Though last weekend will likely be remembered for the loss of an icon in college football, Joe Paterno’s passing is not the only one worth mourning for Southern Californians.
Loel Schrader never won a national championship, or any game for that matter, at the collegiate level, but in some ways his career as a sports journalist had as much influence when it came to shaping the narrative of college football as any coach or player has ever had.
When the 87-year-old writer died from pneumonia last Wednesday night at a hospital in Westminster, there were no candlelight vigils or long lines of people outside his house seeking to memorialize his lasting legacy.
Schrader’s career covering the USC athletic program began in 1966, in the midst of the John McKay era. As the beat writer for the Long Beach Press-Telegram, there was no secret that his work might have been overlooked by the region’s readership because it lacked the brand recognition of the Los Angeles Times.
Whether it was pacing the sidelines at Howard Jones and Brian Kennedy Field or in the Coliseum tunnel, Schrader became notorious for always finding a way to track down McKay. He was a reporter’s reporter.
He didn’t work for the paycheck or the glamour of covering USC football. He worked so that readers could wake up the next morning and feel as if they were on the sidelines of the previous day’s game.
“By late in my junior year at Gahr High in Cerritos, I knew I wanted to be a sports writer someday, in very large part because I wondered, `How cool must it be to have a job like Loel Schrader?’” Press-Telegram writer Frank Burleson said last week. “Other writers and columnists would regurgitate quotes from coaches and players, and recount all the keys from the field or court of action. ”
In addition to his work as a beat writer, Schrader’s popularity grew thanks in large part to the columns he began writing in 1977. A former amateur boxer himself, Schrader treated his subjects with care, humility and, most importantly, fairness.
Schrader’s reputation was built not only on his reporting skills and thought-provoking subject matter, but his ability to carefully plot out his words in a manner that made the stories come to life.
My only contact with Schrader — if you can even call it that— before his passing, occurred during a football practice three years ago.
I didn’t walk up to him, shake his hand or thank him for what he’s meant to the sports journalism profession. After all, I was just a timid, aspiring journalist without the faintest idea of what it truly meant to love what you do in life.
But I should have. Looking back on that afternoon, his wide-eyed smile and passion for the game said everything I needed to know.
And months later when I sat down and read the book he co-authored with Steve Bisheff titled Fight On!, his love for sports, journalism and this university jumped off the page.
Schrader wasn’t just a journalist covering USC athletics, he was a journalist who was a fan of all things USC athletics. Unlike most of the reporters in the industry, however, he didn’t let his fan-based biases dictate his work. If anything, his love for the cardinal and gold fueled a career that was second-to-none when it came to professionalism.
Each word, each paragraph, each story wasn’t just another assignment, it was a true and pure labor of love.Bisheff recalled that as his health worsened over the past few months, Schrader’s final wish was to live long enough to see another season of Trojan football. And, though he will not physically be present to watch Matt Barkley and company as they strive to win a ticket to Miami next January, his presence, whether on the sidelines of the practice field, the Coliseum press box, in the memories of those who had the privilege to meet him or read his work will unquestionably live on.
Loel Schrader was a writer, a father, a grandfather, a colleague, a friend, but also more than that; for those of us who one day wish to walk in his footsteps, he is a constant reminder that sports can be more than just a game.
It can be the intrinsic good we all search for in life.
“For the Love of the Game” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, please visit dailytrojan.com or email David at email@example.com.