It was one of those frigid, icy Missouri nights when everyone wants to stay in a warm house cozied up to a fire that keeps it that way. Everyone, it seemed, except Dwayne McClellan, a couple coaches, a basketball team and a handful of parents.
The year was 2003. The Salem Lady Tigers were playing for an SCA title at, of all places, Thayer, which is way down Highway 63 about as close to Arkansas as you can get without getting there. For Salem, Thayer is the worst SCA road trip. It’s a long way on a yellow school bus, and Thayer is usually pretty good. When you compound the distance with icy roads and bone-chilling temperatures, who would want to go?
The answer is Dwayne McClellan.
Scoop, as they called him in his newspaper days, called me no less than six times as we waited on the schools to decide if the game would be postponed because of the weather. Each time, Dwayne – I never called him Scoop due to professional etiquette – would ask, “If the game is played, are we going?” Each and every time I told him I don’t deal in hypothetical situations, a phrase I used often with Dwayne and Brenda Jessen, who along with Dwayne served as the news team at The Salem News for almost 30 years. But Dwayne would always persist.
“You know,” he said, “this is for the SCA title.”
“You know,” he said, “we wouldn’t want to miss one of our Tiger or Lady Tiger teams winning a championship. It doesn’t happen that often.”
“You know,” he said, “I don’t think the roads are too bad heading South.”
Coach Philip Karr eventually let us know that the game was on, and reluctantly on my part, off we went. Dwayne was the writer, and I was the photographer. We teamed up like that often from 1996 when I arrived as managing editor at The Salem News until Dwayne was forced to retire due to health reasons in September of 2014.
Salem was really good in a lot of sports in those early days through the 2000s. But it didn’t matter if they were really good or really bad, Dwayne would be there, chronicling the Tigers and Lady Tigers and mentioning as many names as he could in every story. “Parents like to see their kid’s name in the paper,” Dwayne would often say.
Dwayne wasn’t a flashy, award-winning writer, but he was consistent and cared more for the coaches and players than most sports writers. He was the perfect small-town sports writer, and that is meant as a compliment.
Football might have been his favorite sport, though when it came to the kids who played any game, he had no favorite. He landed in the right spot at the right time. Salem football from the mid 1990s through the mid 2000s was among the best in the state, winning the SCA and district titles on a regular basis and advancing to the Edward Jones Dome to play for it all.
Dwayne was always there, always caring and always writing.
Dwayne died last Monday, August 5, seven years after bad kidneys and then a multitude of other ailments finally got the best of him. He left behind not only a loving family, but literally thousands of Salem kids who have scrapbooks that would not be nearly as complete or memorable had it not been for bylines and photography credits that read “Dwayne McClellan, Staff Writer.”
The past seven years were tough on Dwayne, his family and friends. I will never forget the first time he came into my office and casually mentioned that he was going to begin dialysis.
“But it’s only a couple days a week,” he said. “I can work those other three days and the weekends to get my job done.”
That, he did. When it came to work, Dwayne was relentless. He would cover anything, any time, unless it interfered with a family function, and he always gave plenty of notice that he would not be available for those dates. No one I ever managed has loved writing stories more. Actually, I don’t think it was the writing that Dwayne loved so much, but the interaction with people, especially young people. He loved being on the sideline. Sitting in the county commission or school board meetings. He was a people person, especially when it came to sports, and talking and baseball cards seemed to be his favorite hobbies.
When Dwayne died last week, we placed the news on our website and social media pages as quickly as possible. Word spread fast, and as I read the names that accompanied the emojis on our social media pages, it read like some of the sports rosters Dwayne kept in a basket on top of his desk.
The quarterback. The setter. The left fielder. The sprinter. The point guard. Dwayne has written about a lot of Salem players through the years, and whether they knew him or not, they knew who he was and what he did for them. He was the big guy with the camera hanging around his neck that was at every home game and as many out-of-town games as he could talk me into letting him go to.
By the way, the Salem Lady Tigers lost the 2003 SCA basketball title game at Thayer that Dwayne talked me into going to. They lost by a point in the final seconds, Karr reminded me this past weekend when we reminisced about the game. Thayer got the lead with about 12 seconds left, and three Salem shots in the final eight seconds couldn’t find their mark. If you want to know more about the game, go to our newspaper archives or one of the kid’s scrapbooks and read Dwayne’s story.
I don’t remember everything about that night, but I do remember several of the parents stopping Dwayne and I after the game, thanking us for braving the icy elements to see their daughters play for an SCA title.
Dwayne didn’t say much, humbled a bit by the compliment, but his smile and nod of the head said a lot. The compliment meant more to him than a paycheck. He appreciated those parents recognizing that he’d gone above and beyond the call of duty as a sports writer to capture another SHS sports moment, something he routinely did with pride and dedication despite icy roads or troublesome kidneys.