In the sports information profession, there is a standard others seek to emulate. That standard is Claude Felton.
The longtime University of Georgia sports media specialist reached his most prestigious professional milestone on July 4, 2001--he was inducted into the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Hall of Fame at the organization's annual workshop in San Diego, CA. The Hall of Fame induction symbolizes the high esteem in which Felton is held by his peers and colleagues and is reflective of his exemplary work at UGA.
And if there's ever a Hall of Fame built for being a good person, Felton should be an inaugural inductee. He is a man of tremendous class and integrity who is humble, modest and highly personable-- qualities which endear him to those with whom he comes in contact. In essence, Felton is a gentleman of the highest caliber.
"He's one of the few people I've ever known who I've never heard anybody say one bad thing about," said Dan Magill, who chose Felton as his successor when he left the position of sports information director after nearly three decades.
Felton is a loyal servant to the University of Georgia in general and the Bulldogs' athletic program in particular. There's no doubt his blood is red with tints of black and silver included.
A native of Savannah, GA, Felton developed a deep affection for the University of Georgia as a small child and has followed the Bulldogs since. He enrolled at Georgia in 1967 and received his Associate Bachelor's (1970) and Master of Arts (1971) degrees in Journalism from the University.
After serving as Sports Information Director, Director of Information Services, Director of Public Relations and assistant tennis coach at Georgia Southern following graduation from UGA, Felton became assistant sports information director at UGA in 1975. He was promoted to director in 1976, before returning to Georgia Southern a year later. He became Sports Information Director a second time at UGA in 1979. Currently aided by a full-time staff of eight and 17 student assistants, Felton's primary responsibility as Sports Information Director is to chronicle and disseminate information about Georgia's intercollegiate athletic teams and student-athletes to interested parties on the local, state, regional, and national levels. His role with the Bulldogs has grown over the years. For the past two years, he has overseen not only the sports information department, but also the ticket and development offices as Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs. He also received promotions from Sports Informaion Director to Assistant Athletics Director for Sports Information to Associate Athletics Director for Sports Information during his second UGA tenure.
UGA athletics director and legendary head football coach Vince Dooley has the highest of praise for Felton.
"When I became athletic director, Claude was the first and most important administrative hire for me, and with his long tenure and increased responsibility over the years, he has proven to be an invaluable asset for the University of Georgia and for me personally," said Dooley.
Others working in the sports profession share similar sentiments about Felton.
"I've known Claude for fourteen years, and he is the most dedicated, helpful and professional person I've ever encountered in his field," said Anthony Dasher, Assistant Sports Editor of the Athens, GA Daily News. "No one does a better job than Claude in making press operations run smoothly. He is truly top-of-the-line as a person and as a sports media expert."
Karlene Lawrence, who has served under Felton's direction over 20 years, first as his secretary and now as Director of Publications for the UGA Athletic Association, adds that her boss is a special person and his dedication is rare in the sports information field.
"I've worked with Claude for over 20 years. He is one of the most sincere, honest, loyal and ethical persons I have ever met. It has truly been a honor to work for, and learn from, "one of the best," said Lawrence. "I think very few schools, no matter what size, have someone who has been so extensively involved in the athletics program as Claude has at Georgia."
Felton has many accomplishments to his credit. Besides the dozens of national awards he and his UGA staff have won from the College Sports Information Directors of America for the slick media guides, game programs and related publications they produce, Felton has served as media coordinator for 17 NCAA national championship events held at UGA and was the host sports information director for the 1977 NCAA Final Four basketball tournament in Atlanta. He also was a member of the press liaison staff for the U.S. Olympic Committee at the 1983 Olympic Sports Festival in Colorado Springs, '84 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and '96 Olympic Games in Atlanta/Athens. Felton was the press venue chief for soccer at the '96 Centennial Olympic Games in Athens. In addition, he was chairman of the Ethics Committee of the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) from 1985-91 and chairman of the CoSIDA Olympic Liaison Committee (1992-1995). Felton has served as a member of the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four media coordination committee since 1995. He also holds memberships in several professional organizations including the Football Writers Association of America and American Basketball Writers Association.
Felton's career has spanned the glory days of Georgia athletics, from the football team's fifth national championship in 1980 to the recent titletown era, which has featured nine national NCAA championships in the last three years. He lists his favorite memories with the Bulldogs as the Buck Belue-to-Lindsay Scott 93-yard miracle touchdown pass with 1:03 remaining that beat Florida 26-21 in 1980 and propelled Georgia to the National Championship that season, being with running back Herschel Walker at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York in 1982 when he was awarded the Heisman Trophy and the emotions surrounding Dooley's final game as Georgia's head football coach at the Gator Bowl (won 34-27 by the Bulldogs over Michigan State) on January 1, 1989.
Felton also has vibrant memories of the best athletes to play for the Bulldogs such as Walker, Buck Belue, Terry Hoage, Kevin Butler, Eric Zeier, Dominique Wilkins, Vern Fleming and Katrina McClain. Felton has every player--and every game--filed away in his memory. Equally as special to Felton are the athletes whose names don't evoke as much fanfare as the star performers, but who contributed much to their respective Georgia teams.
The only thing Felton speaks more highly of than current and former UGA athletes, coaches and Athletic Association staff members is his family.
He and his wife, the former Cathy Turner of Athens, have three children--Robyn, Christopher and Patrick--and Felton is always eager to share the latest accomplishment of each.
When he is not spending time with his family, Felton is probably doing something that benefits UGA athletics.
