Published: February 6, 2013 Updated 11 hours ago
By Chip Alexander — firstname.lastname@example.org
Caulton Tudor, whose sports columns for The News & Observer and Raleigh Times have informed and entertained readers for more than 40 years, is retiring.
Tudor, 65, has been a fixture in ACC press boxes and press rows since 1969. His opinions and analysis, from typewriter days to the laptop age, have been a constant voice of the newspapers’ sports pages, offering time-honored perspective.
“Caulton is an ACC and North Carolina sports writing institution,” UNC basketball coach Roy Williams said.
Tudor recalls writing his first sports stories as a seventh grader in Angier, using an old Royal typewriter that was World War II surplus and now is long gone.
“Dugout Chatter” was Tudor’s weekly column in the Harnett County News in the early 1960s. It was mostly tidbits about high school sports and semi-pro baseball teams in the area.
A former paperboy for the Raleigh Times, he once riled North Carolina’s agriculture commissioner as a kid reporter, and later got his first full-time newspaper job while laying a sewer line in Garner.
Tudor now has a MacBook Pro laptop. He has written about the excellence of Dean Smith, the inspiration of Kay Yow, the intensity of Mike Krzyzewski and even occasionally about hockey, a sport he has come to appreciate but jokingly says has one “halftime” too many.
In the 50 years that have passed since “Dugout Chatter,” Tudor has become arguably North Carolina’s most readable, insightful and likeable sports columnist. He also can be called venerable, and knows what that word implies.
“Yeah, I’m old,” Tudor said, laughing.
Tudor will retire March 1, ending a run with the Raleigh Times and The News & Observer that has included 6,000 sports columns, 40 ACC tournaments, 24 NCAA Final Fours and innumerable memories.
“For Caulton Tudor, he has been the ACC,” Krzyzewski said. “There are not many people who have been here longer than me and he was here long before I was. He’s really given his life to covering the ACC.
“He has a very unique perspective on things and he’s always willing to share that with his readers. Caulton was always honest and trustworthy. When you read something, there wasn’t a hidden agenda. I think he handled journalism with class and professionalism. And, he’s really good.”
The awards have been many for the Angier native, the son of the late Wayne and Mary Lillie “Boots” Tudor. He has been named N.C. sportswriter of the year multiple times by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame. And he has been honored by the ACC.
And yet, to his peers, he’s simply “Toot.”
“The genius of what he’s done as a columnist is to just be natural and be himself,” said former Winston-Salem Journal columnist Lenox Rawlings, who recently retired. “It’s not like he’s posing for anybody, or trying to put one over on anybody or be sanctimonious. He’s just straightforward. Personally and as a columnist, he’s completely unpretentious.”
Tudor first recalls upsetting a coach at Angier High, where he played for the football team and called in the game reports to the newspapers. Seems after one game, Angier coach Rudy Brown told the team that its play was “lousy.” Tudor then reported that Brown had, in fact, said the team was “lousy.”
“Coach was hot about that,” Tudor said.
Not that he was kicked off the team. “Heck no, I was the starting center,” Tudor said.
Tudor’s one foray into the political arena was in 1960. Lynton “Stag” Ballentine was running for re-election as N.C. agriculture commissioner, a campaign appearance was held at Angier High’s cafeteria and Tudor covered it for the Harnett County News.
“I walked up, in my little necktie, and asked him how a political candidate could justify using a public school cafeteria for a rally,” Tudor said. “I guess that created a stir. He was pretty mad.”
Tudor then stuck to sports and became a stringer for the Raleigh Times, which until its demise in 1989 was the afternoon newspaper owned by the Daniels family that shared space with The News & Observer on McDowell Street in downtown Raleigh. He wrote features, took calls in the office and covered games.
There also was “The Longest Game.” While in high school, Tudor played every minute of the epic 13-overtime basketball duel between Angier and Boone Trail, eventually won by Boone Trail.
One summer while attending East Carolina, Tudor says he was working with Barnes Plumbing and installing a sewer line. Turns out, the line ran in front of the Garner home of Bruce Phillips, who was the sports editor of the Raleigh Times.
The two struck up a long conversation and Tudor was hired as a full-time sports department employee. His starting salary: $95 a week, plus 10 cents per mile for assignments outside of Wake County.
Tudor wrote about high schools. He wrote about the ACC. He was one of the first to analyze college recruiting and grasp the readers’ appetites for it.
Tudor was in Greensboro in 1974 when N.C. State outlasted Maryland in the classic ACC championship game. He was in New Orleans in 1982 when Michael Jordan’s jumper won an NCAA title for North Carolina. He was in The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M. when Dereck Whittenburg’s air ball was dunked by Lorenzo Charles and N.C. State won it all.
Tudor covered Jim Valvano at N.C. State, trading quips with Coach V. He covered Smith at UNC, slipping Smith a postgame cigarette from time to time. He covered the rise and fall of UNC football coach Butch Davis.
