New APSE President Gerry Ahern addresses the membership during the awards banquet. (Photo by Steph Langan)
Text from the inaugural address of new APSE President Gerry Ahern of USA Today Sports Media Group, delivered Saturday during the awards banquet of the 2012 Summer Conference in Chicago:
Last year in Boston, a group of us gathered outside the Sheraton, getting reacquainted, catching up.
Tommy Deas took a deep drag off a Marlboro Light 100 and asked in that Alabama drawl what would be the theme of the Ahern APSE administration. I paused for a second then blurted out “Things are going to (expletive deleted) change.”
My retort was more than a wisecrack. Over the past year, things have changed majorly in our business and our organization. They have changed seismically for me personally and professionally. They are going to continue to change. And our ability to adapt and thrive through change will make the difference between success and failure, between survival and demise.
I inherit a healthy APSE thanks to the hard work of predecessors Michael Anastasi, Phil Kaplan and Garry Howard, who have all become great friends and trusted colleagues. Their diligence in diversifying and growing membership, in modernizing and broadening the contest and in building a spirit of collegiality has set the table for better days ahead.
The success of this Chicago convention, much of it attributed to the planning and execution of Jack Berninger, is a testament to our collective strength and what we can achieve en masse.
As I look around the room and see many colleagues from the Association for Women in Sports Media, including outgoing president Amy Moritz and incoming president Stefanie Loh, there is more evidence of positive change. The first joint conference between AWSM and APSE has been a rousing win for both groups. Hopefully it is the beginning of more cooperation and collaboration in the years to come. We plan to continue to work with NABJ, NAHJ, AAJA, NAJA and other groups.
The next step, and a key goal for APSE going forward, is to help secure our future through better relationships with aspiring sports journalists. Taking an idea first proposed by Ron Fritz, I am calling on all APSE members to sponsor a college student, either from your alma mater or coverage area, to join our organization. The $25 fee, picked up by the sponsor, will bring college students access to APSE events including the convention, contest judging and region meetings. Relationships will develop. Mentorship will follow. A bedrock for future leaders of sports departments and APSE will be established. I hope to see many of these new members at next year’s summer conference in Detroit.
Recent steps such as our venture with AWSM, Kent Babb’s proposal of having writers as members of APSE and our initiative with college students can go a long way toward dispelling the myth that APSE is an archaic, old boys network. Despite the words of detractors, most of whom have never been near APSE, I believe our organization can set the standard nationally for educating, developing, maintaining and servicing sports journalists at all stages of their careers and from all backgrounds.
There are so many people I want to thank for putting me in position to lead this group in the coming year. The list starts with my wife Louise, a fabulous journalist, a great mother, my best friend and the one person who can keep me on an even keel. That in and of itself can be a full-time job.
In her six years on the planet, my daughter Alice has brought me a joy I never dreamed possible. Though I may be wound a little tight, Louise and Ally, always know how much I love you and appreciate your support.
I lost my hero last February when my father, Arthur Gerald Ahern, passed away after a long illness. My dad was a tough guy, a Marine, a boxer, who went on to become a schoolteacher and principal. But he really wanted to be a sportswriter, as he confessed to me one night years ago over a glass of Jameson. I wish he could have been here with us tonight. He would have told you stories that would make you laugh, cry or just shake your head. There was no b.s. about him. I remember as a grade schooler, coming home crying with a bloody nose and fat lip after taking a beating on the playground. The old man looked at me and said, “Son, you are never going to be very tough. So I’m going to teach you how to fight dirty. It’s your only chance.” That was the kind of unvarnished advice I could always count on from him. If he could have made it to Chicago tonight, I know he would have been proud. And that is all I ever really wanted.
My mom, Marilyn, remains my biggest fan. My brother Brian and my sisters Karen, Colleen and Denise motivated their little brother in a way only siblings can.
