The index cards.
I’ll always remember Jim Melaro’s index cards.
This was the late-1990s in the sports department of The Times Herald in Olean, N.Y. To keep track of all the high school team sports for the 30-plus teams we covered in southwestern New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania — basketball, soccer, everything but football — Jim used index cards.
Every night, after the last score had been called in and the last standing updated, Jim would sit at his desk and patiently update his index cards. Each team had a card, featuring a list of their games and scores. Blue if they won. Red if they lost. For soccer, he’d flip the card over and keep track of all the goal scorers.
You did not question Jim’s index cards.
You did not mess with Jim’s index cards.
It seems small and quaint. But it shows just how deeply Jim Melaro cared about his job. He treated covering Big 30 high school sports with level of care and seriousness that anybody covering the NBA for ESPN does.
A longtime sportswriter in Olean (and, for a time, in North Carolina), Jim died on Saturday morning.
A life lived in journalism is one that's inextricably linked to certain people. Jim Melaro was one of those people.
Jim was one of the first people I knew in journalism. I started as an intern at the OTH in the fall of 1996, my sophomore year in college. My sister was then a news reporter at the paper (she would join the sports desk the next year), and she connected me with sports editor Chuck Pollock, who hired me. But it was Jim with whom I worked most often.
The high school sports desk of the small town newspaper is, in so many ways, the bedrock of sports journalism. It’s where so many of us got our starts, where we really learn the job. There’s no more pressure-filled place in journalism than the sports department on a Friday night when the phones never stop ringing after 7 p.m. You’re putting hundreds of kids names in the paper that night, and you’ve got to be sure to get every one right. As my friend Mike Vaccaro often says, when Eli Manning wins a Super Bowl, his mom isn’t cutting out his column and putting it on her fridge. But a kid who scores a goal for Hinsdale soccer? That clips going on fridges and in scrapbooks.
Jim was the master of the high school sports desk. He knew everything and everyone. He loved nothing more than covering high school football. Even as he served as the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball beat writer, high school sports — football especially — were his passion. You could not outwork Jim. Even health issues along the way couldn’t slow him down. He provided the foundation for our department that allowed those of us with big market ambitions to do our work and flourish.
And he was a kind, gentile soul. He was one of the good guys. He had a laugh bigger than the whole outdoors, and a smile to match. In a job and a situation where it’s easy to get too cynical or bitter, Jim never lost his essential good nature, his willingness to help, his passion, his care. We worked together so often that we became de facto members of each others’ families. He talked to my mom every night on the phone. His first grandchild was born while I was still working with him and man, you never saw anyone light up with joy the way you did when he mentioned Jaden.
My lasting image of Jim is him sitting in the desk in the back corner of the tiny sports department pen in the building on Norton Drive in Olean. It’s forever Monday night - Big 30 committee night. He sat in the corner all night, talking phone calls from the men who had volunteered to watch are high school football games and call in their observations for Jim’s weekly notebook. He has a smile on his face as he picks of the phone and talks to one of his friends for 47 minutes about everything … before eventually getting around to football.