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NSSA: West Virginia’s Chuck McGill

SALISBURY — West Virginia Sportswriter of the Year Chuck McGill is only 33, but make it an old-school 33.
“I’ll take that,” said the upbeat McGill, one of the media marvels who’s in town for the The National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association awards banquet.
Slice McGill open, and he’ll probably bleed black-and-white newsprint.
As the sports editor of the Charleston Daily Mail, he’s handled the transition to the electronic age os newspapers without kicking and screaming. He produced videos and chats when he was a beat writer, and he still blogs and tweets, communication verbs that have entered the English language only recently.
Those tweets and live blogs are necessary now that the relaying of sports information to the public has become up-to-the-second. Readers no longer have to wait for a newspaper landing in their driveway to find out if the local boys or girls won last night’s game.
Still, McGill’s roots are sunk deep in old-school printed newspapers, and he’s confident he’ll retire before they will.
“I grew up in Charleston and I delivered the Daily Mail,” McGill explained. “When I was in school, I’d come down to breakfast and my dad had the sports section already pulled out and folded at my place at the table. Then I’d cut out the agate (that’s the fine print with the standings and stats) and take that to school with me.”
McGill was not only a hardcore sports fan, he was a stong tennis player. But he realized he wouldn’t be a pro. He had a chance to watch two guys who were four years ahead of him at DuPont High School — future NFL receiver Randy Moss and NBA point guard Jason Williams, McGill’s neighbor — and he could see they were born with stuff he didn’t have.
“There wasn’t a big market for chubby 5-6 guys,” McGill said with a laugh.
Next to playing, writing about sports was the next best thing. McGull went to college at West Virginia University, worked on the school paper and landed a job covering high school sports in nothern Virginia after graduation.
When he had the chance to return home to Charleston in 2009 to cover Marshall football and basketball, McGill jumped at it.
He’s risen quickly, and he’s now sports editor and the director of a six-man staff. He cranks out three columns a week in addition to administrative duties.
The columns are the fun part. This is the second time he’s been chosen as West Virginia’s best sportswriter by his peers, and he’s actually a double winner this year.
He’s also being honored with the first national Tennis Media Award. Awards like that are a combination of a talented writer and a great story, and McGill had one.
“It was about a lady in her 50s (Tera Winfree) who made a comeback to playing competitive tennis after a double lung transplant,” McGill said. “It was a layup, really. She had a great story, and I just had to execute it. Some of the tennis stories up for the award were about pros, but this was a grassroots story that hit home.”
McGill works in a newspaper-hungry small city. While the population of Charleston is a modest 51,000, it still supports two daily newspapers. The Charleston Gazette is the competiion,
“Head to head every morning,” McGill said. “It’s tough in a two-paper town.”
Among others, West Virginia has given the world Moss. Jerry West, Hal Greer, Sam Huff, Lew Burdette but the small state has no big-time pro sports. So who and what does McGill and his staff write about?
Well, Marshall is just 45 miles to the west, while West Virginia U., where Davie County’s Jared Barber is a stout linebacker, is two hours north. The Thundering Herd and the Mountaineers get a lot of coverage.
The city of Charleston has two Division II colleges — West Virginia State and the University of Charleston, where former Salisbury QB John Knox is an all-conference player.
Baseball-wise, the Braves and Cubs enjoy big followings because of their superstation exposure, but there also are lot of Reds and Pirates fans.
The West Virginia Power — Charleston’s latest entry in the South Atlantic League, draws 2,000 people most nights and has a regular beat writer.
Pete Rose Jr., who manages the SAL’s Kannapolis Intimidators, played in the South Atlantic League in the early 1990s.
“When Pete and the Intimidators got here earlier this year we went out to a story on him,” McGill said. “He remembered this crazy guy in Charleston — the Toast Man — who always gave the opposing players a hard time. I told him, ‘Well, Pete, he’s still here.’ Pete wanted to meet him.”
The Toast Man, Rod Blackstone, is a legend at Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park. He’s seated on the front row on the visitors side, with his toaster plugged in to an outlet and churning out heated bread.
The Toast Man taunts opposing players as they wait in the on-deck circle — all good, clean fun — and he’ll hold up a sign that says “Power up the Toaster” when there’s a two-strike count. If the batter whiffs, Toast Man leads the crowd in a “You are toast!” chant and tosses crisp bread to the crowd.
With the Toast Man around, there aren’t many dull summer nights in West Virginia, and that’s good news when you’re a sportswriter.
“I don’t know that I’m the best writer in the state, but I do think I have a deep level of trust and respect with the readers,” he said.
The Kanawha Valley — Charleston’s coverage area — had strong prep baseball this season, and two of the teams squared off for a state championship at Appalachian Power Park over the weekend.
McGill saw a Twitter post from one of those ballplayers that revealed bedroom walls covered with sports sections from the Charleston Daily Mail. That made McGill feel pretty good, not only about his his paper, but about the importance that teenagers placed on being in that paper.
McGill plans to head for a vacation at Wrightsville Beach with his wife and 2-year-old after he leaves Salisbury.
He has big plans for his kid, and those plans include old-school, printed newspapers.
“I look forward to putting the sports section at his place at the breakfast table every morning, like my dad did for me,” McGill said. “And I hope he cuts out the agate and takes it to school.”

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