Tuesday, March 3, 2009
A Legend That Never Ends
In a world where cliches are never cliche, Hubert Mizell has seen it all. For the last fifty years, he has written about courage, loyalty and self-sacrifice. Hubert has told stories of leadership, teamwork and the triumph of the human spirit. He loves sports and loves to write about the events which keep on taking us out to the old ball game. For this Dublin native, his dream to become a sportswriter has come true, more than he could ever imagine.
Hubert Coleman Mizell was born in Dublin, Georgia in 1939. His parents, Leon Mozart Mizell and Annie Mae Williams Mizell, named him for Dr. Alfred Coleman, the doctor who delivered him. Hubert grew up in the days of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Joe Louis. As a child of a poor family, Hubert lived in eleven towns and in twenty-seven buildings. His father left school after the end of the 5th grade. A saw mill accident left the elder Mizell with a severely mangled arm, relegating him work at strenuous jobs, often enduring eighty-four-hour work weeks. Hubert's mother worked whenever and wherever she could to help make ends meet to support the family, which included Hubert's baby sister Linda.
When Hubert was seven, the Mizells moved to Jacksonville, Florida. A trip to the Georgia-Florida game, long before it became the wild spectacle it is today, sparked young country boy's love of sports. At the age of fourteen, Hubert took a job as an usher and later as a scorekeeper at Wolfson Park, home of the Jacksonville Tars. Playing for the Tars that year was a young kid by the name of Henry Louis. You know him better has Henry "Hank" Aaron.
Before he completed high school, Mizell developed a relationship with the Times-Union, Jacksonville's leading newspaper. At first he worked as a sport's copy editor. During his spare time, Hubert studied and carefully analyzed the writings of the nation's greatest sportswriters. After his college days at the University of Florida were over, Hubert returned to the Times-Union as the High School Sports Editor. In 1964, he took a job in the public relations department of the Gator Bowl.
In 1967, Hubert came of retirement as a sportswriter for the first time. He returned to the Times-Union as its Florida Sports Editor. In addition to his duties in the sports department, Mizell covered hurricanes and even the 1972 Republican National Convention. Later in the 1970s, Hubert became the state sports editor of the Times-Union.
Hubert Mizell's first major sports assignment came in the late summer of 1972. Hubert witnessed swimmer Mark Spitz's world record seven gold medal performance and the emergence of one of the world's greatest gymnasts, Olga Korbut. He was there when the zebras gave the Russian team three unwarranted chances to defeat the US basketball team in one of the most controversial games in Olympic history. Hubert was an eye witness to one of the darkest moments, not only in Olympic history, but in the history of sports. Working closely with a young Peter Jenkins of ABC News, Hubert saw the hooded gunmen who killed eleven Israeli athletes. He was stationed at the airport when their corpses were sent back home. "It was like a punch in the stomach," Mizell remembered. Hubert still lists the '72 Olympics as the highlight of his career.
Being based in the subtropical climate of Florida, Hubert normally didn't cover hockey games. But in the winter of 1980, Hubert was in Lake Placid, New York, covering the first of his four Winter Olympic games. Mizell and the corps of sportswriters, normally trained to be neutral in their coverage of sports, shivered in emotion as they witnessed, in Mizell's words, "the most colossal upset in the history of sports." Mizell still rates the game in which the upstart US team defeated the heavily favored Russians as the No. 1 game he has ever covered. In 1986, he moved to Atlanta and took a job as a feature writer and television critic for the Atlanta Constitution. It wasn't long before Hubert decided to return to Florida and the love of his life.
Mizell was present at one of baseball's most memorable games, not because of the score or the events which transpired on the field. It was late in the afternoon on October 17, 1989. The Giants and Athletics were preparing to play their 3rd World Series game when the stadium began to shake violently. Hubert hit the floor and then the lights went out. He managed to make it out of the stadium safely, writing his column on the hood of an ABC -TV truck. The calamitous earthquake was the most frightening thing Hubert ever witnessed in sports.
During his fifty years in journalism and sports, Hubert has attended nearly fifty college football bowl games, forty Masters golf tournaments and more than thirty college basketball final fours and Super Bowls. He has been in attendance at more than a dozen U.S. Golf Opens and Kentucky Derbies. Hubert has crossed the Atlantic to witness a half dozen or more British Open golf tournaments and even more Wimbledon tennis tournaments. Mizell has covered six summer Olympic games and four of the winter games. The number of the other sports events he has seen is virtually incalculable.
College football and golf are Hubert's favorite sports. He loves going to Notre Dame to watch a football game the best, though he does rank Grant Field as number nine and between the hedges at Sanford Stadium as his sixth most favorite college football venue. He lists Arnold Palmer, Steve Young, Pete Maravich, Jack Nicklaus, Magic Johnson and Richard Petty as his favorite athletes. Interestingly, he list former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Lee Roy Selmon as the most honorable athlete he has known. Nancy Lopez is a close second in his mind. Among the most mesmerizing
interviewees, Mizell lists Muhammad Ali, Bobby Jones, Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Red Grange, Charles Atlas and Jesse Owens. His favorite sportscasters include Pat Summerall, Jim McKay, Bob Costas, Jack Whitaker and Howard Cossell.
Frequently honored by his colleagues, Hubert has served on the ESPY committee of ESPN Sports, which annually honors the best of the best in sports. Mizell was a charter inductee into the United States Basketball Writers Hall of Fame. In 1980, his fellow sportswriters elected him as president of the Associated Press Sports Writers Association. Chris Berman of ESPN remembered Hubert for being kind in helping him out when he first got into broadcasting. Veteran St. Louis announcer Jack Buck said, "Everybody loves Hubert, especially the athletes - they trusted him." Jack Nicklaus said "Hubert tried to do the right thing and be in the right place at the right time." Fellow golfer Gary Player echoed Nicklaus, "He's been a tremendous contributor to golf, but he's been a great gentleman. Really a nice man and you can't say much more about a person than that."
Hubert retired from sports writing, at least partially, in 2001. He and his wife moved to Virginia and the promise of peace and quiet. Hubert did continue to write a weekly column for the St. Petersburg Times until the end of 2004. He planned to retire, but Hubert couldn't leave sports. He returned to the sports room last year and writes today for the Gainesville Sun. This past April Hubert Mizell was honored by the Augusta National Golf Club, which awarded him and thirteen other writers and broadcasters with the first "Masters Major Achievement Award." According to the editors of Sports Cliches dot com., a sportswriter must be around for at least thirty years to qualify as a legend. Hubert Mizell is twenty years beyond that level and still going strong, watching and writing about the greatest legends in the games we play.
As a point of personal privilege, I dedicate this column to my son Scotty as he continues his major studies in journalism at Georgia College and State University. Hubert Mizell's career shows that a love of sports and the triumph of the human spirit, a fundamental appreciation of our heritage and a passionate talent for writing can make the dreams of a little boy from Dublin come true.