MU and H-D officials gathered with members of the modern Herd media at the press box at the MU stadium on the first day of spring practice for 2008. It was then announced beginning the opening day of spring practice for the Herd, on April 1,2008, the working press area at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium will be named in honor of longtime Huntington Advertiser and The Herald-Dispatch sports journalist Ernie Salvatore.
Salvatore was the former sports editor and columnist of both daily papers along with the Marshall student newspaper, The Parthenon, when he was an undergrad in the 1940s, as well a long-time contributing writer for Huntington Quarterly magazine. This was no April Fool joke, and it was an honor long overdue for Huntington's favorite ink-stained columnist and, occasionally, fly in the oinment of this town's sports. Salvatore would take on the big, and the small, problems as Salvatore preceived them with respect, great writing and, occasionally, a pen full of the ink of change when he saw the need.
More specifically, Salvatore has spent nearly seven decades of living and raising a family in Huntington and covering of the Thundering Herd. "The Herald-Dispatch welcomes you to the Ernie Salvatore Press Box," will now greet media members as they exit the elevators on the working press level of the stadium press box. The press area will also be renovated this summer with new wall displays that will depict the history and tradition of both Marshall Football and the print media in West Virginia. The press box will also receive a new paint scheme and other needed functional upgrades.
The surprise announcement was made Tuesday prior to Marshall's first football practice of the spring, and no one was more surprised than Salvatore. The usually glib Salvatore found himself at a loss for words for one of the few times in his life as a word-smith. "What do you want me to say?" said an emotional Salvatore, as he addressed members of the media. The announcement, as hoped, completely caught off-guard the former Greenwich, Conn. native who came to Huntington and Marshall College in 1941 to attend journalism school after first taking sports stories by phone then writing sports for his hometown paper, The Greenwich Times. Salvatore learned about the plans and saw an artist's rendering of the new signage that will grace the main entrance of the working press area just moments before talking about the honor.
"There have been very few times in my life that I have been speechless," said Salvatore, "this is great. I have had a great run and I hope it's not quite over. "It has been a great run to see this school and what happened to it when I first got (to Marshall)...it was a neglected school but it was my school, and to watch that march of how far it has come not only athletically, but academically, it has been a great ride. Thank you for this."
The Herald-Dispatch, beginning a new life under the Champion Industries banner of hometown success Marshall Reynolds, was happy to be involved in honoring one of its legends. "This project started months ago, and, I am sure for Bob Marcum (Marshall Director of Athletics), probably years ago. When we were invited to take part in this project we said we would love too," said The Herald-Dispatch President and Publisher, Pat Thompson Frantz. "We can't think of anything that would be a better tribute for Ernie and we thank Marshall for involving us."
Frantz spoke at the event, as did Executive Editor of The Herald-Dispatch, Ed Dawson, along with Marshall Assistant Athletic Director Randy Burnside. "I cannot think of a more fitting tribute for someone who has covered Marshall athletics for more than a half-century" Burnside said. "I want to thank Mr. Marcum and the leadership at The Herald-Dispatch for making this a reality. These renovations will give us one of the finest working press boxes in the country." Marshall will unveil the changes to the press box with a ribbon cutting ceremony upon its completion later this year, which will include updates to the sound system, both in the press and prestige box tower and to the stadium. The stadium opened in 1991, and this is the first true update to the press area since then.
It certainly will not be the first changes at Marshall College, then becoming Marshall University in 1961, that the Northeasterner from Connecticut has seen at Marshall since arriving as an young man many years ago. Ernest Anthony Salvatore, the son of Italian immigrants, enrolled in Marshall in 1941, but like many of his generation was called to serve in World War II. After the war, he returned to cover one of the most exciting periods in Thundering Herd history, as Cam Henderson led the Herd to a basketball National Championship in the NAIB (today's NAIA) in 1947, then follow that up with Marshall's first ever bowl bid in the January 1, 1948 Tangerine Bowl.
Salvatore found time for other things in Huntington besides sports, and was married to the former Joanne Mary Pinckard, who graduated with her husband in the class of 1948 and was married in December of that same year. Salvatore and his wife had five children: Lynne Mary, Ernest, T. Stephen, Marc - a former Thundering Herd football player - and John, and celebrated a 50th anniversary in 1998. Salvatore lost his wife a few years ago, but he is still seen at most home Marshall football and basketball, men's and women's, games, along with softball and baseball.
Salvatore joined the staff of the Huntington Advertiser, the town's evening newspaper from 1895-1979, and served as Radio-TV Editor while also covering sports until 1953. He became sports editor of the Advertiser at that point. He became the Executive Sports Editor of both newspapers in 1967 and remained with The Herald-Dispatch until he retired in 1986. Salvatore is best known, however, for his weekly Saturday column taking the "catbird" seat and column from former H-D sports editor, Carl "Duke" Ridgley, the man who suggested "Thundering Herd" as a Marshall nickname. Salvatore took the column and made it his own under the title of "Down In Front." The column was a potpourri of sports news and opinion, which Salvatore continued to write in retirement into the early part of this decade before an eye ailment forced Salvatore to, at least for the present, stop writing.
