him and he looked that pained look that men look when women make a dumb remark but he told us all about it.
Gentry: That's an interesting way of reporting something.
Garber: Right. I didn't see fit to mention that to the boss.
Gentry: You mentioned covering international competitions. What were they?
Garber: Well, one thing I covered was the Davis Cup. The Davis Cup, when the United States played Romania in Charlotte, at Olde Providence. That was one of the first international events I had covered. The Davis Cup is different from the regular tennis tournament. Usually when you go to a tennis tournament, it's John McEnroe leads one game to love or whatever. But in Davis Cup, it's everything by the country. And this year the United States was playing Romania. And Ili Nastase was just a young kid starting out, Ion Teriak was captain of the Romanian team. Stan Smith was in the army and he was playing for the United States.
The players march out and everybody was ini uniform. They played the national anthem of the two countries. So they started out with this horrible sounding thing. Everybody was standing at attention trying to look like they knew what was going on. And all of a sudden Teriak just went berserk. He started running around and going in front of the army band which was playing the anthem and waving his hands. The music
sort of trailed off. And we found out that the guy who was planning the program had made a mistake and we played the anthem that was the anthem for Romania when they were a monarchy and of course they were a Communist country now. And that was a horrible situation and everybody was very offended.
Later on that day I was in the press room and I was talking with a newspaperman from Romania. He spoke English so we could understand each other. He had been assigned to the United Nations. They had taken him off the United Nations that week and sent him to the Davis Cup because they said the Davis Cup was the important thing going on in the world that week. That was kind of weird for us because all the people covering the Davis Cup from North Carolina were second-stringers. Nobody who was a top sports person was there. They were all off covering football.
So this Romanian guy and I started talking about the mistake in the national anthem. And he said, "And how would you feel if you came to Romania and we played the wrong national anthem for the United States?" And I didn't dare tell him that I would think it was hilarious and we would all have a big laugh about it. But I told him that we were very sorry and that we meant no offense and we were just stupid. And he was equally nice back to me and he said, "You are not stupid. It was just a mistake." So then we went to the bar and had a beer and international relations were very well taken care of.
And then I thoroughly enjoyed international competition covering the track meets that Al Buehler and Leroy Walker put together down in Durham. We had the Pan-African team and we had the West Germans and we had the Russians and it was really a lot of fun because you got to know all the different kind of people. I was down the year the Russians were there, I was sitting down in the stadium and talking to this man. He spoke perfect English. We talked about track and we talked about Durham and he wanted to know where was a good place to eat and all the questions that you ask like that. And then later we had a press conference and this guy got up and spoke through an interpreter. He was the Russian coach and he acted like he couldn't speak English. He spoke English every bit as well as I did and we got along just fine.
And then I met a Russian lady shot-putter and I interviewed her through an interpreter. And I know she understood what I was saying because she would react to the question before the lady got through translating it. It was really weird because they'd make a real long answer and then the translator would say, "He says yes." So you knew you weren't really getting the full story of what went on.
Gentry: That must have been very hard.
Garber: It was hard. But you know, it's amazing how much you can talk to each other, between sign language and a little bit of English and if you ever knew any French or other language. It's amazing how much you can talk to each other if you really want to.
Then in tennis, I met a Russian lady who was playing with one of the teams when they had team tennis, she came to Greensboro. She was telling me all about how the junior tennis program was set up in Russia and how she learned and how good it was. She spoke excellent English and we got along just fine. And she said, "The thing, though, is I just hate to practice. I do everything I can to get out of practice." So I said, "Well, you're not alone in that."
And I told her about Brian Piccolo who was just a horrible person in practice and he goofed off all the time. And then there was a Davidson basketball player who told me that when he got up in the morning and thought about practice, it ruined his whole day. So we were laughing and carrying on. All of a sudden she just froze. And she went back and started telling me about the junior tennis program and what it was like, going right over the things she had been over just a few minutes before. I looked over my shoulder and the chaperone on the Russian team had pulled up a chair behind us and was listening. And that girl was frightened. She was afraid that she was saying something she shouldn't.
And it wasn't as if we had been talking anything political or she'd been saying the Russians did not have a good system or it was a bad place to live or she wanted to defect, she wasn't saying anything like that. We were just talking about hating to practice which is sort of a universal thing. But she was scared and it told me something about democracy because goodness knows, I wouldn't have been afraid of anything like that. But she was.
And one of the most moving things that I had was when the West Germans and Pan-Africans came to Durham. When you have a track meet, the countries come in by teams when the meet begins. They're all dressed up in their uniforms and very formal and very well organized. But when it's all over, they come in all together and the Germans and the Pan-Africans and the Americans are all mixed up together. And they'd swapped uniforms so much that you couldn't tell who was on which team. The band was playing and they were marching around and a couple of kids came down out of the stands.
One of them—I don't know whether it was West German or a Pan-African or an American, I really don't remember, but somebody reached a hand out and took one of the kids into the line of march. And somebody else reached out and took another kid in. And the announcer was really on the ball. And he said, "All right. All you kids, come on down." And about two thousand North Carolina kids came pouring out of the stands. They joined the march. I remember a great big Pan-African guy picked up a little girl and put her on his shoulders and she had her arms around his neck. A West German took the hand of a little boy and he was skipping along. And they were just wonderful. All of a sudden all of us were united in something that we all cared about which was track. It was really a wonderful experience.
Gentry: Did you get down on the field, too?
Garber: I didn't get in the march but I was standing down on the field.
Gentry: I want to talk about some of the different sports you covered in detail and how you learn them—for instance, you mentioned baseball. How did you learn that game like an insider?
