I was sleeping in this past Saturday morning when I received a phone call.
It was a former co-worker calling to inform me of some awful news – Jim Warner had passed away the night before.
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it.
If you knew Jim, you knew he was as tough as nails. Whatever came his way, he sent it back twice as hard. In my own mind, I thought Jim would live forever. Nothing was going to ever slow him down or stop him.
Over the holidays though, Jim caught pneumonia and it hit him pretty hard. After he returned home several weeks later, he told me he was having trouble with everything getting back to normal for him.
Even then I still felt, “Jim still has some great stories left in him to write, including some of his award-winning ‘View from the Press Box’ columns.”
Sadly, no one gets to live forever though, even the tough-as-nails Jim Warner.
Jim ‘officially’ retired from The Record Delta in 2004. We used to joke that he had several unofficial and official retirements from the newspaper, but a simple retirement wasn’t going to slow down Jim or stop him from doing what he loved – writing sports and promoting the accomplishments of our local athletes.
Over the last couple of years, with Parkinson’s disease taking a hold of his body, Jim would type his stories with just one finger at times. At this stage of his life, Jim could have done anything he wanted, but he chose to continue with his love and passion.
Before he took ill, he was still writing stories for both the two middle school boys’ and girls’ basketball teams and the wrestling team. His family would email the stories to me, and they were as sharp and as vibrant as they were when I first met Jim.
Jim had a unique talent in his writing, in that he could pull you right in the game he was covering whether you were there or not. Every play, every detail was on full display in a Jim Warner article.
I can honestly say that I have never seen articles so in-depth at any level of sports journalism. His style was as unique as they come, and I have never seen it duplicated before or since.
It wasn’t just Jim’s writing that made his coverage what it was, but it was his dedication to what he was covering as well.
He would cover a Buckhannon-Upshur football game on a Friday night, and then hop in his vehicle with his wife Eloise and travel to North Carolina the next morning to cover a West Virginia Wesleyan football game. He never missed a game.
What made the sports section great in The Record Delta was that Jim covered it all. It wasn’t just B-U and Wesleyan football, or what people would consider the marque sports. You wanted Little League recaps and standings? You had it. Youth soccer standings and pictures? He had it covered. Middle school athletics? You better believe it was going to be in the paper. If it happened in Upshur County, it was going to be in the sports section of The Record Delta.
What also made Jim special, was if you go back through any of the old copies of the Delta, you will never find a byline on any of his stories, not a one. Jim always made it about the athletes he was covering, and never about himself.
My journey started with Jim when I was 16.
My athletic career was already over at that time. Not because of an injury or anything else, I simply wasn’t that great at athletics.
But I loved sports, especially baseball, and I wanted to stay connected to it somehow.
So, after my last season of playing Babe Ruth baseball had ended in the summer of 1988, I contacted league president Gene Bryant to see if I could hang around the following season and become the league’s scorekeeper, along with running the scoreboard and doing the announcing.
I will never forget that first game.
During that first game of the season, a gentleman walked up the side steps to the press box during the middle of the game. He waited for an inning break and then introduced himself – it was, of course, Jim Warner.
He kindly asked me if I could deliver the scorebook to his residence after the game was over on Randolph Street so he could get the results in the paper.
As a kid that grew up in Hodgesville, I had no idea where Randolph Street was located.
The game ended. My cousin, Shane Bosley, who was already friends with the Warner family and had just finished playing in the season opener, told me that he would show me where Jim lived.
We made that first trip to Jim’s house. I had no idea that it would be the first of literally a thousand trips to his house. I also didn’t realize how meeting Jim this first time would change my life.
Jim was home, and I handed him the scorebook, and meticulously went over every play and roster change in the book so he would have a perfect understanding of what happened during the game.
It was never a short stay at Jim’s when dropping the book off. I would have to go into detail about the game with him, and he would love to tell baseball stories and other tales of when he had coached the game or covered it.
And when he wasn’t home, the scorebook was dropped off in his infamous drop box that was located on his side porch.
I guess I impressed Jim enough with my thoroughness to details, because before I knew it, he asked me if I wanted to cover American Legion baseball for him. How could I turn that down?
Then it was, “Duane, do you want to cover Pop Warner football?” Then, “Duane, do you want to take a camera and shoot some pictures?” Then it evolved to middle school football, high school baseball, high school basketball. You get the idea.
Whatever Jim wanted to throw my way; I was eager to accept it.
Finally, in the summer of 1998, he offered me a full-time job at The Record Delta as a sportswriter.
Jim taught me how to write, how to develop film, how to lay out the newspaper, and just about everything else involved with the newspaper business that I needed to know.
Let’s just say I was good at two of those three things at the beginning.
I know that first month, Jim would have to occasionally come into the office and tear apart my lay out because something was wrong. Or I simply mangled the effort. I found out later that my lay outs were so bad, that then publisher Mark Davis told Jim that if he wanted to let me go, he would make it happen.
Jim thankfully stood by me, and things did get better in the office, even my lay outs.
I am glad they did because my biggest fear at that time was letting Jim down.
When I returned to The Record Delta in the summer of 2018 as the new sports editor, I stopped by Jim’s house one more time for a visit. He was pleased that I was returning to the Delta and was happy I was back in the sports department.
Our preferred method of communicating was by text, as Jim’s hearing wasn’t as good as it used to be.
My last text to him was checking up on him March 8, and he informed me had been hospitalized twice since I had last communicated with him. I told him he seemingly couldn’t catch a break and I “wanted to hear some good news from him the next time we texted.”
That text never came.
While I mourn the passing of a mentor and a friend, there is the silver lining that heaven just got one heck of a sportswriter and now Jim has the very best “View from the Press Box.”
Jim, thank you for allowing me on your side porch to deliver a scorebook and talk sports and life with you. Thank you for giving me my first professional break and thank you for being the best mentor and friend a guy like me could have.
God speed Jim. You will never be forgotten.