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National Sports Media Association moving from Salisbury to Winston-Salem

By Elizabeth Cook

editor@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — More than five decades after it was founded in Salisbury, the National Sports Media Association announced Tuesday that it will move its headquarters to Winston-Salem in April.

With it goes the group’s signature awards weekend, which has brought to town celebrities such as Bob Hope, Flip Wilson, Mickey Mantle, Arnold Palmer and Yogi Berra.

“I am terribly disappointed,” said attorney Chip Short of Salisbury, who served as president of the group for seven years. He said NSMA officials talked with Winston-Salem representatives during that time and also had overtures from Atlanta and Nashville.

“It may ultimately be the best thing for the organization,” Short said, “but it was not good for Salisbury and we did not pursue it at the time.”

Dave Goren, executive director of NSMA, said Winston-Salem offers opportunities for business partnerships and organizational growth. A former sportscaster, Goren has headed the group for seven and a half years. He and Danielle Randall, general manager, are NSMA’s only staff.

With a population of more than 240,000 people, Winston-Salem is home to two university athletics programs, a minor league baseball team, a professional tennis tournament and IMG College, a collegiate sports marketing company.

Winston-Salem also has the headquarters of three Fortune 500 companies — RJReynolds, Hanes Brands and BB&T bank.

Operating a nonprofit is difficult, knowing that the majority of nonprofits address social service needs, Goren said. “I realize, when I stand in that line with my hand out, I’m in the back of the line,” he said.

“The one thing I will miss is all the friends I have made here,” Goren said. “I hope they will stay with us in coming for the awards weekend. Any help will surely be appreciated.”

Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan, an NSMA Hall of Fame member, is national chairman of the group’s board. “Salisbury has become a home away from home for me over the past two decades,” he said, “and I am looking forward to establishing a similar relationship with Winston-Salem.”

Bob Setzer of Salisbury, an NSMA board member, said he looks a  the move as an expansion. “I liken it to the Atlantic Coast Conference,” he said, which expanded from its Tobacco Road roots to bring in schools such at Virginia Tech, Miami and Notre Dame.

Setzer said local philanthropists stepped up to recruit NSMA to Winston-Salem.

“I do want to say that it hurts,” Setzer said. “However, to stay in North Carolina was significant to me, and only 45 minutes up the road.”

Setzer said when NSMA partnered with Catawba College a few years ago, board members thought the college might be its permanent home. The partnership did help the organization while its board figured out the best course forward, he said. “At the end of the day, this was a financial decision. … We gave it all we had.”

Local people involved in NSMA reacted with sadness, understanding and reminiscence.

“It was just so much fun, and people enjoyed coming,” said Short, who first joined the board in 1995. The group had had overtures from Atlanta and Nashville, he said, “but we were always able to survive.”

Each year, the group recognizes the top sportscaster and the top sportswriter from each state, as well as new inductees into the NSMA Hall of Fame. NSMA hosted a weekend full of activities, with local residents matched up with the state winners to help them find their way around and feel at home.

“These guys we want to honor enjoyed coming here and spending the weekend,” Short said.

But when the weekend was over, they went home and didn’t think about NSMA for another year.

“I will give Dave Goren credit in trying to build a national organization through college groups,” Short said. “He was active in traveling around and getting the name our there. He did do a good job with that.”

Joel Goodwin, who with his wife, Joyce, has been an NSMA supporter and volunteer, said Tuesday afternoon that he had not heard about the move. “I don’t like it too much,” he said. “It’s a shame, because Salisbury certainly embraced it.”

Catawba President Brien Lewis, a member of the NSMA board, said the two groups enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial relationship.

“Knowing that the NSMA is facing many of the same headwinds as other nonprofit organizations, we wish them well with the relocation of the focus of their activities to Winston-Salem,” Lewis said. “… Catawba is committed to remaining an engaged partner with the NSMA and providing opportunities for our students to interact with and learn from outstanding sports media professionals from across the nation.”

Mayor Karen Alexander and her husband had served as hosts for NSMA winners for a few years. “We really enjoyed it,” she said. “Obviously I am disappointed. … I wish them the best.”

Greg Edds, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, said the news felt like a kick in the gut, but NSMA appears to be making a survival move to attract badly needed funding, he said.

“Their funding depends, in large part, on the support of national corporate sponsors who see Winston-Salem/Greensboro as a larger advertising market,” Edds said.

At the same time, Edds said, Rowan is seeing national retailers moving into the county, a sign that local economic demographics are strengthening.

“We’re going to greatly miss them,” Edds said of NSMA. “They’ve been a big part of us for so long and their presence here has been a great point of pride for our community.  We wish Dave Goren and his team all the best as they work to build a strong NSMA.”

James Meacham, head of the Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the NSMA awards weekend generated more than 100 room nights and had a positive impact on the community.

Yet, he said, he understood the board’s decision.

“NSMA has been a great member of the community and a gracious event host for years,” Meacham said. “The event will surely be missed, but (we) wish them nothing but continued success in their future endeavors.”

Greg Anderson, publisher of the Salisbury Post, who formerly served on the NSMA board, said he expected it was a tough decision for local board members. “They are a hard-working, committed group.  They take great pride in hosting NSMA.”

Goren lives in Lewisville, a 20- to 25-minute drive from downtown Winston-Salem. The headquarters’ move will make life easier for him, he said, but he would not have been in favor of the change if it hadn’t been in NSMA’s best interest.

Locations for the headquarters and this summer’s awards weekend have not yet been identified, Goren said; he and Randall may be working from their homes for a while.

The National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association owed its start to the late Salisbury restaurateur Pete DiMizio, a sports buff, boxing promoter and sports reporter’s friend.

The NSSA took root when DiMizio began holding a fall banquet for area sports reporters. The party became such a success that Dimizio suggested doing something for the best sports reporters across the country.

While he heard plenty of naysayers — people who said the sports guys would never come to Salisbury — Dimizio spent months putting together a mailing list with the help of his wife, Becky, and then-Post Sports Editor Horace Billings.

They eventually sent out 6,000 ballots, and the winners were being tabulated when DiMizio died of cancer.

Young Chamber of Commerce member Dr. Ed McKenzie made it his mission to revive DiMizio’s dream and went to great lengths and considerable personal expense to persuade national winners such as Red Smith and Lindsay Nelson to come to Salisbury for the first NSSA banquet in April 1960.

More than 100 people in Salisbury served as hosts, and 41 state and national winners showed up for that first event.

The NSSA Hall of Fame was established in 1962, and as the organization grew, the NSSA program became a signature Salisbury event.

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