Garber: Well, I didn't really learn it like an insider. But I got a lot of help. As I think I've said in one of the earlier interviews, a photographer named Frank McMillan helped me to learn how to score. He used to play professional in the minor leagues. And that first year when I was covering baseball, George Ferrell took over the management of the team about halfway through the season when Pappy Smith gave up. And George was an awfully big help to me. Right after the season, Frank Spencer who was the sports editor of the Journal and I went to a Hot Stove League meeting in High Point. And as soon as we got over there, Frank left me. And I looked around the room and there were about 250 men and I didn't know any of them. And I was the only woman there.
Gentry: What is the Hot Stove League?
Garber: Hot Stove League is an organization where baseball people get together to talk about baseball during the off-season. It goes back to the days when they used to have hot stoves in the country stores and everybody gathered around them to talk. But I looked around and the only person I could see that I knew was George Ferrell and he was talking with a whole bunch of guys. So I went over there and stood beside him and he looked around and saw me. And he put his arm around me and pulled me into the group and said, "This is Mary Garber. She's a friend of mine." And he introduced me to all the scouts. And from then on, because he had sponsored me, every scout was always willing to be friendly with me and nice to me.
Whenever I went to baseball games, I always sat with them. And I learned so much from talking with them because I'd listen to them talk. I remember Mace Brown, for instance, used to scout for the Boston Red Sox. He had such a colorful way of talking about people. When a prospect was slow, he'd say, "He runs too
long in the same place." And when a guy couldn't hit, he'd say, "He couldn't hit me if I was to run across the plate." I just enjoyed listening to them so much.
Gentry: Did you quote them a lot?
Garber: Right. And the men used to take turns buying the popcorn and the cold drinks that we ate while we were watching the game. And somehow it was never my turn. I would always say, "Well, this is my turn." They'd say, "No, no, Bill's going to buy them this week. He's so cheap, he never pays." So one afternoon I was in Elkin at a baseball game and George Ferrell was the only scout there. So George said, "C'mon, let's go get a Coke." And I said, "Now, George, it is my turn to buy. You have always bought and you won't ever let me buy." So he said, "Okay." But he said, "I'm not going to let you buy. We're going to have a contest. We're going to throw rocks at that tree and whoever hits it first, the other one has to buy the drinks."
So we started throwing rocks and I couldn't get anywherewith the near the tree and we kept moving closer and closer and George kept missing on purpose. So finally I realized, after we'd been throwing for two or three minutes, that he was never going to hit the tree until I did. So finally I hit the tree and he said, "A-a-ah, shaw, now I've got to buy the drinks again." And I never asked again to have somebody let me buy the drinks because I knew they weren't going to let me.
It was an interesting relationship. They accepted me, they liked to have me around, they looked after me, but I wasn't really one of them. I was a lady and they were gentlemen and they knew that. And it was a very interesting relationship.
And then when we had the minor league baseball team here, Jim Wommack who was a baseball nut—we used to go out and play baseball with the Cardinal players. I think I've told that story about how we used to go out and play. And they always threw the ball so I could hit. Even the fast-ball pitchers would lob it in there so I could hit it.
And another thing I did was to work very closely with the wives because after I made friends with them, then I knew that I wouldn't ever have trouble with the manager —and that was true. I remember one wife we had, the manager then was sort of a hard nut to crack and he wasn't real enthusiastic about me. And one day his wife said to me, "Mary, is he treating you right?" And I said, "Well, I have had a little trouble with him." And she said, "Well, you won't any more." And I didn't. I don't know what she did but all of a sudden he started being real nice. I think she told him in no uncertain terms, you'd better be nice to her or else.
What I used to do is when they came to town, I'd always take the wives out to lunch—
Gentry: Oh, that was smart!
Garber:—and we'd sit around and talk. There are more ways to get around things than you think there are.
One of the interesting things I had from baseball was—this was happening just a few years before I retired, I was covering a game and I went down to the dugout to get the lineup. And the visiting manager said, "What would you want with the lineup?" I told him that I was a sportswriter from the paper and I was covering the game. And he sneered and laughed and said, "Ho, ho, ho, so you're a sportswriter." And before I could think of a good answer—and I don't know what the answer would have been—Bill Haywood, who was a pitcher on the team and who had been at Carolina, came over and he said, "Yes, she is a sportswriter and she's a damn good one and don't you ever forget it." Boy, that man's whole attitude changed. He went and got the lineup for me and I never had any more trouble with him. But I don't know what would have happened if Bill hadn't been there.
Gentry: You've had a lot of allies.
Garber: I have. That's the thing. You just never know when somebody's going to come in and put their arm around you and say, "Hey, you'd better be nice to this girl."
Gentry: Glad there's people like that.
You often hear the criticism that women can't report on sports that they've never played. How do you answer that?
Garber: I answer that because all you need to do is look around the press box or press conference and look at some of the men. Do you think any of them ever played anything? A lot of them are fat and out of shape. I know on our own staff, we've got one guy who played baseball in college, we have a couple who played high school football, but I don't think some of them played any competitive sport at all.
Gentry: You have.
Garber: Right. Another thing, in the forty years that I've covered sports, every sport has changed so that even if I had played them in high school, even in college, everything has changed. You take football. When I was in high school and college, almost everything was the single wing,—passing was a minor part of the game. Now everything is wide receivers and the offense is spread all over the field which spreads the defense all over the field.
