A day when sports took a backseat
In an instant, a vivacious, energetic and popular president was silenced.
And with it, many believe, America lost it’s innocence.
Fifty years ago today, three shots rang out of a sixth-floor window at the Texas School Book Depository in downtown Dallas into an open limousine carrying President John F. Kennedy, his wife, Jackie, Texas Gov. John Connally and his wife, Nellie.
As quickly as the vehicle sped away to Parkland Hospital with Secret Service agent Clint Hill hanging on to the back, word began to spread throughout the Metroplex what had happened. And, in those days, that was saying something.
Social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook weren’t even deemed imaginable at the time. Radio ruled the day for quick news. And that’s how many received the first bulletins regarding the horrendous act that would carve a permanent place in the minds of everyone worldwide.
Television was only about 15 years old and network news operations -there were only about three – were filled with cigarette-smoking, war-trodden journalists who were still trying to make the transition from radio to the new medium.
On November, 22, 1963, 22-year-old Warwood resident Nick Bedway had been working at the Wheeling Intelligencer for 3-and-a-half years. He was part of a two-man staff at the time. Bill Bibb was the sports editor, with he serving as assistant sports editor.
”We only had a two-man staff,” he recalled.
Bedway remembers November 21 being a normal worknight. But he never envisioned the horror the next day would bring.
”I was home and I had the TV on when the flash came over that (Kennedy) had been shot,” remembered Bedway, the retired executive sports editor of the The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register.
”About 20 minutes after I saw that I got a phone call telling me to get in (the newsroom) and help get the sports section done.”
When Bedway arrived at the newspapers’ Main Street office he found controlled chaos.
”They had a TV in the newsroom and you could hear the clicking of the Associated Press wires and the stuff coming in on the wire machines,” he remembered, noting legendary newsman Harry Hamm was manning the news operations of the News-Register at the time.
”It was crazy.”
The news was in a constant state of flux in the moments following the shooting.
What was the president’s condition? Was he dead? Was it a conspiracy? Who did it?
These were all questions running through the heads of every American and media members locally and nationally were entrusted to find the answers.
For many, including Bedway, it was a story unlike any they’d been a part of.
”A lot of people had tears in their eyes,” he said of those in the newsroom. ”But the one thing that caught my eye the most was the professionalism of the people at the paper. They knew they had a job to do. There were a lot of heavy hearts. They were calling various people getting their thoughts. They really did a good job.”
Once word got out Kennedy had died, thoughts turned to honoring the slain leader.
”I was crushed,” said Bedway, a 1958 Wheeling Central graduate and a Catholic like Kennedy.”I couldn’t understand how something like that could happen.”
Sports was an afterthought that day.
”They gave us like half a page that night,” Bedway said. ”They gave us like three columns of an eight-column page.
”We had to get that out immediately.”
It was certainly an eye-opening experience for the young newspaperman.
”This was my first opportunity to see what a newsroom was like in that environment and what a newspaper could do,” he said. ”I gained a greater respect for the people that were older and more knowledgeable and how they handled situations.”
In those days, Ohio didn’t have a playoff system for football. It’s state championship was determined through the Associated Press poll. That season Niles McKinley was the winner.
West Virginia had a one-game championship to determine its three grid class champions.
The prep season had concluded locally with Wayne (A), Shadyside (AA) and Martins Ferry (AAA) earning OVAC crowns.
Local prep hoops were just gearing up and all college games, if there were any, were scrapped.
”Everything was canceled,” Bedway said.
Except he NFL.
Commissioner Pete Rozelle, in only his third year on the job, was at a loss on what to do about the games that Sunday. After talking it over with those in and outside of his offices on Park Avenue in New York, the former public relations man decided to keep the games on as scheduled.
That decision was met with plenty of resistance.
”I thought it was ridiculous,” Bedway recalled thinking. ”Who would want to watch? This country would want to be in mourning, without question”
The rival American Football League canceled its slate.
Bedway’s favorite team, the Cleveland Browns, was playing host to the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys, unfairly, were being targeted by many, including those in Cleveland, as having some sort of role in the president’s death.
The game, as well as the other NFL games, weren’t televised. All were broadcast on the radio. The major TV networks stayed with coverage of the activities in Washington and Dallas.
”I can’t even remember if I listened to the game,” Bedway said. ”I just remember watching all the things on TV about Oswald being killed.”
Still, after 50 years, the events of November 22, 1963 remain as vivid for Bedway as the man struck down by an assassin’s bullets that day.
It was the day sports took a backseat to reality.