KERRY HUBARTT: Hilliard Gates was a hero, journalism instructor and friend to many

Kerry Hubartt

As a member of the board of the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame, it was my privilege to vote for WKJG-TV sports legend Hilliard Gates to be inducted into the Class of 2018 at this year’s ceremony May 19 in Indianapolis. It was also my privilege to write the story about the Fort Wayne broadcaster that will be his Hall of Fame tribute. It can be found on news-sentinel.com.

Seeking additional insight into Gates’ life, I contacted retired Bloomington Herald-Times sports editor Bob Hammel, himself a member of the Journalism Hall of Fame and a native of nearby Huntington.

After talking on the phone he sent me his expanded thoughts in an e-mail. Following are some excerpts:

“Hilliard was a central figure in my life for as long as I can remember, starting at least when I was 8 and heard him broadcast IU’s 13-7 season-opening win at Michigan in 1945. That game, and particularly the heroics he described of a freshman running back for IU named George Taliaferro, made me an IU fan for life. …

“Hilliard always made me – and a vast, vast audience expanding out from Fort Wayne – feel I was right there experiencing the moment, the action, the drama, the fun. My Christmas gifts from my parents always included basketball scorebooks, because I would fill them sprawled out in front of a tall Philco console radio listening to Pistons games. I did that with the 19-18 Pistons win at Minneapolis that foreshadowed the 24-second shot clock (and) with the night when Dike Eddleman of the Tri-Cities Blackhawks scored 48 points against the Pistons.

“The latter was emblematic of why Hilliard was so good, why I’ve always considered him my first journalism professor: Eddleman did that against the Pistons, the team Hilliard was covering, and against the interests of the audience Hilliard was talking to, but he spared nothing in giving praise to the athlete having the night of his basketball life. That was a lesson I absorbed early; watch for the stories on the other side, too. …

“Much later, in my sportswriting days at Huntington, we became acquaintances, then friends. A time or two in his later years, he came to Bloomington to cover or at least attend an IU football game, and we shared the same elevator going up to the press box. It would be filled, and more than once, I’d be in the front of the elevator, Hilliard trapped at the back, and on the way up, I … would break the silence of the ride by saying, ‘Hilliard, you know you were my boyhood hero, don’t you?’ People would laugh, and Hilliard, embarrassed, would say something like ‘Stop that!’ But I’m sure he did know that, because I told him privately several times, including in a note … when the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association was formed in Salisbury, N.C., and their first Indiana winner was Hilliard Gates – not of Indianapolis, with the greatest natural regional exposure, but of Fort Wayne. I wrote that note because I felt overjoyed about it, not because I knew he did – or should have.

“Hero. Journalism instructor. Friend.

“That’s what Hilliard Gates was to me, and still is.

“And a gratifying thing to me is that repeatedly over the years I have found from talking to people who grew up in Fort Wayne or – like Huntington – the surrounding area, an astounding number of other people felt the same way about him. He was an institution, and a warm one. There aren’t many of those.”

Kerry Hubartt is the former editor of The News-Sentinel.

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