When I came to The Duncan Banner as sports editor in late August 1985, there was hardly time to unpack before the first assignment.
I’d spent four days trying to acclimate and get used to the local accents, when I found myself in a place called Marlow, covering a preseason football scrimmage. It was my first taste of Oklahoma high school football fervor, and the first time I met a fellow named Tommie Ellis.
I was standing on the sideline watching players loosen up, when a lanky gentleman came over, stuck out his hand and said something like, “So, you’re the new sports editor at ‘The Banner’? I’m Tommie Ellis. Good luck, and if there’s anything I can do for you, let me know.”
I said thanks, then watched the fellow go to the press box at Outlaws Stadium and position himself behind a camera that obviously was set up to record the scrimmage.
At that moment, I really had no idea who I’d just met — but it didn’t take long to find out.
Soon, I learned Tommie Ellis was sports editor at The Banner from 1956 to 1974. And although the humble Mr. Ellis won’t acknowledge it, over the course of the last 56 years he’s become one of the vibrant, colorful threads running through Duncan sports and the history of the community.
Since our initial introduction, Tommie and I have shared countless moments involving Demons athletics. Before I stepped out of the sports editor job in 2003, it was almost a ritual for us to get together at halftime of a ball game and talk about what was transpiring. Or I’d listen as Tommie, Pee Wee Cary and Bill Buxton told sports-oriented about the past, many of which were probably true.
(Well, okay, once in a while I’d tell a story as well, but let’s move on.)
A lot of what I know about Duncan and area sports history has come from Tommie and the decades he logged on the scene, first as Banner sports editor and then in two decades of filming Demons’ events.
Somewhere along the way, I figured out although we are of different generations, Tommie and I share two notions about the World of Perspiring Arts and how to handle sports coverage at a community newspaper.
First, we agree high school sports are the most fun and rewarding events to cover. Second, our job covering local sports was to be honest and accurate, but to never forget we were dealing with high school athletes and coaches whose jobs depended on teenagers, and to temper our writing with that in mind.
Over the years, I’ve read enough in The Banner archives to be certain that in 18 years Tommie was a master of that writing style and skill. At a newspaper that’s had many fine sports writers, he set the bar. That’s why Tommie was inducted into the Duncan Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995.
Sports writers (journalists, in general) can be a bit full of themselves, but Tommie has always been gracious. Certainly, his habit of praising and encouraging me was flattering and highly prized. In 18-1/2 years as Banner sports editor, I only hope I came close to acquiring some of Tommie’s expertise.
Now word comes my friend and Duncan’s premier sports writer is dying.
This past week, Tommie’s oldest son Richard called to say his father — who at one point had missed only one Demons football game in 40 years — is in the final stage of lung cancer.
Richard said his father is in hospice care “and they’ve told us it’s just a matter of days.”
However, Richard said Tommie — whose “second career” was to spend 18 years in the technical writing department at Halliburton Energy Services — is alert, aware and amiable. And the family has come up with an original idea to brighten his final days.
They are asking friends and former co-workers to drop Tommie a letter, card or email.
“They can send Dad something just to say hello and maybe tell a story or share a memory about their relationship with Dad,” Richard Ellis said. “There are so many people around Duncan who know him, and instead of telling stories about him at a funeral, we thought it would be great if Dad could enjoy hearing those stories while he’s still with us.”
Letters or cards can be mailed to: Tommie Ellis, 12 Sherwood Park, Duncan, OK 73533. Emails can be sent to Richard Ellis at email@example.com, and he’ll forward the message to Tommie.
It is the reality of the human experience that the first breath of life we take is also the instant we begin to die, and what happens between the first and last breath constitutes our journey.
Tommie Ellis has had a great journey, and he’s taken many of us along for the ride. Thanks, my friend.
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