Some days I wish I could stop the relentless march of time.
My children are outgrowing me. My dog is developing arthritis. My grandfather is becoming forgetful. And my parents, well, they're just getting old.
And now I must face the loss of Linda.
It is difficult to believe that Linda Hamilton is no longer a full-time sportswriter at the Deseret News. The first woman sportswriter in Utah, her presence in our newsroom and on our staff is for me like the sunrise or the North Star. It is the way I know there is still order in the world, that chaos has not yet consumed civilization. I just have to look around the press room and there is Linda, notebook in hand, and I can exhale.
And as disconcerting as the possibility of no sunrise or a fallen northern guide, I find the future of sportswriting without my friend and mentor who retired July 31.
I first worked with Linda when I was assigned to cover a Grizzlies hockey game in 2000.
I was a news reporter who thought I might try my hand at sportswriting. After all, I'd played about every sport imaginable, how hard could covering games be?
Linda had been the Grizzlies beat writer, something she juggled with gymnastics and University of Utah football, softball and volleyball coverage. I didn't dare tell her I had to buy "Hockey for Dummies" to brush up on my hockey rules, but she didn't even ask me what I knew anyway. She did what Linda always does, she explained the organization, who the best interviews were, how to decipher the standings and who their big rivals were in the league.
Oh, and then, without ever changing gears, she said how great it was to have someone help her. She left me one starry-eyed, very grateful dummy.
Linda is one of those tough-on-the-outside, sweet-as-sugar-on-the-inside people. She's not given to sentimentality the way I am, and she doesn't ruminate on the meaning of her trailblazing career.
"I guess it was unusual," is her response to my questions about her doing what no woman in Utah had done before her.
She started her career at the Chicago Day Publications just as publishers there were trying to cover the suburbs of Chicago with a daily paper that would be distributed with the Chicago Daily News, an afternoon paper struggling to survive. It was the mother-of-all zoning efforts, and she got a job right after graduating from Northern Illinois in 1967. She started as a courier and then sold classified, for "about 15 minutes," and then she started writing part time for the suburban papers.
"They liked what I was writing so they created a position for me," she said. "Three days a week on the news desk and two days as a sportswriter. Six months later I was the sports editor."
Working in a man's world and make no mistake about it, sportswriting in 1968 was very much a boys-only club Linda walked in, sans any fanfare or commotion, and began doing her thing. In the Arlington Heights neighborhood where she grew up, Linda was the only girl who found herself playing with the community's 11 boys her age.
"I've always been around boys," she said. As for her own athletic experience, she said without a hint of bitterness, "Well, there wasn't much for us. I did play extramurals in college, softball and basketball. It wasn't terribly well-organized, and there were no benefits to playing."
Except, of course, that Linda loves sports. She majored in physical education and minored in biology. She planned to teach biology when she got sidetracked into journalism. That's where she met her husband, George Hamilton, who was an editor for the Chicago Day, whom she married in 1968,
"I didn't think about it," she said of being one of the first female sportswriters. "There were probably two or three other women who started around the same time I did in Illinois, but yeah, I guess it was pretty unusual. A few people probably didn't like it, but most people didn't seem to care."
As for her family and friends, she said, they weren't surprised at all.
"They knew I'd always been a sports fan," she said.
She was the first female sports writer in both Washington state and Utah and for the first seven or eight years of her career covered just about everything from Little League games to high school competitions to professional sporting events in high heels and a dress.
"That's just the way we dressed back then more formal," she said. "I was here on vacation and twisted my knee and broke my ankle in a ski accident. I had a wrap on my knee, and I just thought, 'I don't want to wear nylons.' I've never looked back." Linda made her way to Utah for a vacation when a friend bought a place in Park City.
"As we were flying in, we said, 'This is where we want to live,'" she said. "Before we even skied, we thought, "This place is just great.'"
So they tried to get jobs here. First, though, they worked in Milwaukee, then Washington state and then back to Chicago before George Hamilton finally got a job at the Ogden Standard-Examiner. A month later Linda was offered a job with the Deseret News. That was 1977.
It was shortly after she arrived at the paper that she got a call from Bruce Woodbury of the University of Utah.
"He said, 'Would you talk to our gymnastics coach? He's not that good with the media but he thinks he's got a pretty good team,'" Linda recalled with a laugh.
She and Greg Marsden talked for more than an hour, and she ended up writing a feature on a high-level camp he was organizing that would bring some of the country's best gymnasts to the U. campus.
"Greg always found innovative ways to get kids on the campus," she said. "Without spending his recruiting budget."
Linda said the coach had such a good team and brought such prestigious competitions to Utah that eventually the rest of the state's media outlets began cover the U. gymnastics team on a regular basis as well.
Linda regards her time spent covering gymnastics as some of her favorite memories. She's also enjoyed covering the Jazz.
"When the Jazz traded for John Drew and Freeman Williams, several sportswriters I talked to by phone in Atlanta urged me to ask Drew about his reported drug abuse, which then was only rumored. Jazz writer Dave Blackwell was on vacation at the time. After the Drew-Williams press conference in the Salt Palace, Jazz PR man Dave Fredman asked if I had any other questions, and I said I did have one for Drew. So Fredman found a very tiny room, a closet really, and put me and Drew in there alone and I was going to ask this big guy whom I'd just barely met about his drug habits. I figured someone would find my body in a few days. But I asked anyway, and Drew was nice about it, though I could tell he wasn't being truthful. He said, "No, I hates drugs, I don't doesn't do drugs."
"Later, Blackwell was shocked that I had asked Drew about it. Maybe a year later, Blackwell brought up the incident to Drew, who confirmed our conversation and admitted he didn't like me very much at that moment, though we were OK with each other after that."
That's Linda all business and no regrets.
I loved being assigned to help Linda cover anything because not only does she know her subjects both the people and the games she is happy to have me along to help. She offers me story ideas, suggestions, background information and even hints on where the food is. And if I decide to veer off and do some off-beat story I have my heart set on, she simply offers me support.
I have wondered how she maintains her commitment to a job that can swallow your life whole. Not only is she always on time and never absent, she's both available and knowledgable regardless of the time clock.
Even when her husband was dying of esophageal cancer three and a half years ago, she was as reliable as Cal Ripken.
"I have enjoyed it," she said of the job. "It's been a lot of hours. Sometimes I wish I hadn't put in 120 hours a week."
And if you think she's exaggerating, you'd be wrong. I've tried learning everything I can from Linda, but I've never fooled myself into believing I could keep up with her.
I know she doesn't think it's a big deal to be the first woman and in fact, the only woman to win the Sports Writer of the Year Award from the National Sports Writers and Broadcasters, which she won in 2000 but the fact that she marched right through any discomfort and then was willing to show me the same path has meant more to me than I can ever express.
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