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Vol. 57, No. 2 • January 2020 • .pdf version
Quick typing, quicker wit
Mark Whicker, a Southern California sports columnist for more than three decades, began his career at the Chapel Hill Newspaper in North Carolina in 1973. On hand for the 200th of Dean Smith's 879 victories, Whicker presented the North Carolina coach with 200 of Smith's beloved Kent cigarettes.
Already a sports columnist for the Winston-Salem Journal by his early 20s, Whicker was chosen North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year twice before he was 25.
"Mark was a natural, right from the start," said Lenox Rawlings, a contemporary of Whicker's at the University of North Carolina and later the longtime sports columnist at the Winston-Salem Journal. "He already knew what was going on in college basketball, and once he had a seat at the table, he sat down and started asking questions, always looking for a fresher story, for something different, for something funnier or more meaningful. He usually got it. He also got the part about working for the answer, before and after the event."
Whicker went on to work for the Dallas Times-Herald, Philadelphia Bulletin and Philadelphia Daily News before joining the Orange County Register in 1987. His column has been a fixture in Southern California for more than 30 years, and he remains a columnist for the Southern California News Group. He has been honored twice by the Associated Press Sports Editors as one of the top 10 columnists in the nation.
Among the events Whicker has covered were the 1974 Final Four when David Thompson and N.C. State ended UCLA's seven-year national championship run, Villanova's 1985 title season, UCLA's 1995 title and Magic Johnson's 1991 announcement that he had tested positive for HIV. Whicker also witnessed N.C. State's upset of Houston in the 1983 title game and Loyola Marymount guard Bo Kimble's first left-handed free throw in tribute to fallen teammate Hank Gathers in the NCAA tournament in 1990.
Despite his decades in Southern California, some of his fondest memories are of the ACC of the 1970s.
"Those were great days, with great players, and coaches who were real characters," Whicker remembered. "Those of us who covered the ACC enjoyed each other's company and took the work seriously but not ourselves. It was pre-ESPN and few games were televised, and pro sports hadn't yet arrived. We got to tell the stories and learned to do it objectively and with passion."
Known for prodigious productivity, quick typing and quicker wit, Whicker also is widely admired by his peers.
Frank Burlison, the longtime Southern California reporter and basketball talent scout, recalls seeing Whicker finish columns, "fingers flying," and leave long before his press box colleagues.
"And, in reading the next day what he had cranked out, it was once again confirmed to all of us none of us wrote better or with more insight than Mark," he said.
"That was true then and it remains true 20 years later – regardless of the sport, setting or circumstances: He remains the best there is."
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