I remember when the lonesome end first came in. Army, I think, was one of the first to start it. They called him the lonesome end and he stayed out on the sideline the whole time, he never came into the huddle. And when Paul Amen came to Wake Forest, he had what he called two lonesome ends. So we got together and we went through a real crazy feature story of how do you get the signals out to the two lonesome ends. And we had wireless receivers and hand signals and holding up signs and all kinds of silly stuff like that. And it made a real crazy sort of feature.
And basketball. Basketball used to take the ball back after every basket and jump center. Women's basketball is completely changed. It used to be one dribble, and now they play the same rules as men. Baseball has the designated hitter, which is brand-new. So even if I had played when I was in high school and college, there have been so many changes in the games and the things are so different that I would still have to learn.
I did several things to learn and I think that any woman that wants to learn can do so. Bill Hildebrand who was the coach at Wake Forest was a very big help. He gave me books to read on it. He let me sit in on his coach's meetings so that I could learn how their offense and defense was set up. I went to officials' clinics in football and basketball and baseball. And once you learn the rules, you learned a whole lot.
One of the most interesting things I did was to go to a baseball game with an umpire. He had taught the umpires' clinic. He and I went to the game together and went out to eat. It was really interesting to sit in the stands and hear him say, "Oh, you dumb, stupid thing," and he is your date. You felt like saying, "No, he's a real nice guy." And it really made a big difference. I think that you can learn.
I covered a swimming meet when I didn't know anything in the world about it. And when I went down there, I just told the swimming coaches, "Look, I don't know, I want to learn." And they said, "If you have any problems, come to us and we'll explain it to you." And the first day, one of the men who swam the butterfly was disqualified and I didn't know why. I went to the coach and he explained it to me, exactly why. And it was very simple. People are always willing to help you.
Right after the spread offenses came in, the split ends and the wide receivers, a lot of schools were experimenting and doing it in different ways. And Warren Geise at South Carolina had a very innovative spread offense and I wanted to do a story on it. So I called Paul Amen who had since resigned as coach at Wake Forest and was working for the bank. And he sat down with me and went over and explained to me how South Carolina's spread was different from anyone else's and what they were doing and told me all about it. So I called Geise and told him I wanted to talk to him about it. He wasn't too enthusiastic because he figured I didn't know anything. And then when I started asking the questions that Paul told me to ask, he was really impressed and he said, "What did you say your name was?" Then he was really nice. But I didn't tell him that Paul had to spend about two hours trying to teach me all this.
Gentry: And you had him in your hip pocket from then on, I imagine.
Gentry: Did you actually go to a baseball umpire's clinic?
Garber: Yes. I went to—the city recreation department had an umpires' clinic. And that was like the football and basketball clinics. But the umpires' was a little bit more interesting because you actually went out on the field. And I remember one night we were out on the field and one of the umpires was supposed to be a player and another umpire was an umpire. The umpire acting the role of the player was supposed to use a whole lot of profanity so you'd know when to throw the player out of the game. And he started off. And he wasn't doing a very good job. He wasn't being very convincing, wasn't being very threatening to the umpire. So the guy that was running it said, "Hey, you can do better than that." And the man said, "Well, I could do better than that, but Mary's here and I don't want to offend her."
Once I graduated from the umpires' clinic, the umpires used to invite me to their picnic. And they always had a softball game and let me be the umpire. And I stood behind the plate. It was very interesting because when I'd start to dust off the plate, they'd take the whisk broom out of my hand and dust the plate off for me.
But one of the things that happened was a player got a hit and he was rounding third base and he missed the bag. I didn't do anything. He came on in and scored. The other team protested and threw the ball to third base and I called the player out, which was what I should have done. And the umpires all crowded around and they said, "How did you know that? We didn't think you saw it when he missed third base but you did and why didn't you call him out when he missed third base?" And I said, "Because I went to umpire school and I know what I'm supposed to do."
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Gentry: You've seen a lot of great changes, I'm sure. One you mentioned was you once had a real easy and friendly relationship with a coach and you could call him any time of the day or night and always had their home phone and that's quite different now.
Garber: Yes. If I wanted to talk to a coach at Wake Forest, I'd stick my head in the office. And if they were busy or if they had something they had to do, they'd say, "Go on, mess around somewhere for about ten or fifteen minutes and come on back." I had their home phones, I would go to their homes, they came to my house, we just had a very close, easy working relationship.
As I said, Bill Hildebrand was always very, very nice to me. He lost his job because the team wasn't doing well. I knew it was going to happen. And I went out there that day and he was over talking with the president. When he came back, I could look at his face and I knew that he had been fired. And I asked him about it. And he said, "I really can't tell you but, you know what has happened as well as I do."
And he said, "Just remember that I like you and I wouldn't let you write anything that would hurt you. I can't tell you that I've been fired but you know, don't you?"
So I went over to Dr. Tribble, the president, and said that I knew that they had had to let Coach Hildebrand go. And he gave me the story and I went back to the office and wrote the story about Bill Hildebrand being fired and the change that had been made.
Gentry: You got that before anybody else—
Garber: Yes. We had it before anybody else. And after I had written the story, I'd done the job I had to do, I'd been a sportswriter, then Bill was my friend and I went out to his house. And he came to the door and I gave him a hug and I went into the living room. His wife Cubie was there and she took one look at me and burst into tears. Well, you know how men are when women start crying, he just didn't know what to do, he was worse off with her crying than he had been when he was fired. So finally I said, "Bill, just go out. I don't care where you go but get out of here and leave us alone."
