NSSA: Carr is N.C. Sportswriter of Year
By David Shaw
When Arminius Johnson Carr, Jr. walked into the Raleigh News & Observer newsroom some 42 years ago, nobody knew who he was.
Now no one is likely to forget him. Known simply as A.J. Carr, he’s a story-teller extraordinaire and this year’s North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.
“I’m named after my dad,” Carr said Saturday, shortly before the 49th annual NSSA festivities kicked off at the Holiday Inn. “Only they called him ‘Red.’ Arminius is often misspelled and mispronounced, but that doesn’t bother me at all. I’m just A.J. to most everybody.”
He’s just A.J. and if he had his way, you wouldn’t be reading this sentence. Like many in his profession, Carr would rather tell a story than be one.
“This is very strange to me,” he made it known. “I’m usually the one asking the questions. I can easily talk about players and the games and the job, but I never liked talking about myself.”
Carr may feel antsy in the spotlight, but you’d never know it by his gentle manner and soft, smiling eyes. As a do-it-all sportswriter for the state’s second-largest daily newspaper, he possesses a journalist’s version of bedside manner ó the ability to put you at ease.
“Well, that’s one of the most important things about this job,” he said. “You want your subject to be comfortable. You want to be trusted and liked.”
Carr learned to be a world-class listener as a teenager at the bi-weekly Wallace Enterprise, located just north of Wilmington, where he cut his teeth for 10 cents per column inch. More importantly, he was taught Journalism Rule No. 1 ó that nothing is more important than accuracy.
While attending Guilford College in the early 1960’s, Carr joined the Greensboro Daily News, working part-time during the school year and fulltime each summer. His beat included high school and community athletic events, American Legion baseball and a popular weekly bowling column.
“The staff at the Daily News was really strong,” Carr said. “Smith Barrier was the sports editor and there were plenty of great writers who took the time to work with me.”
By August 1996, Carr found himself stumbling into the News & Observer office, where sports editor Dick Herbert made good on a years-old promise.
“Back in high school the News & Observer was my hometown paper. Wallace was only a hundred miles from Raleigh,” Carr recalled. “So I’d submit stories and he’d critique them. When I got to college he said if he ever had an opening, he’d consider me for the job. Well, he kept his word. And to this day I’ve never had any desire to work for another paper.”
Carr has seen a handful of sports editors come and go during his quilt of a career, from Herbert to Joe Tiede to current boss Sherry Johnson. But it’s Herbert, a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, who planted the seed that’s yielded a lifetime harvest.
“He could have hired people with more experience who were infinitely better writers,” Carr said. “But he hired me. I was 23 at the time, and he gave me a chance. He opened the door for me.”
Since then, Carr has provided N&O readers with his daily dose of analysis, insight, wit and charm. He’s learned to use language the way Stan Musial used a baseball bat ó with precision, distinction, economy and impact ó while spitting out lively prose about East Carolina and each of the four ACC schools that call Tobacco Road home.
“I’ve had beats where I covered each of the schools,” he said. “But for the past two years I’ve been more of a general sports reporter and gotten to see everyone and everything. I’ve enjoyed it both ways.”
N.C. State basketball legend David Thompson remains the best athlete Carr’s ever seen.
“He was a player for all-time,” Carr explained. “Some players are great for their era. But Thompson would have been great in any era. He could come off the couch today and still beat you.”
Even now, at age 65 with a couple of surgical procedures behind him, Carr still covers every game in town. Of course, he could submit his retirement papers at any time. But for a guy old enough to get discount movie tickets, he still puts on quite a show.
“I’m old enough, gray enough and readers may have had enough,” he said jokingly. “I’ve been at this for a long time and still get so much pleasure out of going to work, learning from people and writing about sports.”
Only now, everyone knows his name.
Contact David Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org.