Mesa Musings: My thanks to editors for three years of columns

Three years ago this week I became a weekly columnist for my hometown newspaper, the Daily Pilot.

It was a dream come true.

I'd recently retired after 37 years as director of community relations at Orange Coast College. I'd been an avid Pilot reader since the early 1950s and, as a media relations professional, had worked closely with its staffers for decades.

I felt an abiding loyalty to the publication.

But when the Pilot approached me about penning a weekly column, I was torn. Am I worthy? Do I have anything to say? (Some still ask that!)

My goal, after signing on, was to last six months — 26 columns. After that, what? My limited cache of column ideas was certain to be exhausted. I'd have to gracefully bow out. I warned Pilot editors that I might have to shut things down after a few months.

Surprise, surprise. I'm still here! And I've come to love this gig.

I've been a newspaper junkie since I was a kid. I wrote a sports column for the Hitching Post, Costa Mesa High School's newspaper, during my sophomore and junior years. My career aspiration at the time was to become a sports columnist for a large metropolitan daily.

In high school I also worked as a prep reporter for the Daily Pilot (Globe-Herald) sports page. I earned a whopping 15 cents per column-inch of copy published (not including the headline), meaning that a sprawling 20-inch story — that probably took me two days to write — garnered a cool $3.

My future couldn't have been brighter!

I worked first for sports editor Rich Martin in 1960, and then for the legendary Bill Doner the following year.

Doner was the best sportswriter I've ever met. I was 16 (he was in his early 20s) and I idolized him. He was charismatic and cocky — a journalistic wunderkind who could crank out crackling news copy like nobody's business. He was a machine.

The Newport Harbor High School and OCC product left the Globe-Herald in the mid-1960s to launch a sterling 40-year career as an "uber-promoter." He became a drag-strip entrepreneur and promoted thousands of events up and down the West Coast.

Doner, who now resides in quasi-retirement in a local desert community, also promoted many major Las Vegas sporting events, and was offered a World Football League franchise in 1974.

But my greatest Doner recollection is of him covering Coach Dick Tucker's 1963 national championship OCC football team that went 10-0 and won the Junior Rose Bowl. Bill loved the "Redcoats" (his label for the Pirates) and gave them hundreds of inches of in-depth coverage each week during the magical season.

"There was never anyone like Doner," Tucker told me years later when we both worked at OCC. "He was the best."

I concur.

I was a sportswriter in the Army and later in college, then worked as a stringer for Pilot sports editors Glenn White, Craig Sheff and Roger Carlson.

I learned more about writing from the Martin-Doner-White-Sheff-Carlson contingent than I could have had I attended the prestigious journalism school at the University of Missouri for four years.

I watched them. I read them. I took to heart their criticisms and advice.

I ended up spending my career at a wonderful place — OCC — doing PR, special events, publications, outreach, media relations and lots and lots of writing. I couldn't have enjoyed a more satisfying career.

Yet when I retired, there was something missing. After studying under Messrs. Doner, Sheff and Carlson, my portfolio was lacking. I'd never achieved my dream of becoming an ink-stained, deadline-harried newspaper columnist.

Of course, I'd also never played point guard for the Lakers. Some aspirations are unattainable.

Then, I received my post-retirement telephone call from the Pilot.

Would I be willing to write a weekly column? Are you kidding me? But could I? Did I have the Right Stuff?

I thought of Doner, White, Sheff, et al. I owed them.

I had to do this.

Thanks, Daily Pilot, for giving me the chance to realize my dream.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Tuesdays.

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