By Randy Keck
The Community News
Editor’s note: after being unconscious for almost three weeks in ICU, we were heartened when our sports editor Tony Eierdam regained consciousness and was moved to a regular room last week. We were shocked and grieved when he suddenly passed away early on Thursday morning. This column appeared in the Sept. 11, 2020 issue of The Community News.
Tony would have been able to tell you the exact date we met. I can tell you where. It was a Bearcat football scrimmage at Graham in 2004. I went there to cover the scrimmage, and as happens in community newspaper markets, you see someone else taking pictures and you want to know what’s up.
“Who are you shooting for?” is the standard greeting — or at least it was at the time.
I’m not sure which one of us greeted the other. He was the sports editor of the Graham Leader. Although he worked in Graham, he was extremely knowledgable about Aledo sports. He mentioned several visits to Aledo to cover Graham when they played against the Ladycats and Bearcats, and he could almost recall play-by-play some of the sporting events he had seen that involved Aledo.
More impressive still was that he remembered the Aledo players’ names, and had a sort of reverence for the athletic skill demonstrated by the Aledo stars of the day.
He came to Aledo to cover the Bearcats, Laycats, and Eagles with an almost child-like glee in April of 2008. I felt — from Tony’s perspective — that he thought he might be in a dream.
He loved Aledo. He loved Aledo sports. It was in his blood.
It didn’t take long for Tony to get to know the Ladycat softball team that spring before they went to the state tournament. When the time came to drive south to cover the tournament, Tony would call me with updates and I would post them on the website — there wasn’t much in the way of wi-fi on the road back in those days.
After covering a 15-inning state championship game in Austin, knowing he had a long drive home, a lot of reporters would have groused.
But not Tony.
He was happy he had the opportunity to be in the press box covering that historic game.
Anyone around here knows Tony was in his element covering local sports. If there wasn’t something happening that involved the Bearcats or the Eagles, he would find former Bearcats and Eagles to write about.
His steel-trap mind remembered all the details; if he was in a room with us today, he would be able to recall the play-by-play on any number of events in local sports history.
One of the times I saw Tony most excited was when Cowboys Stadium opened in Arlington in 2009. The Bearcats got to play there before the Cowboys did. It was a playoff game against Aledo’s old nemesis, Stephenville.
Tony had a press box pass, and I had a sideline pass to photograph the game.
The game was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Somewhere around 3 p.m., Tony was asking, “do you think it’s time to leave, yet?”
“No, Tony, I think we still have some time,” I said.
For Tony, covering a Bearcats game at Cowboys Stadium was like a trip to the North Pole and Santa’s workshop — it just didn’t get any better.
We ended up leaving about 4 p.m., and on the way, I was ribbing Tony. “Maybe you’ll get a chance to interview Jerry Jones!” I exclaimed.
Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
Being more than two hours early, we arrived at the empty stadium parking lot and had no trouble finding a strategic place to park. We went across the street to eat at one of Tony’s favorite restaurants — Panda Express. We got back to the stadium about 5:30 p.m. — they weren’t even letting people in until 6.
There was an entrance set aside for people with press passes, and we were escorted to an elevator with an attendant. He pressed the “down” button and we were on our way under the stands.
Under the stadium is a labyrinth of passages — easy enough to get lost in. We were wandering under the stadium when we saw a rope line with a group of people and, standing on our side of the rope was Jerry Jones!
I thought Tony was going to go into full-blown panic.
He was searching himself. “Where’s my recorder? Where’s my recorder,” he asked frantically.
Finding the recorder, he fearlessly approached Jerry Jones — and Jerry Jones gave him an interview!
I just thought covering the Bearcats at Cowboys Stadium was the best it could get for Tony. He was ecstatic!
How many community newspapers get interviews with Jerry Jones? Tony Eierdam did!
Tony had been a newspaper editor, and while he was fully qualified to be that, it was not what he was best suited for.
Like Captain Kirk, who discovered after becoming an admiral that being a captain was what he was made for, Tony knew that covering sports was his first, best destiny.
No one could ask for better than Tony — no one would have the right to.
He was typically the first person in the press box. He left nothing to chance.
Tony never met a competitor. If he ran into someone working for a competing newspaper, Tony, usually the more experienced, would often coach them on how to be better.
Tony didn’t have competitors because he was in a class by himself.
A magazine or TV station might come in for a one-time big deal, but Tony did what he did to such a high level week in and week out, year after year, and took such pride in his work, no one could compete with that.
Tony probably wouldn’t like this story because it is about him, and for Tony, it was always about the kids.
He wanted to shine a light on them and their accomplishments.
It was his passion.
When he went on a two-week vacation in July of 2020, he had two weeks’ worth of sports stories written and ready before he left, because he wanted his people to be covered.
He put thousands of miles on his car following Bearcats and Ladycats across the state, and when he bought his car, the main feature he wanted was XM Radio so he would have something to listen to on long road trips.
It was vintage Tony when he went to Rogers, Arkansas to cover Aledo’s Cheyenne Knight at an LPGA event in 2019. For Tony, “once a Ladycat, always a Ladycat.”
It was not unusual for Tony to be out late, late on a Tuesday night, looking for a McDonald’s or someplace that had wi-fi so he could post his story about an out-of-town game to the website. He always wanted to include a photo, and typically the cell signals out in the middle of nowhere are not adequate to the task.
Even then, he always wrote another, more detailed story for his journalistic love, the printed newspaper.
