Opelika’s Robert ‘Scoop’ Owsley recalls career in journalism that spanned a quarter century
By Christian Page
For the Observer
Not having the original aspiration to pursue a writing career usually doesn’t form a successful sports writer.
Robert “Scoop” Owsley begs to differ. When asked to write for the Opelika Daily News, Owsley wasn’t immediately attracted to the idea.
“I am not that good of a writer,” he recalled saying at the time. “I never thought I had any interest in being a sports writer.”
Working as an administrative assistant for the Alabama National Guard resulting from 33 years of service in both the Navy (deployed to the Philippines in World War II) and the Army (Fort Jackson in South Carolina), he had “plenty of time” to dabble in a writing career.
His “plenty of time” turned into a 24-year career with awards in both writing and photography.
Owsley was president of the Opelika Jaycees in 1963 and then served as a national director for the organization the following year. He also served as a member of the Opelika Lions Club for 10 years, serving as the president from 1984 to 1985.
Leaning back in his beige chair in a warm room in the Morningside of Auburn assisted living community, Owsley said his first sporting event to cover was a high school basketball game.
After that post-game story was published, he covered 210 consecutive Opelika High School football games.
At that time in journalism, many writers would write their own stories and snap their own photos. He is credited for taking and publishing the first photo in the Opelika-Auburn News of the Opelika High School band. The photo was snapped in color, too, which was something out of the ordinary in the 1960s.
The Associated Press recognized Owsley as the best sports photographer in Alabama in 1970.
Owsley shared multiple stories of meeting prominent sports figures, Shug Jordan and Thad “Pie” Vann, to name a couple, travel stories to New Orleans for two Sugar Bowls and other occurrences throughout his long career.
Owsley had many memories during his career, but he laughed and said he can’t remember most of them. He settled on the question and thought of one of his busiest weekends in his career that sports writers today are happy they don’t have to deal with.
He started off calling it “The hardest work I ever put in on a weekend.” He reflects on the weekend that sent him from Opelika, Alabama, to Clemson, South Carolina, in the span of 24 hours.
Covering a football game for the Opelika High School Bulldogs, his alma mater, Friday night then heading to the office to finish his story, he then was picked up by his traveling friends at 4 a.m. to head to the Auburn-Clemson game that afternoon in South Carolina.
He chuckles and says that was before the interstate.
“We drove up there and covered the game and didn’t get back to Opelika till about 8:30 p.m.,” he remembers. “We had to get everything ready for the Sunday paper and we worked till 4 o’clock that Sunday morning.”
He mentioned that technology is the biggest modification in journalism with that weekend being a big reason why the change has been good. “That ole portable typewriter, yeah, I wore that thing out,” he says with a laugh.
Owsley enjoyed writing stories that were different: whether a satirical column or a funny sports story and he recalled one of those when covering a football game in Alexander City.
“One of the funniest things was we were playing Alex City one night,” he starts the story. “It was a tough game. Ray Campbell was coaching. He decided to try a fake field goal.” “They couldn’t kick field goals to begin with anyways,” he says, then laughs. “One of the little ole managers went running out on the field with the kicking tee and in a minute here’s the other one right behind him saying, ‘you don’t need that; it’s a fake!’”
Owsley told this story with the biggest grin he showed all afternoon.
Not only did Owsley cover local sports and Auburn University football games, he also formulated his own column called “The Fifth Quarter.” He swears that he coined the phrase and title before any other outlet used it but missed the opportunity to copyright the name.
From college bowl games to major league baseball, “The Fifth Quarter” covered it all with well-rounded opinions of trendy topics with original takes.
A versatile writer is an understatement when speaking of Owsley. A nickname with the caliber of Scoop calls for a great story.
However, in an anticlimactic turn, when asked about where the root of the creative moniker came from, he answered stating his school principal randomly provided him the nickname and it stuck with him throughout his schooling career.
Most of his classmates didn’t even know his real first name and wouldn’t to this day.
The most caring person Owsley had ever known was his late wife, Leverne May. They were married for 67 years. They shared two daughters, Kathy and Donna, with four grandchildren.
Having a connection to a local nursing home administrator, the two encouraged pictures of the residents in their young adulthood to be put on their doors to give a sense to visitors who they were.
Wrapping up the interview, he walks over to a bookcase filled with CDs, books and old clips kept in binders and albums of his past work. Thumbing through hundreds of articles and pictures, he shares the background of almost every one he stops on.
Recalling events, people’s names and other small bits of information in these clips of work showed how much he enjoyed his job and actually cared about the subjects he was covering. He didn’t write just to meet deadlines and get paid; because, as he said numerous times, he didn’t make all that much. He did it for the good of the community, covering subjects that seemed necessary to the area.
He even covered an elementary school’s field day.
“It was a lot of fun,” he says. “I enjoyed it.”
His awards and honors hang on the wall of his bedroom, and like most successful writers, he knew he could always get better at his craft no matter the magnitude of recognition he received.
“Never look back,” Owsley says. “What is in front of you is all that matters.”