This past week the world lost one of its great storytellers in Frank Deford. I had come to know Frank several times over the years, most notably when he, I, Bud Collins and a few others sat in the lunchroom at Wimbledon when both were there for HBO, and we listened to them talk about everything from RBI’s to boxing and the need for…storytellers. However one name I had forgotten that connected to Frank was Dick Quinn. About 100 years ago, actually 1986, when I was just starting out and trying to learn as the Sports Information Director at Iona College, Dick and I shared a partitioned office, as he was the assistant athletic director. Both had daughters who were afflicted with Cystic Fibrosis. That was filed away in the wayback machine until this past week when Frank passed, and I looked up Dick and found he was still at Williams College in Massachusetts, where he had happily landed after stops at places like Marist, and he had created the Frank Deford Award, the only one of its kind, which has rewarded ASSISTANT Sports Information types for their good work at Williams.
It is a great best practice that should probably be emulated by any team, league and by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) to reward and honor those rising in the ranks, and Lord knows, we need more storytellers that Deford and others helped set the bar for.
We caught up with Dick to learn more about the award, its legacy and the life he crossed paths so closely with over the years…
What is the essence of the award; how did it come about?
When I was hired as the part-time SID at Williams to cover 30 sports in August of 1989 I knew I would have to rely on students. This being Williams I knew they could all read and write so I just needed to train them. I had to assign a student to cover each sport, plus do stats, and photography
Right from the start I was blown away by the talent and dedication shown by the students working for me. I thought a recognition award would be inspiring to all of the student workers and give some well-deserved credit to those who were most deserving.
I asked my boss if I could try and get Frank Deford to allow us to name an award after him and he said sure, but he was doubtful I could pull it off. So I called a Williams alum at SI and got Frank’s home number. When he answered I just started talking about the award, his love of the color purple and then I related that he and I shared a common bond — daughters with Cystic Fibrosis. As much as I would like to think I was totally engaging and wonderful on the call I know — because Frank confirmed it — the link was our daughters. He was pleased to have an award named after him, noting that the only other thing named after him was an unsuccessful race horse that after three years was turned into a gelding.
How involved was Frank in the process over the years?
Frank spoke three times at the event and I would always communicate to him who the next speaker would be. I told him I would not be calling him to ask him help me get speakers. He was pretty touched by the quality of folks who agreed to speak and present the award given that the speakers receive no honorarium. We do cover expenses.
Who are a few of the winners and where have they gone?
Most of the kids who work for me have no idea that Sports Information even exists until they see my add on campus that says, “I will pay you to watch Williams win.” Some have entered the sports world: five have gone to ESPN, two to NBC Sports, and one to the New England Sports Network.
Pete McEntegart ’91 the second winner of the award went on to write for Sports Illustrated, but now is part owner of a business called Charactour.
There have been some notable presenters as well; who have they been and how did they get involved?
I invited all of the speakers. Jay Bilas was a friend of a lawyer in his firm who had two daughters play field hockey here. The President of Fox Sports Jamie Horowitz made his first public speech here, John Feinstein and Gordon Edes worked at The National with Frank. Fay Vincent, Tim Layden, Sam Flood, Jonathan Kraft, Dave Marash and Peter May are all alums, the big three form the Boston Globe all came: Bob Ryan, Jackie MacMullan, and Dan Shaughnessy. Ernie Accorsi was the friend of a friend as was Jack McCallum.
Next year Ian O’Connor is the speaker and I already have a tentative agreement for a 2020 speaker.
Do the winners, young people of today, know a great deal about Frank’s work before you tell them?
Not as much as I would hope, but I think most of that is because Frank’s best work is in print and kids today are pretty much video-oriented. Whenever a student asks me how he/she can improve I always point out a few items and the say, “read anything written by Frank Deford.”
Are you surprised such a great, sustained program hasn’t received more notoriety?
Not really as I have not tried to make it more than it is, which is a special event for truly outstanding Williams kids and the Williams community. It is always heart warming to see the parents of the winners come to campus so we can thank them for sharing their son or daughter with us.
We also give out the Aaron Pinsky ’06 Student Broadcaster Award the same night and Aaron’s family comes every year to present that award.
Does his passing put even more prestige on the legacy and the future of the program?
Perhaps for some people, but that is not really a concern for me as I know what this program is and what it means. I also know that most of the kids who work for us are going to go off and do something else with their life and this is just another confirmation that the work they do is terrific.
As someone who came to know him more as a person than professional, what stood out to you about his life that others may not understand?
Like many young folks who started reading Frank in SI in the 60s I always wanted to meet him and thought he must be a terrific person. When I met him that was exactly the person I met. He has a great sense of graciousness about him and I loved the fact that he could laugh about himself. The stories he told about playing for and against The Globetrotters and some of the folks he had met were just pure entertainment, but also filled with meaning. To read Frank is a great experience, to talk with Frank gives a whole new meaning to who he is and what he valued.
What’s next for the award, where would you like to grow it from here?
My goal is to continue to try and attract great writers to come speak and honor truly wonderful students who make huge contributions to our Sport Information efforts for as long as I’m at Williams. I’ve been here 28 years and I have no intention of leaving the best job in the country any time soon.