Bemidji Pioneer sports editor looks back on 50 years with the newspaper
BEMIDJI - Pioneer Sports Editor Jim Carrington recently heard of a sports editor in Palm Beach, Fla., who had been on the job for 75 years and still was working full time at the age of 93.
"I said, 'Well, there's my goal,'" said the 80-year-old Bemidji icon.
Carrington, who celebrates his 50th anniversary with the Pioneer on Saturday, has no set plans for retirement.
"It's not a stretch at all to say that there will never be another Jim Carrington," said Bemidji Pioneer Publisher Dennis Doeden. "People these days are more mobile, changing, looking for new things. Jim found his passion early on and he stuck with it."
Carrington exemplifies community journalism, Doeden said. "It's about covering the community completely. You can't imagine all the athletes' names he's written about over the years."
Carrington grew up in New Jersey and came to Bemidji to do radio work at KBUN, where he was a sportscaster and disc jockey for four years.
"I loved radio dearly," he said, adding that he's a ham. "I listened to radio when I was a child. I still like it. From a very early age, I had aspirations of being a sportscaster."
When he started working at the Pioneer in 1959, he became the city editor in a three-person newsroom. The only sports coverage at the time was a daily column written by local barber Cliff Morlan.
"The only job available was the news job," Carrington said. "I started writing sports immediately on the side."
Carrington became full-time sports editor in 1972.
"One benefit of working with kids, it keeps you young," Carrington said.
Writing sports came easy for Carrington, but playing? Not so much.
"I probably hold the record in my high school for being cut by the most teams," he said. "I spent most of my time in the stands cheering."
The technology of journalism has changed considerably throughout the years. Carrington remembers linotype machines in the basement of the former Pioneer building at Fifth Street Northwest and Beltrami Avenue Northwest.
In those days, stories were typed on a typewriter, sent to a proofreader, then an editor and then to the typesetters, he said.
In later years, Carrington typed his stories on a Compugraphic typesetting machine, which he said was slow but reliable.
"The Compugraphic never locked up, never destroyed your story," he said.
Eventually the Pioneer went to Macintosh computers and then later to PCs. Carrington reluctantly went along. He's even recently started using e-mail.
Regardless of the technological advances, the core job is the same, Doeden said.
"It's still about watching little kids to college kids hit a ball or run a race or swim a lap," he said. "And it's about telling that story to the people who are interested in reading about it.
"That's always been Jim's passion, his mission in life."
Early in Carrington's career, Bemidji had only a handful of athletic teams. Bemidji High School and Bemidji State University each had football in the fall and basketball in the winter.
"(Both)' had a very meager four-sport spring program - baseball, golf, tennis and track," he said.
Now, BHS has 24 varsity sports programs, plus junior varsity and feeder programs, he noted.
"People say I don't have anything to do in the summer," Carrington said, noting that he covered 58 baseball teams and 74 slowpitch softball teams last summer.
As time passed, more teams were added, most notably with the advent of high school girls' sports in 1972.
"The first volleyball team, they had 10 or 12 players," he said. "None had ever seen a volleyball game, much less played in one, and they started on varsity."
Now, he said, female athletes are in many respects better than their male counterparts.
"They still have something to prove, I think," he said.
Carrington was around to see Minnesota high school sports split into A and AA classes in 1972, and the further class changes since.
He remembers Bemidji as the only large school in northwestern Minnesota and Austin as the only large school in southeastern Minnesota.
"It was a rare year that Bemidji or Austin didn't make the state tournament," he said.
Throughout the years, high school athletes Carrington has covered have had children and grandchildren who have become athletes.
He said he likes to tell a young athlete, "'Son, if you get to be half as good as your daddy was, you'll be all right.'"
Carrington said that while he enjoys watching young athletes compete, he also likes to watch them grow up.
"I just enjoy watching Bemidji kids grow and become meaningful citizens," he said, adding that playing sports gives benefits that go beyond athletics, such as learning to compete, to work and play together, to get along with one another and set team goals, "which is basically what you have to do in life."
Former BHS wrestling coach Ken Schmoker said Carrington was on the job when wrestling first started in Bemidji.
"Jim always had the interests of all of the athletes in mind," Schmoker said, "no matter what the sport was. Jim has been one of the outstanding sports reporters in the sports field. He always followed through and any time we wanted things put in the Pioneer he always followed up on it."
"The best 31 years of my life was coaching baseball in the summer," Carrington said. "That's one thing I really enjoyed."
Carrington coached 13- to 15-year-olds.
"That's the age level where they're skilled enough to be able to execute and compete well, but young enough not to be prima donnas," he said. "If you barked at them enough, they'd figure out what to do."
He said he also coached junior high and middle school football for about 25 years.
"I'm always the guy who steps in when someone needs help," he said. "I enjoy working with kids. I probably should have been a coach, but teachers' salaries were so poor in those days."
Carrington Field, located near the Bemidji Curling Club, is named in his honor. The baseball field is played on by Legion and VFW teams, as well as all-star teams, said Carrington said.
"On occasion, all the town teams play there," he said.
In addition to sports, Carrington also enjoys BHS for its concerts and plays.
"Bemidji has the most remarkable music of any school in the state," he said. "Their music program is just fantastic."
Carrington came to Bemidji in a 1938 Buick and had several cars after that, but the most legendary was the 1975 Oldsmobile 88 he drove for 27 years. When he traded it for a Buick on May 28, 2006, the Oldsmobile had nearly 200,000 miles on it and was peppered with rust.
"It didn't have much body on it left, but the basic equipment still worked," he said. "It wasn't much to look at, though."
People still ask Carrington what happened to the Oldsmobile. As it turns out, it had a little more life in it. Someone bought it for $100 and drove it for a year, then sold it for $100 to his son, who drove it for a year before selling it to a junkyard for $100, Carrington said.
"When this one goes after 27 years, I'm going to trade it in for a power wheelchair," Carrington said.