James Jones column: Gone, but not forgotten

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, September 6, 2023

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For the second straight season, a longtime sportswriter will not be seated in the Bryant-Denny Stadium press box to observe Alabama football games.

Cecil Hurt, a longtime Sports Editor for The Tuscaloosa News, passed away during Thanksgiving Week, 2021. I lost a mentor who taught me the ins and outs of becoming a professional sportswriter. He later became a friend.

I remembered the day when Hurt departed this world on Nov. 23, 2021 at UAB Hospital in Birmingham from complications of pneumonia. The Selma Times-Journal had just concluded its annual pre-Thanksgiving Dinner. A co-worker asked me did I know that Cecil Hurt died?

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Tears immediately flowed down my face. My body froze as if I were standing outside the North Pole wearing shorts and t-shirt. I was so shaken that I had to watch the Selma City Council meeting remotely.

Thirty-three years ago, I had the opportunity to serve as a sports correspondent with the Tuscaloosa News, my hometown newspaper.  My journalism professor at Stillman College, Stephen F. Jackson, arranged for that to happen.

Upon my first meeting with Hurt, I said, hello, “Mr. Hurt. I’m James Jones, a junior at Stillman College. I will be an intern under you.”

Hurt smiled, shook my hand. His response was brief. “Call me Cecil, James.”

And Hurt never said much. He set an example through his hard work and dedication covering Crimson Tide Athletics, especially football. Between covering high school events, I proudly followed his lead. It was always enjoyable reading Hurt’s columns as he mixed in literary novels with action on the field.

A month after my graduation in 1992, The Tuscaloosa News wrote a newsletter that featured a column from Hurts, who mentioned how proud he was about the correspondents getting jobs. After graduation I was hired by The Biloxi-Sun Herald.

Emotions swelled down my spine when I saw that comment. He was proud to see me move on to bigger things.

Whenever I saw Hurt at games involving Alabama facing either Ole Miss, Mississippi State or Southern Miss, he always asked me about the Mississippi Coast Casinos.

Five years ago when I began working at The Selma Times-Journal, our paths crossed again at an Alabama football game. I was now a managing editor.

Hurt recognized me and turned my badge around to see where I was working these days. His response was short and he smiled wide. “Welcome back, James.”

“Thanks, Cecil,” I said.

It was a big thrill learning the business of journalism under Cecil Hurt.  I still miss him. His legacy will stand forever.