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MAHONE: Beloved friend, mentor passes

Derrick Mahone

Derrick Mahone

It was “Career Day” in 1978 at my elementary school.

All the male students were assembled in the makeshift auditorium to listen to the firemen, policemen, doctors, businessmen and athletes giving their spiel on their chosen profession.

While everyone was wide-eyed when a couple Atlanta Falcons started talking about what it took to be a professional athlete, I was more interested in the career of the person who spoke before them.

He was Earnest Reese, a longtime sportswriter at the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Every morning before school, I would read the paper to find out what was going on in the world of sports.

Yes, there was a time when there was no 24-hour sports update via the Internet or television.

I would recognize the name of one of the paper’s writers, Earnest Reese, just as much as I would any of the sports figures. It was a treat for me to get to speak with Reese after the program was over.

I followed the advice he gave me that day in ’78 and several years later I would sit across from him in the sports department as a colleague.

For 20-plus years, Reese would serve as my mentor, a friend, and a second father.

It was particularly hard learning on Thursday that the longtime Henry County resident had passed. What makes it even harder is that it happened on March 29, which would have been my father’s 94th birthday.

Reese was a trailblazer in becoming one of the first African-American sports writers at a major Southern newspaper. Before he got his big break into sports writing, he was a teacher and coach in Henry County for a couple years.

We would talk for hours about sports, but more importantly about life.

During his 29-year career at the newspaper, Reese covered college, pro, high school and recreational sports. He did interviews with some of the big names in sports.

He won 11 national and state awards for his sports coverage, which included covering the great Edwin Moses early in his track career at Morehouse College and Evander Holyfield during his Golden Glove boxing days. He also interviewed Muhammad Ali on two occasions.

One story that Reese told me stood out the most.

He had just gotten back from his native Mississippi and was telling his co-workers about a running back at Jackson State. Reese told them that this running back was better than reigning Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin at Ohio State.

He was nearly laughed out the newsroom by the suggestion that a player from tiny Jackson State could compare to the great Griffin.

That player happened to be the late Walter Payton, who would become a Super Bowl champion and Hall of Famer.

When I left for a job at the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., Reese gave me a list of contacts to help with the transition.

The best piece of advice he gave me was to go by Alcorn State and check out this new hot-shot quarterback they had.

He had heard that he was the second coming of Super Bowl champion quarterback Doug Williams. It proved to be true as Steve McNair finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1994 and was the third overall pick in the NFL draft.

Reese knew his sports. He knew about life.

And I’m glad I had a chance to know Earnest Reese.

Derrick Mahone is the sports editor of the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at dmahone@news-daily.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/DerrickMahone_.