Some things never change.
-Questions and Answers with Claude Felton-
Editor's Note: Though Claude Felton prefers to stay away from the spotlight so it might shine on others, he nevertheless consented to an interview with longtime sportswriter and UGA Sports enthusiast Tim Gardner after several pleas and answered the below questions. We hope you enjoy this visit with one of the all-time greatest Georgia Bulldogs.
Gardner: As Associate Athletics Director you have many responsibilities. In detail, what are your duties at Georgia?
Felton: Most of my day to day duties are still overseeing the operation of our sports communications department which involves a wide variety of media relations and publicity work. In recent years I have become involved additionally in the areas of marketing and promotions, ticket operations, and event management. We are fortunate at UGA to have very skilled and experienced individuals working in these areas and they do a great job daily for the University and the Athletic Association.
Gardner: What is the greatest satisfaction you receive from your job with the University of Georgia Athletic Association?
Felton: I've always liked the atmosphere of working on a college campus. To combine that with my love of college athletics at a place like UGA has been a wonderful experience. Working with the coaches and athletes has been special and the opportunity to work with and learn from so many outstanding administrators has been very rewarding.
Gardner: What are the most significant differences between the duties of a Sports Information Director today and when you began your career in the profession?
Felton: The technology is the single biggest difference -- from the explosion of sports on television to the growth of media covering college athletics to the Internet. Another difference is the tremendous funding that is necessary today to be successful in college athletics. Certainly the growth of women's athletics has been significant during my career at UGA as well.
Gardner: What are memories of working as Georgia's Chief Sports Information Executive of which you are most proud?
Felton: I've been blessed with so many especially when you consider that UGA has won 18 national championships during my tenure. All of them have been very special, especially when you consider that by far the majority of those in my profession have never had the experience of winning even a single national championship. Certainly the 1980 national football championship was special and the opportunity to work with a student-athlete like Herschel Walker for three years. Herschel and the success of the early '80's provided me with an opportunity be be exposed to the national media. Many of those relationships are still intact today and I like to think give Georgia some advantages in national publicity for many of our sports on occasion.
The men's basketball Final Four in 1983, women's basketball Final Fours, the Olympics coming to Athens, and the opportunity to host numerous NCAA national championships are some other highlights.
Gardner: In detail, what is your schedule like on game day at both home and away athletic events?
Felton: Game days for football are hopefully a matter of executing the many months of preparation. Philosophically, I'm a big believer in preparation, anticipating all scenarios of things that could happen on a game day, and having alternative plans in place that will still assure that our responsibilities are carried out successfully.
I've been very fortunate to have what I consider the best sports communications staff in the SEC over a long period of time. They share my pride in what we do and in getting the job done properly. As a group they have been very good at working independently and accomplishing things in a professional manner. I can set the tone and the plan, but the key is having a great staff to carry it out.
Gardner: What is the toughest job you have as Sports Information Director?
Felton: Most people in my profession are faced daily with dealing with many different constituencies and doing it successfully consistently can be a difficult assignment. We work with media (print and electronic), coaches, athletic administrators, university administrators, student-athletes, and a wide variety of fans. Responding to all of them in a manner that is satisfactory can be challenging.
Gardner: What does induction into the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Hall of Fame mean to you?
Felton: To say that I was surprised with the induction would be an understatement. It's a great honor. It's especially humbling when I think of so many in my profession that I hold in very high regard who are not in the Hall of Fame. And to think of myself in the same company with the numerous legends of the profession who are in the Hall of Fame makes it even more humbling.
Certainly it's a reflection of the support we've had from Coach Dooley over the years and maybe most of all it really points out the great people we've had working in our sports information office since I've been at Georgia. Those are the ones who have done such a great job year in and year out, and is so doing, made me look good. And I've been fortunate to be at the University of Georgia which has given us so much to work with in nationally competitive coaches, student-athletes and teams.
Gardner: What are your recollections of growing up in Savannah, GA, a place that has been referred to as one of the world's prettiest cities?
Felton: Savannah was a great place to grow up and I learned to love the beach and coastal salt-water fishing. It also provided an opportunity to play a variety of sports growing up which I'm sure helped me develop a great love of athletics. I also had the chance to begin my journalistic career at a young age. While working some summers at the Continental Can paper mill during the day, I also had the opportunity to work at nights at the Savannah Morning News as a copy boy, and later as an intern in both the sports and news departments.
Gardner: Will you please tell our readers more about your immediate family?
Felton: My wife, Cathy, is an Athens native. My oldest child, daughter Robyn, is a graduate of Samford University and currently works for The Colonade Group in Birmingham, but lives in Starkville, Miss., being assigned to the Colonade's Mississippi State University account. My oldest son, Christopher is a sophomore at Georgia, and my youngest child, Patrick, is a ninth-grader at Oconee County High School.
Gardner: What are your hobbies?
Felton: I still love the salt water fishing (and shrimping) around coastal Georgia. I just don't get to do it enough. Also, quail hunting is a favorite hobby.
Gardner: You grew up in Georgia, graduated from the University of Georgia and now work for the Georgia Athletic Association. Why have you remained with the University of Georgia all these years? What has been your motivation?
Felton: I've stayed at Georgia for a couple of reasons--Coach Dooley has kept me on and I really love my job. It's a special experience to work at your alma mater.
* Tim Gardner may be contacted by writing to him at 670 Old Hanging Rock Road, Newland, NC 28657; calling 828-766-8051; or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.