Staff Writer Jack McCallum, whose stories on the Jumbo Elliott Invitational Track Meet and NBA Guard John Lucas appear in this issue, has been a sportswriter since the age of 12, when he covered the scene in his native Mays Landing, N.J.—two miles from "the world's biggest cranberry bog"—for the Atlantic County Record. McCallum wasn't always the berries as an athlete—he ruefully recalls writing, "After McCallum struck out...." But the occasionally embarrassing content of his stories wasn't the reason he chose to refuse a byline back then. What bothered him more was his clichè-ridden style.
McCallum may have had his problems at the plate and at the typewriter, but he was so fast as a 13-year-old end that his Pop Warner League teammates named a play after him, The McCallum Special, a double reverse. In eight games he scored 12 touchdowns. Getting into the end zone took its toll: McCallum weighed 84 pounds, and the maximum was 120. It was 150 the following year, and McCallum was still 84. On the season's first play, going out for a pass, he was hit so hard that he said to himself, "I will never play football again." He finished the season and never did play football again.
He also played basketball, giving up the piano for it in high school when there wasn't enough time for both. He would have continued to play at Muhlenberg College, but the Mules had conference championship teams, and McCallum wasn't good enough to start. He was better at pouring iron, which he did part time during his senior year, when his money was running out; a week after he quit, his successor was killed on the job.
After graduating with a degree in English, McCallum applied for work at The Globe-Times in Bethlehem, Pa., "giving them my eager pitch," he says, and was assigned that night to cover a basketball game. He stayed for eight years, writing about "the gritty veteran guard," and "the hustling sharpshooter." He says now, "I might have continued to write that way, but I was reading SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, and I thought, 'I'm going about this wrong.' "
While at The Globe-Times, McCallum earned a master's degree from Lehigh and wrote what he calls "one of the lowest-selling sports books of all time," a biography of Chuck Bednarik entitled Bednarik: Last of the Sixty-Minute Men. He also co-authored a how-to book on wrestling, published by SPORTS ILLUSTRATED as part of its instructional series. Then, after submitting "30 million story suggestions," he got a free-lance assignment from us. It was to do a story on softball Pitcher Ty Stofflet, and the piece was published in the May 28, 1979 issue. Last March, McCallum became a staff writer.
McCallum's weight is up to 175 now, and he spends his leisure time "injuring myself playing basketball—back, neck, ankle, knee and hamstring in the last three weeks. I probably should've stuck with the piano."
We're glad he stuck to writing, and assume he is, too. After all, he lets us put bylines on his articles.
McCALLUM: IRRESISTIBLE PERSISTENCE