And Cubie and I sat down on the sofa and I put my arm around her and she put her head on my shoulder and she cried and cried and cried and cried. And I said, "Just go ahead and cry and get it out." She said, "I've been through so much. I've been trying to be strong for Bill but I can't be strong any more." And I said, "I understand, go ahead and cry." And in about fifteen minutes, she was okay. And by the time Bill came back, we were sitting there talking and she went and got cokes and we all sat around and talked.
But things like that don't happen with coaches now. Now if I want to talk to a coach, I call him up and have to go through a secretary and the secretary says, "Well, you can't talk to Coach so-and-so now. May I have him return your call?" Maybe he'll call back and maybe he won't. Or if I do want to talk to him, then it has to be, "Well, now how long will this take?" and "What is this all about?" I never did any of that with—
Gentry: Even though you've been in the business that long?
Garber: Terry Holland who used to be the coach at Virginia and I go way back. I used to know him when he played at Davidson. We're the kind of friends that you can sit down and talk to each other and gripe about each other and get along just fine. One time I was talking with him and I said, "Terry, I've known you all these years and yet I feel like I can get through to the president of the United States better than I can get through to you."
And he said, "Well, you've got to understand that things have changed. In those days when you used to walk down the hall and stick your head in my office door and I could see you at any time. There weren't as many reporters and there weren't as many radio and TV people covering college sports as there are now. It used to be that when I went to a basketball game, I knew every person who covered the game. I would be coming out of the dressing room after the game was over and I'd see some poor soul dragging a typewriter or telecopier or whatever and we'd all go out and get a beer together. Now, we play a game and we have a press conference. I don't know about a third of the people there. I never saw them before. We just can't possibly handle all the requests that we get for interviews and talk sessions. So we have to make these restrictions. I have to have some time to be by myself and to do the things I need to do. I just can't stop every minute as I used to be able to do." And I can understand that.
Gentry: But something is lost for you and for them.
Garber: Something is lost, for both of us because in the old days, we would talk about mutual problems and if the coach was upset with me about something, we'd talk about it. Or if I was upset with him about something, we could talk about it because, as I say, we were friends, we knew each other well enough to be frank and honest with each other. I think a lot's been lost.
Gentry: The stories have suffered because of that, too. You don't have that insight—
Garber: I'm sure of it. You don't have the insight as in the old days. In the old days, we went to Wake Forest football practice every day, we wrote what was called practice briefs. So I was out there every day. Nobody had to explain to me about the horror of two-a-days. In case you don't know what they are, before school starts, the teams practice once early in the morning and again in the afternoon and then they have meetings all day long. And I can tell you, there's nothing worse since the Lord made the world than getting up at 5 o'clock in the morning and going out to practice at 6:30. The grass is wet, your shoes are wet, it's just yucky all the way around. And yet I did that—I went to the first practice of Wake Forest football every year for about nine or ten years. And I know full well how bad two-a-days are. Well, we don't cover things like that, we don't cover first practice any more.
Gentry: When did those changes come in the coaches—
Garber: I think television had a lot to do with it, when all the TV people started coming in and more radio stations and more newspapers started covering college football. As Terry said, there were just so many more people. We've cut back because there's just so much, so much more. We've got an ice hockey team, we never had one of those before. Football runs into basketball, basketball runs into baseball, baseball runs into the football season. You just never get done and we've had to cut a lot of things out that we used to do.
Gentry: Another great change you've seen is the change in technology, I'm sure. Like when you were first working in the press boxes, how would you send out a story?
Garber: It used to be when I first started covering, you took a typewriter and you wrote your story on a typewriter. And then you took the typewritten copy and gave it to a Western Union lady who was sitting on the back row. And she would send it back to your newspaper by Western Union. Those Western Union ladies saved our necks many, many times because they'd come down and they'd say, "Now, you didn't really mean this, did you?" And of course, you didn't. They were a real help.
Gentry: What was that, forties and fifties?
Garber: Yes, I guess it was. I don't remember the years of when we changed. And then we got into telecopiers where you typed your story and put it on a telecopier and sent it back to the office.
Gentry: What's a telecopier?
Garber: Well, you typed your story out and put it on a round cylinder and then sent it by telephone. Now, of course, we're all into computers. And even the computer's been changed. When we first started carrying computers, they must have weighed fifteen or twenty pounds and now they have them weighing eight or nine pounds. Everything is so much better and so much faster. The only problem is that sometimes computers get contrary and they don't send and then you really are in trouble.
Gentry: Didn't you have one blow out on you?
Garber: Yes, I went to—I think it was Duke, I can't remember which school it was, and they shot fireworks afterward. And for some reason, the fireworks did something to my computer, I don't know what. But I couldn't send and I had to dictate the story.
Gentry: Oh, no. So you use a little laptop now.
Gentry: Take that to the press box.
Garber: I take it with me.
Gentry: How can newspapers compete with TV on sports coverage now? They have the instant replay, all the interviews and everything is media.
Garber: It really is hard. When I began my coverage of the game, for most of our readers, this was the first report they had of the game. So I went into a lot more detail then. Now we have to come up with new angles and different ways of doing it and try to get something that the TV people don't get. And it's hard.
Gentry: Which I'm sure is very hard.
Gentry: I'd like to talk to you about your philosophy of sportswriting and your style over the years. It sounds like you feel every sport at every level is important to cover, is that correct?
Garber: Well, yes and no. I think that every sport is—every level is important to cover. But I do think also you've got to realize that obviously more people are interested in the ACC basketball tournament than they are interested in what's going on in Little League baseball. Even though I say that you need to cover all those and keep up with those and do something on them, you obviously can't cover everything at the same level because if you did, you wouldn't have room to get it all in the paper.
