Bill Van Horne
Today I want to discuss one of the four male icons in my life.
My grandfather taught me about God's love. My father taught me about discipline and life. My high school coach taught me to wrestle. And finally, Bill Van Horne, the man who taught me about writing. Mr. Van Horne is the subject of this Sunday's column.
I was very disturbed a few weeks ago when I mentioned Bill Van Horne, and what a great sports writer he was. What upset me is that the person did not know about whom I was talking. I gave him a sports history-lesson, which I am going to share with you.
Before his passing, Bill Van Horne was the voice of Ohio Valley athletics for more than 50 years, both as sport editor for the Martins Ferry Times-Leader and the Wheeling News-Register. His columns, "Around the Horne" (Times-Leader) and "Van Horne on Sports" (News-Register), were fourth estate institutions that every athlete, coach, and fan looked forward to reading, especially on Sundays.
Van Horne's provocative columns made you smile, laugh, cry, beam with pride, but most importantly - think. Bill Van Horne was the moral voice who put the "sportsmanship" in sports.
Bill Van Horne was truly "A Man for All Sports Seasons." He was the patron of those sports that did not receive the publicity that football and basketball has always enjoyed in the Ohio Valley. He stepped it up a notch with the promotion of such "so-called" minor sports as tennis, golf, track, cross-country, distance running, and of course, wrestling.
Van Horne's devotion to the mat sport was nonpareil in the Valley. It began with his close association with a coaching legend, the late George "Coach" Kovalick. It was Bill, George and John "Corky" Vrotsos who conceived and initiated the first OVAC Wrestling Tournament in 1954. The event, after more than 50 years, has become the showcase of Ohio Valley wrestling.
During those earlier years, Bill Van Horne befriended a young black wrestler from Bridgeport, Ohio - Bobby Douglas. Highly influenced by Van Horne and Kovalick, Bobby Douglas became a world-class wrestler, coach and writer. But more significant is the fact that Coach Douglas has never forgotten them and how they molded his life.
Bill Van Horne has received an abundance of awards for his contribution to sports not only on the local scene, but also on the national and international sports fronts. Today I will inform you only of his mat sport honors.
In 1977, Bill Van Horne was the second recipient of the prestigious OVAC "Mr. Mat" award. The West Virginia State Wrestling Coaches Association has honored Bill Van Horne's promotion of the sport mat, naming him the "West Virginia Wrestling Sportswriter of the Year" three times. Van Horne also was recognized nationally for his efforts on behalf of wrestling. In 1996, Bill Van Horne posthumously received the "Honorary Master of Writing" award by Wrestling USA Magazine. He is the only wrestling sportswriter who has ever been honored with this elite accolade by this national mat sport periodical.
As for myself, I could never thank Bill Van Horne enough for what he has done for yours truly over the years. If it weren't for Bill Van Horne, there would not be a "Mat Talk."
In 1978, Bill Van Horne gave a young coach the opportunity to write a column about a sport he loves to this day. But it went further than that, Bill Van Horne was like another coach to me. Van Horne was my mentor and critic as a wrestling writer. He taught me to write from the heart as well as the mind. I can only hope that he would be pleased with how I have matured as a writer.
As one veteran and highly-respected sports editor put it, "When I was a young sportswriter, we use to say: 'Bill Van Horne and Cal Pokas were the sportswriters; the rest of us were just reporters.'" I feel the same way.
Yes, Bill Van Horne will always be one of the four "father-figures" in my life. And I, for one, will never forget him and his influence on my life!
Updated March 25, 1999