He is being treated by someone he once covered, a former MU student-athlete, Dr. Stephanie Skolik, an Ophthalmologist who played women's basketball at Marshall in the 1970s. A book of his best columns was put together by former H-D sports writer Dave Wellman in 1998 under the title, "The Sporting Life." Salvatore was as well known nationally as he was locally in the 1960s and 1970s, covering boxing both locally, as the H-D was a long-time sponsor of the Golden Gloves in Huntington, as well as nationally, becoming friends with fighters like Muhammad Ali and Buster Douglas. Salvatore covered Cincinnati during the 1970s in the heyday of the "Big Red Machine," and often talked about how Pete Rose was always ready for an interview. One of Salvatore's few regrets is missing a chance to talk to his childhood hero, Joe Dimaggio of the New York Yankees. "I just frozen up," said Salvatore of a one-time meeting with the Hall of Fame player as a young reporter.
He contributed heavily to a book produced by former employees of the sports department of The Herald-Dispatch, re-released two years ago under the title of "The Marshall Story," by writers he hired like Dave Wellman, Rick Nolte and Mickey Johnson. Salvatore has had articles published in both the Marshall Alumni magazine as well as Huntington Quarterly on a regular basis until his eye problem, and wants to work on a Leo Byrd story as soon as he can write about Huntington's hometown basketball All-American of the late 1950s. He also has appeared in and contributed to a number of movies about Marshall, including the documentaries, "Ashes To Glory" and "Cam Henderson: A Coach's Story" which both were award-winning productions by the team of Deborah Novak and John Witek.
"Ashes To Glory," which won a regional Emmy, was the story of the Marshall football, focusing on the teams from 1969-1971 including the Nov. 14, 1970, crash of the Marshall team plane that killed all 75 on board including most of the players and coaches, who were returning from East Carolina. Salvatore directed the newpaper's sports and news coverage of the tragedy, nearly living in the newspaper building for the first few awful days. "It didn't hit me until late Monday, when I went home," Salvatore said of the tragedy. "When I went home for dinner on Monday evening, I cried and cried, but you were in the story, so to speak, while we worked on gathering the news on Saturday night right on through until Monday." The Henderson film included five minutes of Huntington and Marshall sports memories with Salvatore on the DVD version. "Cam Henderson: A Coach's Story" was about the legendary Marshall football and basketball coach who is credited with inventing the fast break and zone defense that are the hallmarks of the modern game. The Henderson film won an award at the Houston, Texas film festival last year.
Salvatore appeared in a scene at the Marshall Memorial Fountain in the recent Warner Bros. movie, "We Are Marshall." Salvatore was prominently protrayed in the movie by the actor Mark Oliver in the actor's first role. "Ernie being Ernie," as many around town are occasionally heard to say in response to a comment or column by the veteran journalist, pointed out to the movie's director, McG, some oversights and mistakes including his character being in the stands for the game instead of the press box. On the whole, hovever, Salvatore was very pleased that the film caught the spirit of the tragedy and re-birth of the MU football program.
He also believed it took a tragedy to begin to correct some of the issues regarding Marshall's lack of support in the state capital, compared to the other university in the state, West Virginia. "The powers just treated Marshall awful, funding-wise, until the crash," Salvatore has told me on many occasions. "Then, all the sudden, they noticed the state had two universities." The 1970s saw a great growth as MU and Huntington recovered from the tragedy, including a long-imagined Medical School at Marshall that is now one of the nation's leaders in turning out family physicians.
The naming of the press box in Salvatore's name is an honor for a man who has spent over 65 years covering Marshall University and Thundering Herd sports from historic players like Jackie Hunt in the 1940s to Mike Barber in the 1980s, both members of the College Football Hall of Fame. He covered Hal Greer, the African-American Huntington native who was the first black to play at any "white" college in the state of West Virginia in 1955-56 and went on to be an NBA legend and in the Springfield, Mass. Basketball Hall of Fame. Salvatore covered Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni when he played for Marshall in the 1970s, then played and coached in the NBA and Ernie's beloved Italy in the Italian League, after covering Mike's older brother Danny at MU in the 1960s and having covered his uncle Andy D'Antoni in the 1940s at Marshall.
He has covered Marshall players like Frank "Gunner" Gatski, Marshall's only member of the NFL Hall of Fame, to possible Hall of Fame candidates now in the pros like Troy Brown, Mike Bartrum, Chad Pennington, Randy Moss and Byron Leftwich. He covered Greg White playing point guard at Marshall in the 1970-80s, covered White's first head coaching job at Pikeville College where a young Donnie Jones, now the second-year basketball coach of the Thundering Herd after working at MU as a assistant for the tough times under Dwight Freeman and the re-birth of MU basketball under Billy Donovan.
He was there for all four Woodrum brothers to come through the equipment room at Marshall. Salvatore always had time to sit and talk, even before we moved on and up in the world from being student-managers to writers/show hosts/on radio, and working in the same world Ernie covered first. As Ernie might say at the end of a column, "Covering Herd Sports is the onliest job for me-e-e-e!." Ernie, to quote the late comedian Bob Hope, "Thanks for the Memories."
And from me, and everyone who puts keys to our computers or sticks a mic in someone's face and says, "There is no such thing as off the record," a personal thanks for putting your fingers to the keys of a Royal or other typewriter with typing and carbon paper for those many, many years, writing many thousands of stories well enough in those columns and stories that inspired many of the current journalists in this fair city to take a run at this covering the team thing. Welcome to the Ernie Salvatore Press Box. Welcome home, Ernie.