CORDELE -- When he was 10 years old, Harvey Simpson would turn to the comic pages of the Valdosta Daily Times and find his hero in black and white.
His name was Ozark Ike, and he wore No. 7 before Mickey Mantle did. He could smack a baseball a country mile. He broke for long touchdown runs on the football field and sank game-winning shots at the buzzer on the basketball court.
“In my young mind, I put myself into his spikes, cleats or tennis shoes,” Harvey said.
He never became Ozark Ike. He was more Clark Kent, with a Superman cape. He could leap tall buildings in Cordele and rush off like a speeding bullet to make deadline.
Harvey has been sports editor of The Cordele Dispatch for 48 years. He was supposed to retire last Friday, but his bosses begged him to stay on until next Friday.
He has covered hundreds of games from frigid press boxes and thousands more on hard bleachers in sweaty, bandbox gyms. He has typed box scores, snapped photographs and slung three-deck headlines across the page.
To use a sports metaphor, he is this town’s MVP -- Most Valuable Paperboy. Folks have had more ink rub off on their fingers from stories he has written than anyone from Warwick to Wenona.
A tribute to Harvey Simpson is a tribute to small-town sportswriters everywhere, who work long hours for low wages, all for the love of the game and pride in their community.
He put down roots in Cordele in 1966, two years before the famous rocket ship made a permanent landing out by the interstate. In recording and chronicling the wins and losses of local teams, he has been Cordele’s unofficial sports historian over parts of six decades. He can’t walk 20 feet in this town without someone coming up and wanting to talk about baseball or auto racing.
“It has been a great ride, with a lot of memories,” he said. “It’s hard to walk away, even now. I started working when I was 17, and I will be 73 in December. For 55 years, I’ve gotten up every day and gone to work somewhere.”
His love of sports was nurtured in the right place, since Valdosta is known as “Titletown U.S.A.” His father was a school bus mechanic, and his mother worked as a shipping clerk manufacturing burlap bags at Dowling Bag Co. for more than 40 years.
When he was 12, he was a batboy for the Valdosta Tigers minor league baseball team of the Class D Georgia-Florida League. He always would be assigned as the batboy for the visiting team.
“That was my first recollection of ever hearing the name Cordele mentioned,” he said. “They were the Cordele A’s.”
Baseball was the sport he loved most, and he played in semi-pro leagues. He graduated from Valdosta High in 1959 and married his wife, Elaine, in 1961. He taught himself how to type and took a job with Western Union. He spent the early years of his marriage back and forth between jobs in Valdosta and Cordele, where the Western Union office was located in the old Suwanee Hotel.
“The managing editor of the newspaper didn’t like sports, and he knew I had covered sports (at The Dosta Outlook) when I was in high school,” Harvey said. “He offered me a part-time job and told me he would pay me out of his own pocket.”
Harvey stayed two years, then went back to Valdosta to work at the post office. He returned in 1966, when he was named sports editor. One of his first assignments was covering the Crisp County High basketball team in the state tournament at Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum in Atlanta.
Those were the old-fashioned days of pica poles and glue pots. He has spent many a Friday the 13th like this one at his office on 13th Avenue, pounding out stories on a Remington manual typewriter, while listening to the rhythm of the trains a half-block away. For many years, the Dispatch was the smallest daily in Georgia, publishing six days a week. (Now it’s down to one.)
In the early 1970s, he covered Cordele’s most famous athlete, 7-foot-1 Wayne “Tree” Rollins, who went on to play at Clemson and was a first-round draft pick by the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA.
There were times when he went beyond the call of duty, throwing during batting practice at the high school baseball field or operating the scoreboard at the local racetrack. He sometimes rode on the bus with the teams. He did a little backseat coaching and armchair quarterbacking along the way.
“I did everything but sell tickets,” he said, laughing.
He got some important advice in the beginning.
“One thing I’ve always tried not to do is deliberately embarrass a kid in print if he made an error or dropped a pass,” Harvey said. “Sandy Hershey was a coach when I got here, and he impressed upon me that I needed to remember I was in a small town and was going to be writing about people I would see every day.”
He racked up the miles and wore out the tread on Impalas, Comets, Fairlanes and Crown Victorias. He was sometimes called upon to write about more than just sports. He would shift gears and cover court trials, wrecks, fires and school board meetings.
“I went on a late-night moonshine raid or two with the late Sheriff Earlier Posey,” said Harvey. “I would then come back to the courthouse and watch plastic jugs of the white lightning be split as the contents were dumped into gutters leading to the city’s sewer system.”
He and Elaine raised their three children -- Jimmy, Greg and Brenda -- in the “watermelon capital of the world.” He walked away briefly in 1998, after letting it be known he did not wish to follow the newspaper’s foray into the electronic age. “I didn’t think I would be able to learn all the new stuff, so I retired,” he said. “After two weeks, I realized how much I missed it, and they took me back.”
In his own quiet and humble way, he has thrown plenty of touchdown passes and hit for the cycle at the plate.
Ozark Ike would be proud of Helvetica Harvey.
Contact Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.