Tom Miller: After all these years, it is time to relax

·8 min read

Jul. 29—When I began my newspaper life, I had to know how to change typewriter ribbon.

That was many, many years; deadlines; stories and columns; pounds and gray hairs ago.

Now I don't even know where the typewriter ribbon is inserted in my laptop.

This column will be my last as a full-time member of The Gazette staff. It is one of most difficult to write.

That is not because of the emotional level of doing something for a final time. I hope to still contribute columns and stories as a part-timer.

It is difficult because it is centered on me. I have never done a "me" piece.

TV "journalists" enjoy making "me" the centerpiece. The Stephen A Smiths of the world want the spotlight on them as much as the people they cover.

Old dogs like me grew up when there were no Stephen A Smiths around. There were three channels on the TV.

Newspapers were where it was at.

I have always loved it. Terrible hours and meager pay did not matter. Meeting different people, especially those who stood out among fellow athletes and coaches, never got boring.

Since 1986, I've covered area sports for The Gazette. I believe my first story was a feature on Janesville Parker High football captains Lee Krueger and Joe Danner. In April, 2020, I did a story about Krueger's son—Brett, a 2015 Janesville Craig High graduate—who was playing lacrosse at Concordia University Chicago.

Fathers and then sons. Mothers and their daughters. The memories are many.

Meeting my first journalist

It all began at the Marinette Eagle-Star in 1979 after graduating from UW-Whitewater. I remember Jimmy Gleason was the 69-year-old wire editor. He was a Notre Dame graduate who served in World War II. He wore hush puppy loafers.

He smoked unfiltered Camels. The usually white reflectors in the fluorescent lights above his desk were a perpetual dull yellow.

It would have made for a perfect anti-smoking commercial.

After the paper was out at noon, he'd go over to Orv's tavern down the street, sit in the corner of the bar and drink. I loved sitting next to him every now and then. After he had had a few, he'd punctuate every other sentence with, "Get me?"

That was a journalist.

The memories

I moved to Janesville in 1986. I never left.

Covering high school sports during the next 20 or so years was fantastic.

All the Janesville Craig boys basketball teams in that era always were entertaining. Twins Jim and Dave Jackson, Robb Logterman and Ben Berlowski—all whom went on to play Division 1 basketball—were starters on one team.

Bob Suter—a state hall-of-fame coach in baseball, basketball and football—was always helpful. "Hey, Tommer" was his typical greeting after games.

You couldn't beat covering a Craig-Parker baseball game with Suter going against Dan Madden. I could never write fast enough to keep up with Madden's postgame observations.

The Janesville Parker girls basketball reign directed by Tom Klawitter always will stand out. First it was Jennah Burkholder—now Jennah Hartwig—and then standout Mistie Bass—who led the Vikings to the state tournament year after year.

Klawitter and his snakeskin boots had many battles with opposing coaches and fans, but he will always be one of my favorites.

There were the high-scoring Milton High football seasons under Jerry Schliem, and then the great Milton wrestling teams under Bob Johnson—whom I still keep in touch with.

I was fortunate to cover the Wisconsin Badgers as they rose from the cellar in both football and basketball.

I was courtside in Ogden, Utah when the Badgers played in an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in 47 years in 1994. The team that featured Rashard Griffith, Michael Finley and Tracy Webster beat Cincinnati.

Earlier that day, I witnessed Berlowski and UW-Green Bay, coached by Dick Bennett, stun California and freshman Jason Kidd. That ranks right up there with the most exciting days of covering sports. Bennett was the star of media conferences with his one-liners and observations.

I turned around at the one media sessions between the first- and second-round games and was face-to-face with then UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian.

And if you ever want to be entertained by Bennett, ask him to do his version of "Casey at the Bat," which he did once when I covered his preseason appearance at Don Cherry's Cherry's Steak and Prime.

I was at the first UW basketball game at the Kohl Center, a beautiful place that replaced the drafty—but memory-filled UW Field House—as the Badgers' place to play.

On the football side, I was in Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania the night in 1995 when Wisconsin beat No. 6 Penn State 17-9. The puddle-jumper plan I flew in from Pittsburgh to Happy Valley—complete with pulldown "seats" that snapped back up to the side of the plane when you got up—qualifies as my most interesting ride I ever took.

I was among the 80,000 or so fans that watched Ron Dayne rush for 216 yards against Iowa at Camp Randall Stadium in 1999 to break the NCAA career rushing record.

The UW-Whitewater vs. UW-Platteville basketball games that featured Warhawks coach Dave Vander Meulen and the Pioneers' Bo Ryan barking at the refs and at each other were always entertaining.

And covering my alma mater Warhawks building a NCAA Division III football monster—first under Bob Berezowitz and then by present University of Kansas coach Lance Leipold—was special.

I'll never forget the playoff game the Warhawks played at Simpson College in Iowa when the team buses stopped at the University of Iowa to hold a late Friday afternoon practice at the Hawkeyes' indoor facility before the Saturday game.

As the players and coaches departed for the football facility, then UW-Whitewater athletic director Willie Myers came up and told me to follow him. We walked to the newly constructed Hawkeye Carver Arena and ventured down to the basement.

He knocked on an opened office door, and I was introduced to wrestling icon Dan Gable, who was the coach of the Hawkeyes at the time. Listening to Myers—as iconic as Gable in Division III wrestling circles—and the famed Iowa coach talk wrestling was fascinating. Myers just died in January at the age of 81. He was a great man.

I wasn't around when Steve Stricker was playing at Edgerton High, but I did make it the several Greater Milwaukee Opens, and was at Whistling Straits for the 2004 PGA Championship.

Two stories stick out from that four-day event: Tiger Woods pulling over and offering passes to a guy who stood outside the course—located next to an unincorporated town of Haven—and waved to everyone driving into Whistling Straits, and Phil Mickelson pulling over to two little girls' lemonade stand and giving them a $100 bill for some lemonade. When one girl ran into the house to show her mom, Mickelson shouted that he had his two little girls in his vehicle and that they could keep the change.

Those are just a few from the list of memories I take away from my career.

Time to go

I've worked with great people—both at The Gazette and fellow reporters from other newspapers.

Every reporter had struggles when portable computers became available. We were all in the war together. The battle of sending out a Craig boys sectional final basketball story on a late Saturday night from the Racine Journal Times through phone couplers that never worked is still etched in my brain.

Dave Wedeward was my sports editor for 25 years. The man is a walking encyclopedia of area sports, and his passion for high school sports is unequaled.

John Barry has been a friend and co-worker for 30 years. His Packer picks—and the annual backlash from Packer fans—were a constant source of amusement.

Eric Schmoldt took over from Wedeward and spent eight years here before taking another job a few months ago.

After he took the job, Eric was married and had two young children with his wife Whitney.

Working in a sports department on a morning paper involves late nights and weekend work, something that eventually pushed Eric out of the business.

For the past 15 years or so, my main duties have been in the office designing the sports section—selecting stories, picking out photos and trying to come up with interesting, accurate—and sometimes funny—headlines.

There were deadlines every day I worked. After a while, it didn't seem that fun anymore.

I'm 64 1/2 and ready to relax.

Gazette outdoor columnist Ted Peck emailed me retirement advice that I will follow: "A good start is making a list next Monday morning. Leave nothing out. Prioritize. Then tear the damn thing up! This is the sound of freedom."

I still plan to submit columns to stay in touch with this community that treated me so well. Newspaper work is a young person's profession.

I know it has kept me spiritually young all these years.

To all the coaches, players and readers and co-workers that meant so much to me and still do, thanks for all the memories.

It was a true pleasure.

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