I’ve had the good fortune of learning from some really great journalists over the years. Mickey Johnson, my managing editor in Huntington and a former sports editor, always challenged me to do more and to take on the establishment. Mickey sounded like Lou Brown, the grizzled manager from the movie Major League. He acted more like Lou Grant.
Greg Gibson, my editor in Orange County, taught me you don’t always have to be the loudest voice in the room to get results. Greg’s subtle savvy is something that is lost on many. He was also a wealth of knowledge with finances, and at the racetrack or at the blackjack table. A true renaissance man.
Dave Morgan, my boss with the USA TODAY Sports Media Group, continues to be one of the great influences on my career. Dave has always believed in me and given me the gravity and the resources to execute differentiating stories and projects. Though we are polar opposites in demeanor, Dave California cool, me brash Boston Irish, we could not be more simpatico from a journalism standpoint. Together we have embarked on the reinvention of USA TODAY Sports as a digital-first, 24-7, multi-platform content destination. I have no doubt, working together and along with managing editor Mary Byrne, one of the best sports editors in the country, we will make history. Our leader, Sports Media Group president Tom Beusse, has given us that mandate.
During my time with APSE, I have developed many friendships with editors around the country. Michael, Phil, Garry, Fritzy, Tommy, Mary, Todd Adams, Larry Graham, Kent Babb, Mike Fannin, Jeff Rosen, Paul Skrbina, Joe Sullivan, Glen Crevier, Jerry Micco, Roy Hewitt, Dave Campbell, Gene Myers, Jorge Rojas, Bill Speros, Robert Gagliardi, Drew Van Esselstyn, Chet Fussman, Mark Faller, Rusty Hampton, Bryce Miller, Jim Lefko, Doug Tatum, Ray Stein, Brian Hoffman, Joe Zedalis, Paul Vigna, Mike James, Reid Laymance, Toby Carrig, Teri Thompson, Jim Luttrell, John Turner, Eric White, Pat McLoone, Josh Barnett, John Quinn, Dan Fitch. You have all been there for me when I needed something or to bounce an idea off. Thank you for that.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the finest writers and editors in the country: Dan Wetzel, Charles Robinson, Pat Forde, Jeff Passan, Jason Cole, Jason King, Josh Peter, Joe Lago, Mark Whicker, Scott Reid, Mark Conley, Kevin Ding, Michael Lev, Kurt Snibbe, Greg Hester, Lynn Henning, Fred Girard, Phil Laciura, Jack Ebling, Larry Lage, Joe Rexrode, Geoff Kimmerly, Sean Jensen, Tom Powers, Charley Walters, Jason Williams, Gordon Wittenmyer, Brian Murphy, John Shipley, Nancy Smith, Janet Weaver, Dennis Joyce, Carl Fincke, Bob Kinney, Chip Towns, Steve Rocca, Tom Robinson, John Hector and Tom Keegan are among those who at one time or another made me look good.
I am thrilled to partner with Tim Stephens, Mike Sherman and Tommy to lead APSE. I promise you we will work tirelessly on your behalf and always be willing to listen and advocate for our group.
It’s been nearly two decades since I first attended an APSE convention. I was a bit of a scared rabbit then, back in Cleveland, intimidated by some of the heavy hitters in the room. Bill Dwyre, Don Skwar, Bob Yates. Editors who had set the standard for excellence in sports journalism. I came away amazed that all were willing to spend some time with a young editor from a small paper in his first gig running a shop. All offered advice and encouragement that I put into practice immediately and have never forgotten.
I hope that legacy of APSE never changes. From the officers, to the big paper and national website editors, to the folks in the small paper caucus, we have plenty of knowledge to share and plenty of reasons to help each other. Now, more than ever, we must work together.
Yes, things are going to change. But change doesn’t have to be negative. Opportunities abound for us in print, digitally, on tablets, on mobile devices. The thirst for sports information isn’t waning, it’s expanding. Wins are there for the quick and the bold.
Band with me and we’ll ensure a bright, prosperous future of excellence for APSE and for sports journalism.
I’m honored to be your president. I will not let you down.
Bless you all.