Carolyn White, the first female sportswriter at the Akron Beacon Journal who went on to work for USA Today, died Sunday in Cleveland following a lengthy illness. She was 67.
White, who was born in Cleveland, started working at the newspaper in 1976 as an "Action Line" reporter and later joined the sports department.
She had a colorful award-winning journalism career that included once getting locked in Barberton Stadium after covering a game and having to climb over a fence in lipstick red pants and high heels to get out. She also wrote a series in 1981 about "Women in Sports" and chronicled her tryout for the Cleveland Cavaliers' cheerleading squad, the Teddy Bears, in 1980.
"I've gone water skiing (although I don't know how to swim) and I became a sports writer (when I knew nothing about sports)," she wrote about the cheerleading experience. "But trying out for a chorus line without knowing how to dance now heads my list of insane acts."
Former Beacon Journal columnist Jewell Cardwell, who worked alongside White for years, said she was a gifted writer.
"She knew her craft," Cardwell said. "She also had a lot of areas that she nurtured. She was a gourmet cook and probably could have started her own restaurant or written a cookbook, but never did."
Former Beacon Journal sports editor Larry Pantages, who worked with White covering high school sports, said she brought enthusiasm to every assignment she was given. Like most reporters, she had her preferences, however, and one of hers included getting recognition for high school girls sports, Pantages said.
“She had a sensitivity or soft spot to the fact that girls sports were beginning to grow,” he said. “Even though girls sports were still in their early stages, while basketball, softball, volleyball were kind of getting started, there were some school districts that were still kind of in its formative days and I know she had a passion for wanting to allow that coverage of girls trying to find their way and taking advantage of the opportunities they had. It was very important to her.”
The empathy in White's reporting is what John Nemec, former football coach at Kent Roosevelt, remembered, calling her “outstanding.” He recalled how she handled the story of Rough Riders running back Harold Brown, a 1978 graduate. In his junior year, Brown, the school’s only Parade Magazine first-team All-American, held offers from many Division I schools, including Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
In his senior year, he suffered a serious injury that derailed what could have ultimately been distinguished college and lucrative pro football careers.
“Here’s a kid that, basically, everybody knew he’d lost his career,” Nemec said, “and she spent a lot of time with the family. She spent a lot of time with me. She spent a lot of time with Harold. She got to know him. She dug deeper. She got into the soul of the man and that’s what I was impressed with.”
She left the Beacon Journal in 1986 and joined USA Today as a sportswriter until the early 2000s. After leaving the national newspaper, White taught school, Cardwell said.
According to a Cleveland Plain Dealer obituary, White is survived by two brothers, two sisters and a host of nephews, nieces and close friends.
"Carolyn lived life to the fullest and did it her way," the obituary said.
Calling hours are from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday at Antioch Baptist Church, 8869 Cedar Ave., Cleveland. Services will follow at 11 a.m. at the church.