Acceptance Speech

Jim Elder accepted into Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame 2007 (posthumous)

- This is the acceptance speech by his daughter Susan Elder

Thank you very much. My mother, Betty Elder, is also here tonight, and we are happy to accept this honor on behalf of my father, Jim Elder.

This annual banquet was always special to my dad. It’s wonderful to see so many of his longtime friends, co-workers and bosses here tonight. In fact, there are so many people my dad loved and admired in this room that it feels a little like walking into his s office at KARN with all its wall-to-wall snapshots….just slightly more spacious. I know he would be overwhelmed by this award. I remember how excited he was when he got to give the introduction for Coach Sonny Gordon in 1984, and how important it was to my dad to tell Coach Gordon’s story well, and to do it justice. Now I understand how he felt.

Jim Elder thought he was the luckiest guy in the world. He loved his work. He could hardly believe that, thanks to his mentor Bud Campbell, he got to climb the stairs to the press box at Ray Winder Field, briefcase in hand, and do Travelers’ play-by-play with Al Janssen and Brady Gadberry. He was thrilled to watch green minor league players develop into major leaguers, but he also loved knowing the guys who would never go beyond AA ball, and just didn’t want to quit playing. He got to meet sports legends, and even call his idol, Jack Buck, a friend. He sat next to his golf buddy Paul Eells for over twenty years keeping the Razorback stats. He reveled in the camaraderie of the press box at Oaklawn Park and felt lucky every time he and Harry King went, even if he came home with empty pockets. And nobody ever had more fun playing golf than Jim Elder.

For as far back as I can remember, my dad’s life revolved around sports. When I was a kid, he sat at our Formica dinette table every night with newspapers, an Exacto knife, a jar of rubber cement, and spiral notebooks. He carefully cut out the box score from every Major League baseball game, and neatly pasted them into notebooks - red for American League and green for National League. Each day’s batch of box scores was dated, and by the end of the season those notebooks were fat and ruffled.

He also kept meticulous records by team. On a master sheet listing every Cardinal game, for example, there was a tiny column with just a red or black dot- for a win or a loss. He was fascinated by the patterns that emerged over any given season, and this allowed him to look and immediately see how long a winning or losing streak had lasted.

When he kept score, at the ballpark or at home, he used homemade sheets for his own methods to track the games. He also developed his own system to keep the stats at Razorback games, which consisted of lots of index cards, sharpies and pieces of cardboard taped into little pockets. He loved watching everything unfold, and didn’t obsess about which team would eventually win, or what the score would be. As he put it “THAT”S why they play the game.”

These pages of numbers and lines and dots gave him a way to visualize the textured map of a game, and the ups and downs of a season in red and black. Jim Elder could pull out any game and with just a glance at his hieroglyphics point out something interesting or instructive about it. “Isn’t this terrific?” he would say, and once he explained it, you thought so too. His briefcase full of these notebooks and score sheets was essentially his version of a computer- but to him it was a toy chest.
That is particularly appropriate, since my dad was like a little kid when it came to his enthusiasm about every play, every game, every day. . He treasured the blank page and blank note cards and blank spiral notebooks, because to him, the next game, whatever it happened to be, had the potential to be the best game ever played. He was fascinated by stories, whether it was an underdog, a runaway or a comeback, and I think that that’s what his listeners appreciated most about him- He didn’t just give them scores, he let them in on the story behind the scores.;

Jim Elder celebrated the good in sports, and believed that if you keep your eyes open for positive examples they were always there. He never once mentioned the OJ Simpson case on his broadcasts, but he tracked down a middle-aged farmer in Texas who yearned to make the Senior PGA Tour. When I saw the ending of the Boise State/Oklahoma game, or watched video of Jason McElwain, the autistic team manager who scored 20 points in 4 minutes, I couldn’t help but think of my dad and smile because both of these are perfect examples of how a so-called “nothing” game can turn out to be the most memorable of all.

Since the announcement of my dad’s election to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, my mother and I have been touched by so many of your wonderful memories about him. One friend told me he always wished Jim Elder had been his uncle. There are about a million folks who swear he was talking just to them. Other people claim not to be interested in sports, but wouldn’t have considered missing my dad’s broadcast. Not everybody saw the colored pens and notebooks that were evidence of his commitment to his work, but his joy in telling stories came through the airwaves, loud and clear. And so did his love of the blank page and all of the wonders it might hold.

Thank you very much. I know my dad would be truly honored by this award, and I’m proud to accept on his behalf.

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