“For 44 years, he consistently and skillfully turned out insightful stories and columns, often under extreme pressure,” said A.J. Carr, a former N&O writer and colleague.
Tudor calls Charles’ championship-winning dunk the most memorable moment of his career, but says Gio Bernard’s game-winning punt return for UNC against N.C. State last fall may be a close second. As for the most embarrassing, he says he once was imitating former UNC football coach Mack Brown, only to turn and see Brown was in the room.
“But then Mack goes, ‘Caulton, that’s pretty good,’ ” Tudor said.
A special moment for Tudor was receiving the Skeeter Francis Award at the 2012 ACC basketball tournament. The award is given annually for significant contributions to the coverage of ACC athletics. It’s named for the former assistant ACC commissioner who was a good friend of Tudor’s until his death in 2004.
For many years, Tudor was a part of the annual ACC Football Tour headed up by Francis, traveling by bus from school to school during the preseason, writing, playing bridge, talking to coaches, socializing.
Tony Barnhart, now a CBS college football analyst, notes Tudor always enjoyed the last stop on the tour, at Clemson, especially when colorful Danny Ford was the Tigers coach and holding court.
“We’d have the party on Lake Hartwell when Danny Ford would ‘loosen up’ and lecture Tudor and me about how everybody else was cheating,” Barnhart said.
Like most sportswriters, Tudor’s time away from home meant his wife was alone at home. But Inez “Diz” Tudor was always understanding and supportive.
Tudor did, for a long time, have “Betsy” along as a traveling companion. That’s the laptop he reluctantly parted with when it reached relic stage.
But regardless of the work: blogging and tweets and rewrites and long hours, Tudor has never lost his humor. He always has the right line to ease the tension, to make his peers smile.
Once, at a N.C. State-UNC football game, Tudor overheard an editor ask a writer at the end of the third quarter, “If the game ended right now, what would the lead to your story be?” The writer mumbled something about turnovers and rushing yards, and the editor walked off.
Tudor leaned over to deadpan, “In the most startling development in ACC football history, a game was called after the third quarter. …”
John Drescher, executive editor of The News & Observer, calls Tudor “one of those people who really is the backbone of the N&O.”
“Nobody knows more about the ACC than he does,” Drescher said. “He knows the people, he knows the history, he knows the state. He really cares about his readers and he really cares about ACC sports, and that all comes through in his work.”
Drescher says Tudor could decide to return at some point to write occasional columns for the newspaper.
“I hope that will happen. We’re going to miss him,” Drescher said. “What we bring on our beats is expertise. That’s what really distinguishes The N&O, expertise, and Caulton has tremendous football and basketball expertise. That’s why he’s so widely read.”
Tudor says he hopes to keep working, keep writing, keep being read.
“Nothing lasts forever,” he said. “The world is full of former newspaper people looking to write, and I think I can still write.
“My biggest thrill has been working alongside so many talented, dedicated people the last 40 years. I’ve also truly appreciated the readers – those who disagreed, those who agreed and those without a strong opinion who still took the time to read.”
Talking about “Toot”
Comments on Caulton Tudor and his career from his peers, former colleagues and those he has written about through the years:
ACC commissioner John Swofford
“I’ve always liked and appreciated Caulton. He’s reported on the ACC and particularly the Triangle schools for many years, and the media landscape won’t be the same without him. It was my privilege to present Caulton with the Skeeter Francis Award at the 2012 ACC Basketball Tournament.”
A.J. Carr, former News and Observer sports writer
“He brought so much energy, enthusiasm and knowledge to the job. He also had a tendency to be a long-range thinker – and sometimes worrier. Weeks before one basketball season, when late TV games had begun to create extra stress for writers, Toot looked at the schedule and lamented: “That Duke-Carolina game’s gonna to be a 9 o’clock start. It’s gonna be snowing and sleeting and we are gonna have an earlier deadline.” No worries. Toot always beat the tight deadlines.”
Tim Stevens, N&O sports writer
“Few people remember, but Caulton was one of the first sports writers to cover college recruiting. He wrote a fascinating story on Tom McMillan’s back-and-forth hedging between Maryland and North Carolina. There was no Internet, of course, and very few, if any, recruiting services so information was difficult to come by.”
Ed Hardin, Greensboro News & Record sports columnist
“He’s probably the most honest sportswriter I’ve ever worked with, both as a person and in print.”
Lenox Rawlings, former Winston-Salem Journal columnist
(On Tudor checking in on NC State coach Jim Valvano in Albuquerque after the Pack won the ’83 NCAA championship.)
“Of all the ’83 stories, the one I remember most is Toot rushing into the long after-party at the press hotel and breathlessly confiding that he had just been up in V’s room and the man was sicker than sick, lying on his side, groaning but still happy with the miracle that had just transpired. Toot was all over the story; virus be damned.”