Golf tournament perfect salute to Jack Riley

We get very few positive phone calls in this business about the articles we write.

Instead, the bulk of the feedback we get is negative:

How could you write that?

Why did you write that?

You're an Ole Miss fan.

You're a State fan.

You obviously hate the Rebels.

Ditto the Dogs.

My son's just as good as so-and-so, how come he didn't get mentioned?

You aren't fair to my son's high school.

Our team never gets the coverage it deserves.

You get the point.

But there was one fan out there who never called in with a negative word. His name was Jack Riley.

"Gene, Jack Riley, great story today," he would say. "Gene, Jack Riley, loved that column on Tuberville. Gene, Jack Riley, enjoyed your story on the running back from State."

Another colleague here at the Daily Journal, Parrish Alford, also received periodic phone calls of praise from Mr. Jack.

Jack Riley was a sports writers' fan as well as a sports fan.

He was a diehard Chicago Cubs follower. Maybe that's why we bonded. My family loves to suffer each season with the Cubs, too.

He loved college sports from Ole Miss and Mississippi State, to Notre Dame.

He also loved playing golf. For years, while living in Florida, he was a close friend and golfing partner of Roger Maris, the former New York Yankees slugger.

During Mark McGwire's 1998 chase to break Maris' single-season home run record of 61, Riley was more than a casual observer of the historic chase because of his relationship with the late slugger and his family.

He said Maris would have wanted McGwire or Chicago's Sammy Sosa to break the record.

I wrote a story that summer about Riley's friendship with Maris and the assault by McGwire and Soso on his friend's record. He telephoned the next day, praising my effort. He called again the next week to tell me that Maris' widow had read the article and told him, "Tell Gene Phelps that Roger would have been happy with the story."

Golf for a good cause

That was one of the last calls I received from Mr. Jack. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 1998, but battled the incurable and inoperable disease for two years. He lost his fight for life last Nov. 28.

He spent the last six months of his life at home thanks to Hospice care, his friends, his family and his wife, Joyce.

In Mr. Jack's honor, and because of his love for golf, his friends and family are hosting the first Jack Riley Memorial Golf Tournament, Friday, Oct. 12 at Big Oaks Golf Course in Tupelo to aid Hospice care in North Mississippi.

The format is a four-person scramble. The entry fees range from $100 per player to a major sponsor package for $1,500. The entry fee includes green and cart fees, a gift pack, a team photo, and a dinner ticket.

The proceeds from the tournament go to the building of Sanctuary Hospice House for North Mississippi.

For more information, call Big Oaks at 844-8002, or call me at 678-1593.

Call and sign up today. Mr. Jack, who I know is up there with Roger watching Barry Bonds knock 'em out of the park, and cheering for those Cubs, would certainly appreciate it.

Gene Phelps is sports editor for the Daily Journal. E-mail him at

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