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David McCollum, Decorated Conway Sports Writer, Dies at 68

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David McCollum, the Arkansas sportswriter who covered Olympic Games and NCAA championships but was best known for writing about local athletes for nearly four decades at the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, died Monday after heart surgery in North Little Rock.

He was 68 and lived in North Little Rock.

One of the most decorated sports journalists in state history, McCollum claimed more than 200 writing awards and was named 2008’s Arkansas sportswriter of the year by the National Association of Sportscasters & Sportswriters. For more than three decades, he served on the board of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and in 2014 received the Arkansas Activities Association’s Distinguished Media Service Award. He was also a member of the Arkansas Sportscasters & Sportswriters Hall of Fame.

McCollum died at Baptist Health Medical Center-North Little Rock after a quadruple bypass operation following a heart attack. As news of his death spread Monday, accolades poured in for a thoughtful writer and analyst who shed his quiet reserve mainly when describing the intricacies of a 3-4 defense in football or an amazing shot on the golf course.

Wally Hall, the longtime Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sports editor and one of a very few colleagues who could rival McCollum’s longevity and output, told Arkansas Business that he was shocked. “What a loss for journalism, but even more so for humanity,” Hall said. “A true gentleman and scholar.”

In August, McCollum reflected on his long newspaper career in an interview with Arkansas Business. He had just received the Golden 50 Award from the Arkansas Press Association, celebrating his 50 years in the newspaper industry. That long stint, begun as a teenage paperboy in his native Memphis, continued through 45 years of writing sports at Baylor University, The Orange Leader in Orange, Texas; the Arkansas Democrat and the Log Cabin.

The APA lamented McCollum’s “sudden passing,” noting that he was a regular at the association’s summer conventions, a multiple winner of the Better Newspaper Editorial Contest and a participant in the Arkansas Newspaper Foundation Golf Tournament. “He volunteered at every chance to help those in our industry and always had the thirst to continue to learn,” said Ashley Wimberley, the APA’s executive director. “He recently served as a judge representing APA for the sportswriting category of the Louisiana Press Association’s editorial contest. He will be greatly missed.”

McCollum’s Column, his hallmark since college, appeared more than 11,000 times in four papers, covering Arkansas legends like the NBA’s Sidney Moncrief and Scottie Pippen, Conway pro football standout Peyton Hillis and professional golfer Bryce Molder. Other career highlights included covering the 1973 Houston tennis match between women’s champion Billie Jean King and 55-year-old former Wimbledon men’s champ Bobby Riggs, the inspiration for the Emma Stone-Steve Carell movie “Battle of the Sexes,” and the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

“How many people after me will be in the newspaper business, or just media in general, for 50 years?” he mused at the time. “How many businesses are even open for 50 years?”

He recalled the University of Arkansas’ “Triplets” and their Final Four trip in 1978, and the revival of football at Hendrix College in Conway. But he also spoke thoughtfully on changes in the press box and newsroom, once smoky male-dominated worlds, and the modern plight of daily newspapering, battered by an exodus of readers and advertisers in favor of the internet.

In the 1960s, he said, Johannes Gutenberg could have walked into a newspaper straight from the 15th century and “figured out what was going on.” Nowadays Gutenberg, the inventor of moveable type, would be lost. “It’s kind of like people going from horse-drawn carriages to traveling in airplanes,” he said.

After moving to North Little Rock and working for a time as sports editor of the Arkansas Democrat, McCollum took the sports job at the Conway daily in 1982.

He excelled in going beyond the simple scores and statistics, which McCollum figured readers were getting through electronic media, to focus on analysis and trends like the rise of sports punditry on cable and the professionalization of college sports. “The consolation for print journalists is that after getting the scores and highlights and quick takes, sports readers appreciate someone with experience to analyze and put things into context and perspective.”

Jim Schneider, the longtime newspaperman and former director of public affairs for the University of Central Arkansas, moonlighted for McCollum in the 1980s, covering the Conway High School Wampus Cats. “He was a great guy to work for and work with, and you could trust him,” Schneider said. “He had a gift for analysis, for breaking down what happened in the game, that was as good as I’ve seen. He was also not just a sports writer, but a newspaperman. He could write anything you threw at him, news, sports, editorials. He was really better suited for a bigger newspaper, and the Democrat probably should have never let him go. But he never shorted the readers of the Log Cabin. He was having the time of his life.”

Kelly Sublett, the GateHouse Media group publisher who oversees the Log Cabin Democrat, described the paper’s staff as stunned and profoundly sad. “David was a sweet soul who was an institution in the Log Cabin newsroom,” she said. “He was a traditional newspaper sports editor who shared wisdom and knowledge, not only about his craft, but about community and life. It was an honor to work with David. He will be part of our story forever, and we’re proud of that.”

McCollum is survived by his wife, Beverly, a human resources administrator at the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, and a son, Gavin. Arrangements were pending as of Monday afternoon.

Equality of the sexes in sports was a frequent topic for McCollum. When he watched King beat Riggs in that tennis battle of the sexes 45 years ago, “it was considered an overhyped celebrity TV event,” McCollum said. “But it turned out to be a gender watershed and a bridge to Title IX,” the federal law against sex discrimination that energized women’s sports in the 1970s and 80s. One of his last columns, from April 3, was headlined “Women upstage the men in Final Four.”

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