Please accept my sincere condolences to you and your staff on Tony’s passing. He was a terrific guy and a superb writer and I know you and he were very close. I was very encouraged last week when I read in your paper that he was taken off a respirator and was very sad today to learn of his passing.
I have always been an avid high school and college football fan and have read Tony’s columns faithfully every Friday afternoon during the terrific run that Aledo high school has had during the past 20 years.
Interesting story. A young girl on our street is from Virginia and she does a competitive form of horseback riding called Dressage. Six years ago, as a junior in high school, she traveled to Gladstone, New Jersey, which is the site of the Olympic training stable, and won the national championship in Dressage for 18 and under. The eastern press, which actually covers this event, was very surprised that a Texas girl would be competitive and actually defeat experienced riders from New York, Long Island, and the Chicago area.
I mentioned this to Tony and he took detailed notes and subsequently wrote a wonderful two-page story about this girl from Aledo and her victory in New Jersey. What impressed me was the fact that I don’t think he knew anything about Dressage when he began the story, but the column was superb, factual, and very insightful. He did an outstanding job. I always considered him to be an excellent writer, on par with Gary West, who was a former writer with the Star-Telegram.
I am sorry for your loss. By the way, the little girl was my daughter.Robert Schmidt, Mayor of Annetta North
At the Office
Tony and computers didn’t always have the most cordial relationship. At best, a computer was a necessity. At worst it was something that would lose the story he had just written.
In those circumstances, we would often hear Tony’s choice words to his computer in his booming, radio-announcer voice. For Tony, it wasn’t the frustration of losing work — it was the hindrance in getting done what he wanted to get done most — to tell the story in the newspaper.
Telling the story was all that mattered.
Even when there were passionate disagreements in the newsroom, Tony didn’t carry grudges.
He was a stickler for honesty. He would often grumble about a reporter at another paper who had a bylined story on a game the reporter didn’t attend. While you can’t be everywhere, Tony wouldn’t give himself a byline if he wasn’t there.
Several months ago Tony wanted to lay out his own pages.
Shortly, he got the process down, so for the last several months the sports section was totally Tony— he wrote it, he edited it, and he laid it out.
As an aside here, I’ll tell you that every week’s issue of the paper is a single file on the computer. We use Dropbox to store our files, but it has a bit of a lag between the time a file is saved on one computer and is available on another.
In the past, we ran into problems with the newspaper when one person attempted to open it before the last person’s version was saved, so we formed the habit of recording the “timestamp” of the file.
When Tony came in to lay out his pages on Aug. 5, he wrote down the timestamp every time he hit “Save.”
When he was finished for the day, he let me know the timestamp on the file so I would know not to open it until that timestamp appeared on the file on my computer.
That was the last time he was in the office. That was the last work he performed for The Community News.
The timestamp was 3:09.
When Tony lost consciousness on Aug. 9, we didn’t know what to think. During his time in ICU, I was allowed to speak to him via Facetime. Though he was unconscious, I hoped he would hear me. I had a difficult time keeping my composure, as I had just learned that The Community News won first place for the best sports section in the National Newspaper Association contest.
I so much wanted him to know.
When he regained consciousness, I was again allowed to speak to him on Facetime. Tony was barely able to speak after being on a breathing tube for almost three weeks, but I finally got to tell him about his award. His face brightened up, and I got one of those trademarked Tony smiles.
If I have anything to be thankful for in his process of fighting COVID-19, it is that he did wake up, and he got to find out about his national honor.
I told him there was a community that loved him. He whispered to the nurse, and she said “he loves them, too.”
I won’t lie.
Losing Tony was a kick in the gut — for me, for his newspaper, and for the local sports community.
We talked on the phone almost every day — usually multiple times a day.
I’ll miss the Monday phone calls — “how many pages do I have in sports this week?”
I’ll miss him coming in on Wednesdays with his Chicken Express box, ready to lay out his pages.
I’ll miss the Wednesday night editing sessions, and becoming distracted when something in a story sparked a conversation that took us away from the task at hand — preparing the paper to go to press.
I’ll miss the timestamps.
But most of all I’ll miss him, his enthusiasm for covering local sports, and his love of the newspaper industry.
So many people have lost loved ones during this pandemic without being able to say “good-bye.” I shall forever be thankful I had the opportunity to speak to him before he was gone, and his sister Judy had the blessing of spending a couple of days with him before he so unexpectedly passed away.
He would want us to continue to shine the light on the kids and what they are doing. And that’s what we will do to the best of our ability.
But not so much this week.
The light this week is for Tony.
We’ll miss you, man.
We’ll all miss you.
You left a lasting legacy and big shoes to fill.
There is just a hole in my heart tonight. Tony Eierdam has been the picture of a selfless servant, living and walking among the community he loved … always with one purpose in mind. To tell someone else’s story. To celebrate in print the successes of our children. To encourage them in the sorrow of defeat.
He was tireless. Relentlessly positive. Moving from one venue to another, late into the night, and always giving every student his best. Tony was a talented writer and an astute observer of what was happening on the field of play, in part because he understood the intangible influences that helped shape the course of events he was recording.
More than anything, though, I will miss Tony, the man. The man whose story always came second to the kids he loved. A man whose story deserves to be told now, by those of us whose lives are richer because we knew him, who have been honored to call him friend, and witnessed the quiet influence of a life poured out in service to others.
I will miss Tony Eierdam. Miss his visits to the press box and the way he went out of his way to encourage me. He never failed to bring a smile to my face. Yes, I will miss this gentle giant.
But I will never forget.Joe Breshears via Facebook