But I think that a lot of papers miss something when they concentrate too much on the major sports or concentrate too much on the college and professional level because, as I think I've said before, high school sports are of interest. There are a lot of what I don't like to call minor sports because I don't think there's any such thing as a minor sport to the people who play them. But what we would call nonrevenue sports, that is track and swimming and cross-country and sports where maybe they don't have a lot of spectator interest. But there are good stories everywhere if you just open your eyes and see them. And I think that people can be interested in something that happens to an athlete in a nonrevenue sport in very much the same way they are in something that happens to a player in football and basketball, if you just look for them.
Gentry: Many people I've talked to say you have a unique way of writing about the whole person in an athlete, not just the jock part of him. How did you manage to get so many interesting stories of what the players did off the field?
Garber: Well, I got a lot of help. For several years, I covered Duke University and I used to go down there every Monday. And I got to know everybody down there. And I talked to the secretaries and I talked with the coaches and I talked with the janitors. And you'd be amazed at how much all those people who are connected with the program but not in big-shot situations know.
And I had a basketball interview to do with a player at Duke named Willie Hodge. And Willie was an excellent player but he was not a great conversationalist. And you'd ask him a question and he'd say, "Uh-huh." And you'd ask him another question and he'd say, "I don't know." And he was really a hard interview. But I was talking with Vera Autrey who was then the basketball secretary. And she told me that Willie was very much interested in flowers, that he had taken botany as an elective and made an A. And she said he came to her one time before Christmas and asked her if she'd keep his flowers over the holiday. And she'd thought he might bring in a couple of kind of sick looking African violets and that would be it. But instead he brought in two tray loads of flowers and everything had its botanical name and exactly how it should be cared for and everything about it.
So she suggested that I talk to him about flowers. So after basketball bogged down which didn't take very long, I said, "Willie, how did you get interested in flowers?" He told me that his father had been a landscape specialist and that when he was a little boy, he had followed his daddy around while he worked on the gardens in the community where they lived. And then his eyes just lit up and he said, "One of these companies has offered a thousand dollars to anybody who could grow a black rose." And I said, "Willie, how would you grow a black rose?" Well, then he started into the cross-pollinization of what you would do to get a black rose. And that kid just lost me completely. I didn't know what he was even talking about. And Bill Foster who was the basketball coach at the time stuck his head in the door and he said, "Willie, will you shut up? You have been talking for twenty minutes. Give somebody else a chance." And poor Willie, he was so excited about what he was talking about and so interested, he'd forgotten all about saying uh-huh and huh-uh and I don't know.
Gentry: Did you write a story about him?
Garber: I couldn't do the cross-pollinization because I didn't know what that kid was talking about.
Gentry: I'll bet not many people wrote about basketball players that were growing roses.
Garber: No, I know they didn't.
Gentry: Another thing that I have learned from your writing is that you often are most of the time writing the positive. And in fact, Lib Byrd, Carlton Byrd's widow, told me that she thought your life was almost dedicated to making people feel good about themselves which I thought was a wonderful comment. Is positive writing, finding the positive in a situation, a philosophy of yours?
Garber: Well, as I said, when I started it was. I had to be positive because I didn't want to risk losing my job. But once I got into it, I realized that no matter how big and tough these kids seem, they're really very, very sensitive. You can hurt them very easily. I remember Bob Grant who I think I have mentioned before. He went down to play at Clemson and someone wrote about how he had missed his assignment and he hadn't done well. And he was really upset about it because, as he explained to me, he had done the job he was assigned to do and the play had gone where it had gone, not because he hadn't done his job but because someone else hadn't done their job. He was really hurt by what had happened. And the writer had been inaccurate. He'd been critical when he didn't know what he was talking about. I don't mean that you always have to say everything is great, everything is perfect, but I think that you can present what happened. And if you're going to criticize somebody, show what they did wrong, don't just stick a knife in him. You don't need to do that.
Gentry: But isn't sportswriting today pretty negative and critical of—
Garber: Very much so and I think it's a bad thing to do. At one time, sportswriters were cheerleaders and that's wrong, too. You don't have to say "Go Deacs" or "Go Blue Devils" or "Go Tarheels" or "Go Wolfpack" or "Go" any other team. I see my role as a person who has access to a certain bit of information that you don't have as a fan. And I need to tell you about that. I need to tell you the things you need to know, whether it's good or whether it's bad. But this business of going out and trying to find something that is wrong just to find something that is wrong is not a good thing. That doesn't mean that if there's a bad situation, if something is wrong in a sports program or in a college program, get down to the bottom of it and dig it up. You should do that. But just don't knock to be knocking.
Gentry: Another trend that I see in some of your stories is that you write about people who are not always the stars of the game or the stars of the team. And maybe you would call them the benchwarmers.
Garber: Well, I think that's true. Right. I remember one story that I did that I enjoyed doing so much. I was checking through some of the college football brochures. And in every brochure, I found kids who had been out four years and who had played little or in some cases not at all. And those kids interested me. I wanted to know why anybody would stay out four years and go through practice and never have the fun of playing in a game.
So I went through Duke, Carolina State and Wake Forest and I picked out one kid in each one of those schools who had been out four years and who had played practically none at all. And it was interesting to talk to them about why they stayed out there, what they got out of it that would make them go through the heat and torture of practice, knowing they were never going to play. And all of them told the same story. They loved football, they wanted to play, they wanted to be a part of the team, and they were willing to do it. And I thought it made a very unusual story.
Gentry: It certainly would. It's not one you would see very often.
