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Steve Sneddon became Northern Nevada icon

MIKE HOUSER
Appeal Sports Writer

RENO – As a youngster growing up in Hays, Kan., Steve Sneddon would hop into the car and do his best Jack Kerouac, spending his spare time “on the road.”

But he was more a hoopster than a hipster, so he motored to out-of-town and out-of-state sporting events.

All of that road-tripping was a portent of things to come for the peripatetic Sneddon, who, rather than going the way of a beatnik, eventually became a beat writer instead and for the last 38 years has been covering the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team for the Reno Gazette-Journal.

In November the 61-year-old Sneddon, who was inducted into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2005, accepted a voluntary buyout from Gannett Company, Inc., the owner of the RGJ, where the sports writing iron man began his local career for the then Reno Evening Gazette in July 1970.

In an age where aspiring sports journalists literally had to wait for writers to die before a position opened up, an 18-year-old Sneddon covered his first event in 1965 as a freelancer. Although his game story of a Jerry Quarry fight at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Mo., never ran, Sneddon not only got his first by-line, but the card served as Round One of his award-winning career as a boxing writer.

But long before he covered more than 360 world title fights, before he became the 35th recipient of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s (BWAA) Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism, Sneddon had to rise through the journalistic ranks at small papers in Nampa, Idaho, Worland, Wyo., and Casper, Wyo.

The fresh-faced 23-year-old, who felt the need to move from a small-town environment to somewhere a bit larger, found in the “Biggest Little City” a place to settle down.

Part Det. Sgt. Joe Friday (“Just the facts, ma’am”) and part word mason, Sneddon evolved into a consummate reporter, and one word at a time -brick by brick – he constructed a body of work that could probably cover every seat at Lawlor Events Center if one were to cut out and paste all of his articles.

Whereas a running back’s production is measured in yards, a sports writer’s is measured by the column inch or wordcount. By any measure, Sneddon’s output has been truly amazing.

The breakdown goes something like this: During his combined 43 years of sports writing, Sneddon probably averaged about 400 articles a year. At roughly 25 column inches per article – each inch is roughly 35 words – his approximate sum is 18,550,000 well-conceived and well-placed words.

Even more than quantity, more impressive yet was Sneddon’s high-quality work. As Rhonda Lundin, director of media services at the University of Nevada, said: “Steve got it right and, more often than not, got it first.”

Ever efficient, proficient, and seemingly omniscient, Sneddon could also be prescient. Longtime RGJ reporter Guy Clifton said he learned that fact in 1978 – his junior year at Gabbs High School.

In his “From My Corner” column, Sneddon, who also penned the forward to Clifton’s most recent book, “Dempsey in Nevada,” predicted that Alamo would beat Gabbs 22-20 in a football playoff game.

“That’s exactly what the score was,” Clifton said. “We were all mad at Steve for years. That cost us the state championship that year.”

From Wolf Pack football on down, if there was a sporting event, Sneddon covered it. In addition to the various hockey teams that have come and gone – beginning with the old Reno Aces – Sneddon covered minor- and independent-league baseball, whether the team was called the Silver Sox, Padres, Chukars, or Blackjacks.

Sneddon was also Gannett’s Oakland A’s (1987-91) and boxing (1982-99) beat writer.

Sneddon didn’t prefer one sport over another, but did say his most lasting memory was when Julio Cesar Chavez faced Greg Haugen in front of 132,247 fans at the Estadio Azteca, in Mexico City on Feb 20, 1993.

“It was such an amazing thing to look up at the top of the stadium,” said Sneddon, who had to make his way through the crowd to the press room in order to file four separate stories that day. “People were stacked on top of each other. The army had on those European masks and big shields to cover their bodies. You’d look at the top of the stadium and think of where you were.”

Far from verbose, Sneddon does however leave a lasting impression when he shares a memory. Take for instance the 1983 rematch between Milton McCrory and Colin Jones for the vacant WBC welterweight championship in Las Vegas.

The weather was so hot that day, Sneddon himself nearly swooned. By the end of the fight, the pale-skinned Jones, from Wales, had blood bubbling over the top of his boxing shoes from blisters on his feet.

In addition to covering all the greats, including Ali, Foreman, Tyson, and Leonard, Sneddon also witnessed far less known but equally memorable fighters in their own right.

The bloodiest brawl ever? Hill Chambers vs. Maurice Rice in Eugene, Ore., on July 31, 1971. The two combatants left the first few rows of spectators, including Sneddon at ringside, looking like they’d ended up on the wrong end of a slasher flick.

A private, humble, quiet man, Sneddon’s journalistic voice was nonetheless so resonant that it once penetrated the former Soviet Union, from where he received a fax (this was back in the ’70s, long before e-mail) after writing an article about Igor Vysotsky, who twice defeated the great Cuban boxer Teofilio Stevenson.

Sneddon’s No. 1 love remains his family (wife Carol and son Jack). His second love is the stuff of a sports fan’s ultimate fantasy: Sneddon has traveled to a sporting event in every state in the U.S. and every province in Canada with the exception of Newfoundland.

While covering the Wolf Pack in El Paso, Texas, Sneddon would cross the border into Mexico to catch a soccer game or boxing event. While on vacation in British Columbia, he’d file a story on a former Nevada basketball player turned lacrosse athlete. Following the Wolf Pack’s basketball season, he’d take a break by filing features from various spring training locations in Arizona.

Joe Santoro, a 30-year journalist (including 18 at the RGJ), said the thing that stood out most to him about Sneddon was his professionalism.

“He was a lunch-pail kind of guy who came to work every day,” Santoro said. “This business can wear you down, but it never did Steve. He never grew jaded and still remains a big sports fan, which you never find in a veteran sports writer like Steve. He always kept that part of him -that’s why he was able to do what he did for so long.”

And when it came to delivering, Sneddon came through far more dependably than UPS and the U.S. Postal Service combined.

In his Jan. 4, 2008 blog, Sneddon – a self-professed “blog rookie” – shared some of his memories (or lack of sane behavior, as he put it). When the Great Reno Flood of 1997 caused all flights at Reno/Tahoe International Airport to be canceled, Sneddon and Carol drove 600 miles to follow the Wolf Pack in Logan, Utah, where along the way he also fought off the effects of food poisoning to cover the game and make deadline.

Ever innovative, Sneddon recently turned a trip to Ruston, La., for a Nevada-Louisiana Tech game into a two-feature classic on former Wolf Pack player Tyrone Hanson. Sneddon made the trip from Ruston to Warner, Okla., for the stories, which have to rank among the top of his innumerable classics.

Sneddon got a little surprise when he was honored before Thursday’s Nevada-New Mexico State game at Lawlor Events Center. In addition to a long round of applause that would make Terrell Owens blush, the reserved Sneddon was presented with a basketball signed by the team, a giant-screen TV and a travel voucher.

And there was one other event worth writing home about: Reno mayor Bob Cashell proclaimed that day – Feb. 28, 2008 – Steve Sneddon Day.

Sneddon will finish up the season with the Pack before riding off to enjoy his golden years in southeast Kansas.

At a recent Galena High School basketball game (he was there as a fan only), Sneddon, with a gleam in his eye, said the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville was only a few miles away from his new home, hinting at a possible comeback as a stringer – and another reason for Northern Nevada fans to keep googling his name.

Time is ticking away and Steve Sneddon has almost left the building. Wolf Pack and boxing coverage – not to mention sports writing as a whole – in this area will never be the same.

• Contact Mike Houser at mhouser@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1220.