As one of the longest tenured sports editors in Texas, Phil Hicks’ stat sheet includes 39 years of covering just about every type of athletic event from little league to the big leagues.
By his own account, the Tyler Morning Telegraph veteran has covered 20 state championship games, six Super Bowls and two World Series games during his career.
He’s interviewed legendary coaches and players, followed the careers of local standouts from high school to the pros and witnessed countless record-setting performances from a front-seat row.
Colleagues note his reputation as a writer with passion and compassion, a sports historian dedicated to getting the details right.
“I think the parents, the readers, the coaches his coworkers — I think they all know he genuinely loves what he does. He genuinely loves the newspaper business,” said Jack Stallard, the sports editor for the Longview News-Journal.
Stallard and Hicks, who have covered East Texas for decades, became co-workers when the M. Roberts Media — the News-Journal’s parent company — purchased the Morning Telegraph in 2018.
Stallard said Hicks loves to be a part of recording sports history in East Texas, producing thousands of byline stories clipped from the newspapers and treasured by student athletes who can later show them to their grandchildren.
“I know he’s in the same situation I am. You watch a college game or NFL game, and you covered that kid in high school or the 7th grade,” Stallard said. “So, some kids he’s known for 30 years, and they’ve gone on and done good things. And somewhere, someplace, the kid has a scrapbook where Phil wrote things about him. I know Phil thinks about that, and he likes that.”
Hicks has covered Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes from Whitehouse, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Tyus Bower from John Tyler High School and Demarvion Overshown, a University of Texas linebacker from Arp.
He also covers Houston Texans coach Lovie Smith of Big Sandy and recalled covering Super Bowl XLI when Smith coached the Chicago Bears who lost to the Indianapolis Colts. Prince was the halftime performer that year.
“It is fun to be around someone who thinks high school sports is just as good as the Dallas Cowboys or anyone else,” said David G. Campbell, a writer for the Waco Tribune Herald.
Rooted in East Texas
Hicks, a 62-year-old Tyler native, was born into a sports family. Attending sporting events – especially the Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers and Texas Longhorns — was a favorite pastime for his family, including parents, Billy and Sue Hicks, his two brothers, Mark and Jimmy, and eventually sisters-in-laws, a niece, nephews and great nephews.
Hicks said it’s difficult to pick one sport as his favorite.
“I love all sports and it’s kind of like having to pick your favorite child or something like that,” he said.
Naming his favorite interviews is a lot easier: legendary Dallas Cowboy coach Tom Landry; longtime University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal; running back Emmitt Smith of the Cowboys; Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton; and golfer Payne Stewart top his list.
“All the Hickses loved sports,” said Cedric Golden, a sports columnist for the Austin American Statesman who started his career at the Morning Telegraph under Hicks.
Golden, who grew up in Tyler, said he has known Hicks since he was 8 years old and played on baseball teams coached by Billy and Mark Hicks, who also coached elementary school football.
“Phil was not really an athlete and just like myself, he found a way to be around sports,” Golden said. “He found a way to be around something that drives his passions just like me.”
Hicks attended John Tyler High School, Tyler Junior College and The University of Texas at Tyler where he studied journalism and business management. He began working for the Tyler newspaper after graduation.
Through the decades, he has helped jumpstart the careers for dozens of sports journalists like Golden, who began writing part time for the Morning Telegraph while he was attending college. Golden graduated to a full-time position in 1993 covering high school sports.
“I am forever grateful for Phil for believing in me and giving me my first start in the business,” Golden said.
One of his best memories working for Hicks came just months after joining the newspaper staff. Hicks invited Golden to cover Super Bowl XXVII when the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Buffalo Bills 30-13 in Atlanta.
Hicks covered his first Super Bowl just the year before when the Cowboys defeated the Bills 52-17 in Pasadena. Pop singer Michael Jackson performed at halftime.
“He said if you can pay for your flight, I’ve got an extra credential to the Super Bowl,” Golden said. “So, after six months in the business, I got to go to the Super Bowl because of Phil. I got to see him working and writing stories and that kind of let me know this is what I wanted to do for a living.”
Now Golden not only writes columns but also is the host of a popular podcast and teaches a course about sports, media and society at the University of Texas at Austin.
Building a reputation
TJC Athletic Director Kevin Vest has known Hicks for only three years but quickly learned why the sports editor is so respected and liked in East Texas.
“There are probably not many people involved in sports in the Tyler area who do not know Phil Hicks and love Phil Hicks,” Vest said.
Vest said the TJC community considers Hicks their “unofficial historian,” because of his photographic memory. His coverage reflects his passion for student athletes and coaches, Vest added.
“We know he has a job to do and will cover us fairly and accurately, but the relationship with Phil has been rare,” Vest said. “A lot of times a newspaper reporter shows up and gets a couple of quotes and writes the story, but Phil is so engaged and so thoughtful about how he treats our athletes and coaches. He is a great human to be around as well as a great reporter.”
Mike Montfort, a retired sports information specialist for Navarro College in Corsicana, said the Tyler Morning Telegraph has a reputation for outstanding sports coverage and producing great writers such as Steve Estes, Mickey Humphrey, Pat Turner and Golden.
“Phil is in that long line of outstanding writers who made the Tyler Morning Telegraph sports pages really complete,” Montfort said. “And Phil is the one who lasted through it all. He is the strong one, I guess. He’s got a good demeanor with people, and he is very easy to work with. And you want to help him. That’s how I have always felt when dealing with him.”
Inside the press box, Hicks is known among his colleagues as being helpful, willing to share statistics others missed. For his readers, he is fastidious about spelling names correctly and checking the facts, Montfort said.
“Phil may be among the last of a breed that has been taught well and performed well for a number of years,” he said. “Doing things right matters to Phil and his work shows it.”
Hicks said he learned early in his career to not misspell a student athlete’s name or “the moms will get after you for sure.”
In the newsroom, Hicks sets an example on how to handle deadline pressure and create a good working environment for the writers he supervises.
“If you panic with deadlines, you aren’t going to make it in this business. On deadline, you have to be calm,” Stallard said. “If you panic, the rest of the people will panic.”
Eventually, journalists get used to the pressure, Stallard said.
“You kind of get a rush out of it. You look forward to it,” he said. “And Phil and I, we always make it. You like what you are trying to do, and it will all work out.”
Brandon Ogden, a sports writer and multimedia journalists at the Morning Telegraph described Hicks as loyal, hardworking and thoughtful.
He said Hicks puts small gifts and snacks on Ogden’s desk for his 4-year-old son, Nolan, and asks Ogden if it’s okay before he takes any days off work.
“He thinks about others more than he thinks about himself,” Ogden said.
For Hicks, sports can be inspiring, especially when an entire community comes together to support its team.
“I have seen a lot of amazing games, and the fact that it gives you a lesson of never giving up, because anything can happen in games or life,” he said. “You may be feeling downtrodden, but I’ve seen teams come back from enormous deficits … and win.”
Hicks said he is not ready to put away his pen and stat sheets just yet, but the letters he receives from the Social Security Administration continue to remind him about retirement.
Still, he’s not quite ready to put away his pen and stat sheets.
“I still have a passion for it now and enjoy it so much,” he said. “As long as the newspaper will have me, I will continue. I know God has blessed me to let me be in the profession.”
Becky Bell, a native of Texarkana, Texas is an award winning writer residing in Magnolia, Arkansas. Bell has more than 20 years of journalism experience and graduated with a journalism degree from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches.
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