Gentry: When I talked to your publisher, Joe Doster, he said that another great strength you have as a sportswriter is your ability to obtain and all kinds of different sources and to deal with them. Can you tell me something about how you've done that?
Garber: Well, I think that's just because I've been around a long time and when you've been around a long time, you know a lot of people. I think it's helped me a lot because I know the secretaries of the coaches and they'll get somebody to help me. It's a question of developing contacts over a long period of time. People know and I hope trust me and I think they realize that I'll be fair and that when I ask him the question, it's going to be a perfectly legitimate question. And I think this is something that is developed over the years. You just don't go right out and all of a sudden have people trust you. You've got to earn their respect.
Gentry: How do you make these good contacts and keep them?
Garber: You do it by, as I say, being fair with the people and being with them. I remember one time when I was covering high school sports, this was an Atkins high school team, which you remember was a black school. And it was one of those days when I was going around and visiting the different practices and I went down to Atkins and I watched them scrimmage. And the kids were having such a good time. They were laughing and kidding with each other and everybody was having so much fun. I got in my car and went home.
The next morning I saw in the paper that one of the Atkins players had been injured in practice and had died. And the morning paper had tried to get in touch with the coach and couldn't get in touch with him. So I didn't even go into the Sentinel. I called Carlton and told him where I was going. I went over to Atkins. And I met the coach in the hall. I said, "Tell me what happened." And he took me into the faculty lounge and he said, "It happened right after you left. You probably had not even gotten to your car. Somebody made a tackle and the boy was hurt. We didn't realize how badly he was hurt and so we tried to get him to the hospital. We put him in a car and took him. What we should have done was to wait for the ambulance." But the boy died.
And so I talked to the coach and he told me what had happened and we ran the story. I think the reason he talked to me was because he knew I was interested and he knew I had been fair to him. He knew that I was interested in the program. And I was able to help him because that day Mr. John Watson Moore who was the superintendent of schools and this man's boss called me and said he had heard that I'd been out at the practice and he said the only thing he was interested in was whether there was anything bad going on out there, whether the boys had gotten too rough or whether there'd been any ill feeling. And I told him that I had been there minutes before it happened and that I was thinking what a good time the players had and how well everything was going. He said, "That's all I want to know." So I was able to help the coach.
Carl Eller I knew when he was in high school and then he went on to Minnesota. And I didn't realize this but he told me that he came back right after he had been made All-American at Minnesota and came by to see me. And I was busy and I said, "Carl, sit down. I'll be with you in a minute." And he said he couldn't understand. In Minnesota everybody could hardly wait to talk to him and here he comes back to his home town and this little slip of a girl says, "Sit down. I'll be with you in a minute." But as I say, Carl and I went back a long way.
He went on and played with the Minnesota Vikings and when they were in the Super Bowl, I wanted to talk to him to do a story and so I called him and he did not call back. Everything, of course, had to go through their publicity department. When he hadn't called back, I called the publicity department again and I said, "Would you give Mr. Eller a message?" And the man said very icily, "Oh, yes." And I said, "You tell Carl that he's ruining my reputation." And Carl called back in about five minutes and said, "I don't want to ruin your reputation. What do you want?"
After Doug Moe was made coach of the Denver Nuggets, I called him and wanted to talk to him and of course he had a million interviews and he didn't have time, either. Doug had come to a basketball clinic and Larry Brown and he and I had gone someplace to eat. We sent Larry up to the salad bar to get us salads and when he came back, he had tomatoes on Doug's salad. And Doug said, "Larry, don't you know I don't like tomatoes. Don't ever put tomatoes on my salad." So we scraped them off of his and Larry and I split them up. So when I couldn't get through to Doug, I asked his secretary to deliver a message and she said she would. And I said, "You tell Doug that I'm going to put tomatoes all over his salad if he doesn't call me back." And he called me back in about a few minutes. And it's that touch of knowing these people and sort of knowing where to kid them a little bit, that helps.
Gentry: So you can go through and get to the coaches when some people can't.
Garber: Yes. I hope I can.
Gentry: I know your publisher was telling me that sometimes when there was a real sensitive story that a number of people needed to get for the paper, or a scandal or something, the men would choose you to go in and get the interview because they were afraid they wouldn't get it.
Garber: I don't know why they wouldn't get it. I remember one time we were down at Duke. And I was covering a track meet, I don't remember what it was. But that was when the story first broke about one of the State point-fixing scandals. And Vic Bubas who had been at State when these events occurred was then the basketball coach at Duke. So as I say, we were all down covering the track meet and we looked at each other. And one of the guys said, "Well, one of us has got to go up and talk to Vic Bubas." And everybody said, "Not me, not me, not me, I'm not going up there." So finally they all agreed that Vic would be much less likely to punch me in the nose than to punch any of them. So I was unanimously elected to go up and talk to Vic. And I went in there and asked him the questions. He looked at me and he said, "Aren't there a lot of other writers down there?" And I said, "Yes, there are." He said, "And you're the only one who had the guts to come up and talk to me?" So I told him that I had been elected to come.
Gentry: Did you tell him why?
Gentry: You talk a lot about fairness being important in sportswriting. What's your philosophy on that?
Garber: My philosophy on that is that you have a responsibility. What you say goes to a lot of people, and people—believe it or not, I know they say the newspapers don't do anything, but people believe if they see it in a newspaper, it's true. And so you have to be very, very careful what you say, that you're accurate in what
you say, that you are fair in what you say, that if it's negative, that's fine. But be sure that you know what you're talking about and that you're not making unfair charges or that you're not doing anything that is not right and true because really the person who you write about has no way to get back at you. So you have a big advantage over him and you have got to be very careful in using your power.
