THESE ARE the columns that I do not relish writing. So, please excuse me if I ramble.
At 1:45 Wednesday morning, I received a dreaded phone call from Wheeling Hospital. It was to inform me that my co-worker of more than three decades at the Times Leader, Rich "Hoot" Gibson, had just died.
Hoot made me the medical contact person in his 10-month battle with lymphoma. I was honored with that designation.
The early morning phone call was not unexpected, but that did not lessen the painful impact. Times Leader publisher Lori Figurski, Sports Editor Seth Staskey and myself spent much of Tuesday afternoon at Hoot's bedside after receiving a call about the severity of his condition.
It was easy to see that Hoot's courageous and determined effort to beat the dreaded disease was nearing its end.
He had two other visitors later that night -- his good friend Jack Miller of New Martinsville and country singing star Joe Zelek. Joe heard about Hoot's condition that day and wasted no time in walking away from his hectic schedule to make his hospital mission. That speaks volumes of the singer's character.
Hoot was employed at the Times Leader for 32 years. When initially hired, he filled a sports department vacancy created when I moved over to the news desk.
No one in this paper's history logged more work miles than Hoot. He covered every national sporting event of note several times over. He did so with wit, insight and professionalism.
When penning a column -- be it sports related or his popular "Left Lane musical offering -- he was without a peer. His sense of humor, incisive knowledge of sports and his mastery of the language yielded literary gem after gem.
He was ideally suited to be a national sports columnist. Hoot was that good. But he was a valley boy, as eager to cover a high school game as he was an NFL game.
He was a St. Clairsville High grad, but you couldn't detect any Red Devil favoritism in his work. Hoot was fair and balanced, treating all schools, players and coaches on a level playing field.
One of his favorite labors of journalistic love was putting together his annual Super Bowl column. He would spend countless hours tracking down every OVAC football coach and other notable personalities to get their Super Bowl pick. The column would end with nearly 100 picks each year.
Most readers remember Hoot simply as a sports writer. He wore many hats, however, during his three-plus decades at the T-L. All those hats fit him quite well. He was a straight news reporter for a while. He covered elections. He was our sports editor.
In his 32 years here, Hoot virtually did it all, did it exceedingly well and did it as a team player. He won a truckload of writing awards, but you would never know from talking to him, as he had no ego.
Many probably don't know Hoot was a basketball and volleyball official. Not surprisingly, he was equally adept as an official as he was a writer.
Every day was much brighter when Hoot was a part of it. He had a knack for putting a smile on everyone's face while making everything more upbeat.
For that, Hoot will always have a special place in my heart.
On Saturday, Aug. 17, Rich Gibson takes his rightful place in the OVAC Hall of Fame for his incredible media work.
Hoot, however, has long been a Hall of Famer in the game of life.
THE ARMY Reserve building in the North Bellaire Industrial Park was razed Tuesday. It was purchased through the efforts of the Belmont County Port Authority.
It is now being utilized by the adjoining MPR Industrial Solutions. The transloading facility has been a major boon to the Bellaire economy and work force.
Rick Frio, president of MPR, said the cleanup will take a few weeks. The new property allows MPR to continue to expand, as it will house a rail spur.
Frio said the project should be completed by this fall.
THE CHAUTAUQUA Days 5K Run and Walk is just around the corner. There is one week left to sign up for the run and walk in Bethesda, scheduled for July 13, starting promptly at 8 a.m. It begins and ends at Epworth Park in Bethesda You can sign up race day or send in an application. Contact Cindy Foose at 740-391-1236 or Rod Miller at 740-359-7533 with any questions.
Download race applications from www.thebarkcamprace.net and click on Chautauqua Days 5K. The event supports the SPII Task Force.
THE ST.?CLAIRSVILLE?State Highway Patrol has announced its July 4, holiday figures which ran from noon on July 3, to 11:59 p.m on July 4. There were nine non-injury crashes and three involving injury. The patrol made 252 enforcement stops and 140 non-enforcement stops. There were 50 assists, four OVI arrests, 80 warnings, 24 speed warnings, 24 seat belt citations, 13 aggressives, and one misdemeanor warrant was served. Meanwhile around the state, the Highway Patrol made more than 29,000 traffic contacts, an increase of 13 percent when compared to the previous year. In addition, four people lost their lives over the two-day reporting period. Of the fatal crashes, one crash was known to be alcohol-related.
I LIKE what the City of Wheeling is doing. It is urban renewal at its finest. Mayor Andy McKenzie and City Manager Bob Herron have led the charge of ridding East Wheeling of dilapidated buildings. In place will be a $3 million playground/recreation field complex.
The project is pricey but will pay dividends. The renovated venue will be pleasing to visitors and potential investors. McKenzie, Herron and council receive my kudos for being aggressive visionaries. Wheeling Hospital also gets some props for contributing $250,000 to aid the work.
I RECEIVED a disturbing phone call from a lady in distress Friday afternoon. She wanted to make public the fact someone had stolen the cross off her father's grave at Riverview Cemetery in Martins Ferry. That is true sickness, stealing a sacred piece from a grave. The thief, if ever caught, can never be punished severely enough.
Kapral may be reached at email@example.com