Gov. William Winter, a staunch supporter of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame long before a museum even existed and a life-long supporter of the Mississippi athletics at all levels, has been selected the 2016 Rube Award winner.
The Rube Award, named for the late Michael Rubenstein, is voted on by the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum and is based upon one's lifetime contributions to Mississippi sports. Rubenstein was a long-time, award-winning Jackson TV sportscaster before becoming the MSHOF executive director.
Winter becomes the fifth Rube winner, following Boo Ferriss, Ben Puckett, Archie Manning and George Bryan.
A Grenada native, Winter often hitchhiked to cover college football games as sports editor and then managing editor of the then-weekly Mississippian campus newspaper at Ole Miss. Later, as program chairman and then president of the Jackson Touchdown Club, Winter served as chairman of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame selection committee from 1963 until he became governor in 1980.
“I am so honored and happy to learn of this honor,” Winter, 93, said. “It was not something I expected, but I am most appreciative.”
Said another former Mississippi governor, Ronnie Musgrove: “There is only one set of people Gov. Winter loves more than the Ole Miss family – the people of Mississippi. He is a class sports fan, class Ole Miss fan and class human being. He has all the qualities that make the Rube Award perfect for Gov. Winter.”
Winter grew up outside Grenada, reading Walter Stewart's sports columns and the Major League box scores in The Commercial Appeal of Memphis.
“I really wanted to be Walter Stewart,” Winter said. “He was my model.”
Winter became the sports editor of The Mississippian as a freshman in 1940.
“I didn't have a car and Ole Miss didn't play many games in Oxford,” Winter said. “I hitchhiked all over the south to cover games. It was mostly Ole Miss games but I remember hitchhiking to Tuscaloosa to watch State play Alabama.”
He remembers catching a ride on a cottonseed truck to Memphis in 1942 for an Ole Miss-Georgia game, featuring all-stars Charlie Conerly and Frank Sinkwich.
“There was a group of us that got on that truck on Highway 6,” Winter recalled. “When we got to Memphis, we couldn't get all the cotton lint off our clothes.”
To make matters worse, Georgia clobbered Ole Miss 38-13.
“But I've got a photo of Conerly tackling Sinkwich in that game,” Winter said.
Winter covered the game in 1940 when Ole Miss and State played for the SEC Championship for the only time in history. State won 6-0, and Winter remembers the key plays in the game verbatim.
When Boo Ferriss walked off the mound after pitching the final game of his Mississippi State career in 1942, Winter was the sports writer waiting to interview him.
In fact, a good measure of Winter's long association with Mississippi sports is to recount his association with Ferriss.
Winter covered Ferriss as a college player, rooted for Ferriss when he pitched for the Red Sox, chaired the selection committee that elected Ferriss to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1963 and earlier this week attended the presentation of the C Spire Ferriss Trophy in Cleveland.
Said Winter, “Sports is something we do so very well in Mississippi. We continue to produce some of the world's greatest athletes. It has been a great joy for me to follow and pull for those Mississippians.”
Winter will receive The Rube Award at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum's annual induction banquet on July 30 at the Jackson Convention Complex. The six new inductees will include Sean Brewer, Willie Heidelburg, Kay James, Jackie Sherrill, Larry Smith and Wesley Walls.
For tickets to the banquet, call the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum at 601 982-8264.