Gentry: You seem to have a real respect for the power of the written word and a sensitivity toward the people you're writing about. Can you think of any situations where that has come up?
Garber: Yes, I think this is very true. I think that a lot of young writers don't realize—maybe they realize it and they're carried away with their power—but power is something you've got to use very wisely, you've got to be sure that what you say is right and fair. I know one of the things that woke me up was several years ago Wake Forest had a horrible football team and most of the writers were very critical in what they said and they wrote all kinds of bad things about the players. I got an absolutely lovely letter from the mother of one of the players. She said, "Don't you realize that these are young kids. They're doing the best they can and they hate to lose as much as you hate to see them lose. They don't want to mess up, they don't want to make these mistakes." It was an absolutely beautiful letter. So I called her and asked her her permission to run it. And I did. And I think it made a big impression because I think a lot of times you don't realize how much you could hurt a kid.
And I remember another kid at Wake Forest who was kicked out of school for cheating on an exam. I ran into him at a basketball game that night and I went over to him and put my hand on his shoulder and told him I was sorry he'd gotten into so much trouble. He said he was sorry he'd made the mistake. I looked up and the tears were in his eyes. I think a lot of us don't realize that kids get themselves into a mess and they make terrible mistakes and they do things that they shouldn't do and you just don't need to be that harsh. You have to report what happens, of course, but you don't have to make it such a big deal.
And just a few weeks ago, I wrote a story about a tennis player. He's a teaching pro, a guy that you would think wouldn't care one way or the other about a lot of sentimental things. But he was playing on a city tournament and the man he was playing got a cramp. And under tennis rules, you have, I think it's three minutes to treat a cramp, and you can't leave the court. But this guy didn't do that. He said to his opponent, "You're having trouble? Let's stop the match for a few minutes and you can go and get ice on your cramp. Take as long as you want to come back and play." And it was a very sportsmanlike gesture. He didn't have to do that. He could have demanded a default right away. But he didn't and they must have taken ten or fifteen minutes. And the man came back and tried to play and couldn't and finally had to default. And so I wrote that this tennis professional had been a very sportsmanlike person. And I saw him about two weeks later and he said, "Thank you for saying that." In other words, this was important to him even though he's a thirty-five or forty-year-old man. It was important that somebody recognize that he did something decent.
And then there was a baseball player, played for Carolina, and he got into a fight in the NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] playoffs and had his team penalized. And I just wrote the story and said that the fight had happened and this was the penalty and this was the boy involved. I didn't make a big deal out of it, I just told what had happened. And he wrote me thanking me for not overplaying it. He said that he wanted to apologize to me for getting into the fight, he said, "because I know you don't approve of things like that." And that meant a lot to me that he knew that I had that kind of a reputation.
And we used to have a high school coach who asked me to come to his games as much as I could because, he said, "the kids behave themselves so much better when you're there." I don't think that's true but it's nice to have people think things like that.
Gentry: Do you think women sportswriters generally write differently than men? It sounds like you're doing things that aren't generally done.
Garber: No, I don't think women write any differently than men. Several years ago I spoke on women sportswriters at an American press institute, sports editors seminar. And that was one of the questions they asked. So I went through the state newspapers, including ours, and I clipped stories, some that were written by me and there were a couple of other women writers at the time. And some of them were written by men. I cut the by-lines off of them and I must have gotten fifteen or twenty stories. Then I said, "Okay, here are these stories. You guys go through and tell me which ones were written by men and which ones were written by women." And they couldn't—a lot of the times when they thought they were written by women, they were written by men, and the other way around. And the only one that really caught on was Mal because, as he said, "I recognized your hand, your style, right away. I knew which ones were yours even though I hadn't read them."
Gentry: Do you think the players have told you things over the years that they probably wouldn't tell a male reporter?
Garber: I don't know. I don't know whether they would have told a male reporter. I think that in a lot of cases they knew I was interested in them and, as I say, I spent a lot of time with the players so they knew me and I knew them. And they were more likely to talk to me. I remember one young man at Wake Forest, he was a basketball player and I asked him what he was going to do, he was going to graduate that spring. And he said that he would have to go into the army—that was when there was draft and you had to go into the service after college. He said that he didn't mind doing that, he didn't mind going into the army, but he thought he was probably going to be sent to Vietnam and he was afraid he was going to be a coward.
Well, I knew I had to say something to that young man and I really didn't know, I've never been a combat, I don't know about being under fire. But I knew he needed help, he wanted somebody to tell him something. So finally I said, "I've never been under combat and I really don't know but I would think that"—I said, "Aren't you always nervous before you go into a game?" And he said, "Yes, I always am." And I said, "But once you get into it, you forget about being nervous, you forget about being scared and you just play." And he said, "That's right." And I said, "I think that probably combat's pretty much the same way, that everybody's scared before they go into combat and then when you get in there, you sort of do the things you're trained to do." And I hope it comforted him. I think it did.
Gentry: Did he come back from Vietnam?
Garber: I don't know. He left and I never saw him again. I don't know.
