David McCollum didn’t make any long term plans when he started working at the Log Cabin Democrat 30 years ago, but he had learned that life tends to work itself out.
Still leading the sports department of the Conway newspaper, McCollum was inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters Hall of Fame Saturday as he was in the midst of an ongoing career that has placed him in some of the most iconic sports and news events in history.
Thinking back over his career, which began throwing newspapers in Memphis, Tenn., McCollum recalled that he always seemed to be at the right place at the right time.
McCollum has been front and center at the Salt Lake City Olympics, the maturation of Scottie Pippin and Peyton Hillis and one of the watershed moments in sports history, the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
But it has been smaller events that he will also remember, especially those involving local teams. He said watching non-scholarship athletes at Hendrix play with reckless abandon was as inspiring and memorable as bigger sporting events.
“I was able to see back-to-back ties in football national championships,” he said, referring to the NAIA national championships in 1984 and 1985 by the University of Central Arkansas. “I know we won’t ever see ties in a national championship game again.”
McCollum cited his path to sports journalism as one marked by inspiring people at certain points in his life. Growing up in Memphis, he was able to listen to Jack Eaton broadcast area sports, and it sparked him to want to head toward broadcasting. But before he was able to pursue it, he spent time with his high school newspaper, and it was there that he began learning to cover sports in print.
“My high school teacher had gone to Baylor University, and we all knew it had a strong journalism department,” he said. “Many of my friends had opted for Memphis State University [now University of Memphis] or Tennessee, but I wanted to get of the area for awhile, and Baylor seemed like a good place.”
Another inspiring figure when he arrived in Waco was Dave Campbell, the longtime sportswriter who had developed the publication Dave Campbell’s Texas Football. That publication eventually bled into Arkansas when the Razorbacks were part of the Southwest Conference.
“I was lucky to be able to work with David,” McCollum said. “What he taught me was how to be a thorough reporter and how to build relationships. He was so good at working with people without being combative or mean. He was also just a nice guy.”
McCollum began paying his dues while a student working for the Waco Tribune Herald on Friday nights, gathering scores and statistics from the local high school games. He then began to make plans to achieve a goal that many sportswriters had at the time, to write for Sports Illustrated.
“Well, reality began to set in,” he said. “That would have been nice, but after a few interviews, I was able to get a job in Orange, Texas.”
At the beginning of his professional career, McCollum planted himself in a perfect spot for sports, just outside of Houston at a time when football in Texas was king and the Southwest Conference was top dog in the nation.
“It was great because we were able to cover professional sports like the Houston Oilers and Astros,” he said. “And you would go to a high school football preseason scrimmage and routinely see more than 5,000 people there.”
It was also at this time when he was able to cover one of the most important sporting events in history, although he did not realize it at the time.
The “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs was seen as more of a gimmick at the time to some of the sportswriters working the beat. But McCollum realized soon after how important it was.
“Even when I was in college, there were no sports for women,” he said. “At least not officially sanctioned by the NCAA. Billie Jean King was a great women’s player, and Bobby Riggs was fun to watch, but we saw it merely as a fun little thing. Later did we realize it was a watershed event.”
A chance to move closer to home brought McCollum to Little Rock, where he began with the Arkansas Democrat in 1977. His timing was impeccable again. He was able to arrive when the Arkansas Razorbacks were in the midst of one of their greatest athletic seasons ever. The football team had won the Orange Bowl over Oklahoma, the basketball team had reached the Final Four and the baseball team had made it to the College World Series.
But covering the Razorbacks would not be in his future. Staff changes at the Democrat gave him the opportunity to move to Fayetteville and cover the Hogs full time. But he had other plans.
“I had gotten married [to longtime wife Beverly], and we wanted to stay in central Arkansas,” he said. “I decided to go to work in Conway, and I really thought it would be a stop gap spot.”
30 years later, he has a different viewpoint.
“Seeing the Conway community and other parts of Arkansas grow has been gratifying,” he said. “It has been strange to see this medium change so much during the past few years. I think [Johannes] Gutenberg could have walked into a newspaper office in the 1960’s and felt at home since it was still close to what he had created. But in the past 30 years, so much has changed and keeping up with that technology has been challenging. Sports have become more numerous and more broad. The way we view news has changed into a true 24-hour news cycle with a digital mind set.”
McCollum has also seen his share of editors and publishers come through the Log Cabin doors, and he has always learned to deal with different philosophies and different ways of approaching news and business.
His time with the Log Cabin has afforded him the opportunity to see some amazing events. As part of the Morris Communications team that was sent to the Salt Lake City Olympics, McCollum was able to represent the Log Cabin at the first international competition following the September 11 tragedy. Even on simply a sports level, he was able to witness sports that don’t exactly cross Conway’s door.
A decade prior, McCollum covered President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, comparing it favorably to a bowl game.
“There’s a lot of parties, and then there is one big event,” he said. “It was pretty neat.”
McCollum has also seen the maturation of golfer Bryce Molder including a trip to Pebble Beach for a U.S. Amateur event, a trip he considers his favorite. He also saw NFL running back Peyton Hillis and NBA great Scottie Pippen before they were stars. Pippin’s emergence was especially gratifying for McCollum, who tagged him for All-American status during his days at UCA. “Some might have thought I was being a homer for my vote,” he said. “But I truly believed how great I thought he was, and I think I was proven right.”
McCollum received the honor for the Hall of Fame as only the sixth sportswriter to do so. The previous inductees include Orville Henry, Jim Bailey, Harry King, Jerry McConnell and Wadie Moore. McConnell was the one who brought McCollum to Arkansas to work for the Democrat.
“It is a warm affirmation to be listed with people I worked with and competed against all these years,” he said. “You don’t go into this business to get into a Hall of Fame. So to be with this quality of people is truly an honor.
“Every job has high and low moments. I have been able to do something all these years that has made me happy, and I don’t think there are many people who can say that.”
For thoughts by David about his career so far, click here.