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Archive for November 26th, 2008

We lost one of the good guys

I’ve neglected writing lately because I’ve been busy traveling the Midwest in search of the best wrestling the U.S. college scene has to offer.

But as I prep for a fourth Thanksgiving away from my family, and put the finishing touches on Tuesday’s Wrestling 411 video, I got some bad news.

As I have alluded to many times in the past, I spent much of my formative years in the newsroom at the Daily Press, a Tribune-owned newspaper in Newport News, Va. I was hired as a clerk just days after my 17th birthday.

I worked with some great people at the DP. One such person was Warner Hessler.

Warner lost his short battle with cancer last night. It was less than a month after he was diagnosed.

Warner wasn’t an enigma to those who knew him. He was to many readers who would scour his columns and insight and readily talk about “Warner’s column” with co-workers. He covered the Redskins, which might be the predominant NFL fan base in Hampton Roads.

As a high school student and then on to college, I continued my employment at the DP. I snagged phones, edited pages, covered games, did layout and trolled the wires. But where Warner meant the most to me in my career was how to be a good interviewer, how to follow a game and how to make every seemingly meaningless high school football game the most important story to those who followed it.

Early on, I’d watch games from the press box … then when I was off on Friday, I watched my alma mater play at Bailey Field at York High School. Warner was covering the game … but wasn’t in the press box.

I spotted him on the sidelines, big glasses, hair flowing and a scarf wedged between his neck and his leather jacket. Warner liked getting the feel of the preps down low (weather permitting, of course). I strolled and talked with Warner that game and analyzed how he could do so much with just a notebook and without the help of spotters.

He changed how I covered things. I modified some styles on what suited me best. But it was Warner who was always there with a helpful note.

I didn’t see Warner too often during football season, but when he’d call in to make sure his story was filed, he always asked how I was doing, was I doing well in school, and I’d see him down the line.

Greg Martin was a local DJ from Poquoson who helped me get my start in announcing and broadcasting. He was the co-host of Mat Talk, the radio show which spawned my entry into the Internet with Mat Talk On-Line. Later on in the year, Warner and Greg hosted “Contact Sports,” a weekly talk show with topics ranging from the Hampton Roads Admirals (hockey), the Skins and Nascar.

My friend Terry Daniels was also a part of the show.

Warner meant a lot to a lot of people, even those who never met the man.

I proudly call him a mentor, because I would ask questions, and rather than bat me away and say “I’m busy,” he’d always answer. If he was on deadline, he’d get back to me, usually quickly.

He retired months before I ended my affiliation with the Daily Press. The paper went through a lot of changes. But I’m a better writer, journalist, and person for having known Warner.

I’ll always remember his signature column … he’d open up the hotline with:

“What’s wrong with the Redskins?”

Warner, you were a personal hero of mine. You will be missed.

OBIT from Dave Fairbank and David Teel from the Daily Press.

Written by Jason Bryant

November 26, 2008 at 8:14 pm