And then there was a Wake Forest football player, he was one of the first black players at Wake Forest. And in those days, freshmen weren't eligible so your first chance you got to play was when you were a sophomore. And this guy got a chance to start. His name was Butch Henry. And he was going to be a starting wide receiver on one of the first Wake Forest games. So I heard about that and I went up to him after practice and I said, "Butch, aren't you excited about playing and starting." And he said yes, he was, but he said, "Mary, I am so afraid because Coach"—and that was Bill Tate then—"says that sophomores make enough mistakes to cost a team the victory. I just don't want to get in there and mess up and cost Wake Forest the victory." And he looked—this great big old six-foot-three, two-hundred pound player—he looked so sad and so upset. I said, "Well, Butch, I'll tell you. I'll promise you that you are not going to mess up, you're going to have a great game." Well, of course, that made him laugh and we both stood out there and giggled and laughed at it.
They played in Roanoke and he went up and played against Virginia Tech. And he had an absolutely great game. He caught more passes than any Wake Forest college player had ever caught up to that time and when he left, they gave him a standing ovation. So I couldn't wait to talk to him on Monday. And on Monday after practice, I went to see him. And I said, "Tell me about it, Butch." And he was talking about the game and he said, "You know, when we were riding to the game on the bus," he said, "I was so nervous I was just
about to be sick." And he said, "I remembered what you said and it made me laugh, it helped me to relax." And I said, "Butch, what was it like to have a standing ovation?" He said, "You know, I've seen other people do things like this but I just never dreamed it would happen to me."
And then there was another young man who was going to travel across the country. He had the idea his parents didn't care about him. And maybe they didn't because they certainly never took any interest in what he did. So he told me that when he traveled he was not going to ever tell them where he was. Well, I knew that was wrong so I said to him, "Don't do that because if something should happen to you, you'd never forgive yourself." So I persuaded him to check in with his parents once a week. And I said, "Go to one of the hostels or someplace where they can send a message back to your parents." And he said that he would.
And then another time I was in Washington airport and I had an attache case which had something about one of the international track meets that I'd covered. And this young man came up to me and he asked me if I had been in the track meet. I told him no. He told me that his sister ran in it. I asked him his sister's name and he told me. I knew her. So we got to talking about track and his sister. And he said, "Do you know my parents?" I said, "I know your father." He was a coach at this particular school. And he said, "Do you ever see him?" And I said, "Once in a while." He said, "Would you call him and tell him you saw me in the Washington airport?" And then I realized that he had left home, so I said, "I'll be glad to call him but why don't you call him?" And he said, "Well, I'm going to do it but I'm going to Charlotte next week and I will call him."
So as soon as I got back home, I called the coach and told him I'd seen the boy and that he looked fine and that he was all right and that he was going to Charlotte and that he was going to call. And the coach said, "Bless you!" He said the boy had been gone six months, "and we didn't have any idea where he was." And he said, "My wife and I have been frantic. As soon as I hang up from talking to you, I'm going to call her and I know we'll get the first good night's sleep we've had in months."
Gentry: Are women sportswriters fully accepted now or do you think they're still going to have to prove themselves?
Garber: I think they're always going to have to prove themselves. I think that men still don't fully accept women sportswriters. Now, they accept individuals. I think once you learn, once you prove yourself, once you get to the point where they like you and they know what you do—they accept individuals. But I think that it's a long, long way from acceptance. I remember this girl named Susan Fornoff who covered the Oakland Athletics. And one of the players sent her a white rat.
Gentry: A live white rat?
Garber: A live white rat all wrapped up in a box with a ribbon on it and everything else like that. And she handled it real well. She didn't scream or faint or cry or do any of the things that he had hoped she would do. And before she could do anything to protest about it or do anything, the guys who were on the Oakland beat surrounded her and they told that guy in no uncertain terms that he had better not ever do that, they'd protest it to the Oakland management. She said it was just marvelous that the guys rallied around her and they were as offended about it as she was. And she said, "I didn't have to fight the battle, they fought it for me." I think that's a great thing and I think you can do that once an individual proves herself.
Helen Ross who works for the Greensboro Daily News has paid her dues and men thoroughly and completely accept her. But the problem is that we are still in the situation whereas if a man makes a mistake, it's an individual man whereas if a woman makes a mistake, isn't that just like a woman. And I think that women are still going to have to work harder than men.
Gentry: One woman making a mistake ruins the group?
Garber: Women are always going to have to prove themselves.
Gentry: Disappointing. You probably think that you had some real advantages coming into the business when you did in the 1940s, then. It's even rougher now in some ways.
Garber: I think it is. I think it's a lot rougher for women breaking in now because there's so many more of you, things are a lot more structured. When I started out, I'd go to a press conference and I'd be the only woman in twenty-five or thirty men. So the new coach or whoever was holding the press conference would spot me right away and they'd ask, "What are you doing there?" So it was a whole lot easier for me to get known.
And another thing, when I covered sports, the rules were definite. I knew I couldn't go into the dressing room, there wasn't any question about it, so I knew I had to work around it. But now even though women are supposed to have equal access and a lot of progress has been made, you still sometimes run into the problem if you go down to the dressing room and some yahoo says, "We don't allow women in the dressing room." And then you've got to make adjustments that you didn't realize you were going to have to make. And it's a whole lot harder to do it at the spur of the moment than to know when you went down there that you had to make the adjustments. When everybody was barred and you knew you couldn't go in and you were the only one there. Sports information directors and coaches and people were much more likely to help you. Now they're much more likely to say, "Well, you want to be a woman sportswriter, that's your problem." It's a whole lot harder.
Gentry: So the role of the woman sportswriter has really changed quite a bit in those years.
Garber: Yes, I think it has. As I say, there are some really good ones. I think a lot of them have earned acceptance. But it's still a rocky road and I think it's going to be a rocky road and it's going to be a long time before there is really equality all the way. And maybe it will never be, I don't know.
© 1991, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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