Navy, Mary­land honor bas­ket­ball lover John McNa­mara

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - Adam Zielonka is a Wash­ing­ton Times sportswriter. ADAM ZIELONKA

The last time Mary­land and Navy played each other in men’s bas­ket­ball, Len Bias led the Ter­rap­ins and David Robin­son starred for the Mid­ship­men. It was the 1985 NCAA Tour­na­ment.

On Fri­day, Navy will host its fifth an­nual Vet­er­ans Clas­sic, a two-game men’s bas­ket­ball show­case on the

U.S. Naval Academy grounds in An­napo­lis. Af­ter Wi­chita

State and Prov­i­dence face off in the first game, the ser­vice academy will re­new its ath­letic ri­valry with Mary­land on the hard­wood.

I’m sure John McNa­mara would have loved to be there.

McNa­mara grad­u­ated from Mary­land and cov­ered both the Ter­rap­ins’ and Mid­ship­men’s ath­letic pro­grams dur­ing his four-decade ca­reer as a jour­nal­ist. Col­lege bas­ket­ball was his fa­vorite sport, mean­ing this was one of his fa­vorite times of the year.

But on June 28, McNa­mara and four of his col­leagues at the Cap­i­tal Gazette were killed when a gun­man went on a homi­ci­dal shoot­ing in­side the An­napo­lis news­pa­per’s of­fices.

Navy will re­serve a seat on press row in McNa­mara’s name Fri­day, pub­lish a write-up about him in the game pro­gram and honor him dur­ing a time­out. CBS Sports Net­work also will air a trib­ute to McNa­mara’s ca­reer.

But I need to ditch this for­mal, jour­nal­is­tic tone, be­cause we all called him Mac.

I worked for the Cap­i­tal Gazette for about a year and a half be­fore join­ing The Wash­ing­ton Times, and in a way I feel selfish about writ­ing this col­umn. Af­ter all, there were four more vic­tims that day: Ger­ald Fis­chman, Rob Hi­aasen, Re­becca Smith and Wendi Win­ters. Af­ter all, there have been many more re­cent vic­tims of mass shoot­ings, in­clud­ing at a Pitts­burgh sy­n­a­gogue and a Thou­sand Oaks, Cal­i­for­nia, bar. They say we’re up to 304 of these events this year.

But I worked most closely with Mac, and my me­mory of him has weighed on me, know­ing this date was com­ing.

Funny enough, I didn’t know Mac as a sportswriter. Most trib­utes called him a “sports re­porter and ed­i­tor,” but a few years ago, his as­sign­ment changed from the sports desk to the ed­i­tor of two weekly com­mu­nity pa­pers, the Bowie Blade News and the Crofton-West County Gazette.

From 2016 un­til early this year, I cov­ered high school sports for the Cap­i­tal and helped with Navy and other hap­pen­ings around the area. Come sum­mer­time, high school and Navy hit the off­sea­son. So in the sum­mer of 2017, I asked Mac if he needed help on the Bowie Blade News. Pretty soon, I was writ­ing roundups of club swim­ming re­sults and oc­ca­sional sto­ries on the Dou­ble-A Bowie BaySox.

Mac had a va­ca­tion com­ing up, and, while he was gone, he needed me to han­dle some of the big­ger sto­ries hap­pen­ing in the com­mu­ni­ties we cov­ered — in­clud­ing a story about decades­old un­marked graves found at a lo­cal church, and an on­go­ing de­bate over a pro­posal that would put tracks for a ma­glev train right through Bowie.

Mac, who was only fa­mil­iar with my work in sports at that point, wasn’t sure I was ready yet. But when he re­turned, he told me I did a good job.

I can’t ex­plain how much that meant. Mac was a man of few words when I was around the of­fice, so a com­pli­ment car­ried a lot of weight.

A few months later, I was hav­ing an aw­ful day be­cause some­one had taken is­sue with some­thing in a story I’d done and blown it out of pro­por­tion. When I wasn’t ex­pect­ing it, Mac com­forted me. Among other things, he com­mis­er­ated, telling me he’d been there, too.

Our ex­change hap­pened about this time last year, as Mac was work­ing on a pre­view of Navy tak­ing on Pitts­burgh in the fourth Vet­er­ans Clas­sic.

At Mac’s me­mo­rial ser­vice in July, sportswriter Mike Ash­ley was one of many to re­fer to Mac’s pas­sion for hoops. Mac would buy the an­nual Street & Smith’s “Of­fi­cial Year­book” ev­ery sea­son to study up on teams around the na­tion. He was knowl­edge­able but ap­proach­able and help­ful to oth­ers on the Ter­rap­ins beat.

Ash­ley later told me he tried to bring some lev­ity to his re­marks that day be­cause peo­ple loved Mac’s dry sense of hu­mor. “I think John would have ap­pre­ci­ated that as much as any­body,” he said.

I told a Times col­league in June that I was hung up on how eas­ily I could vi­su­al­ize the scene of the crime. That hasn’t changed. The lay­out of the now-for­mer Cap­i­tal Gazette of­fice re­mains im­printed onto my brain. But places only hold mean­ing like that be­cause of the peo­ple we as­so­ciate with them.

I knew where sur­vivors like Phil Davis, Se­lene San Felice and Rachael Pa­cella were seated. And I know ex­actly where McNa­mara would have been when he was robbed of his life.

I can’t and won’t end this on a de­press­ing note. This week, the Univer­sity of Mary­land an­nounced a jour­nal­ism schol­ar­ship in Mac’s honor. His widow, An­drea Cham­blee, is fin­ish­ing a book he was writ­ing about the his­tory of bas­ket­ball in the area. When pub­lished, it will be Mac’s third book.

I look for­ward to read­ing it. In the mean­time, I have a bas­ket­ball game to go to, and I’ll be think­ing about Mac long past the fi­nal buzzer.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Navy will re­serve a seat on press row on Fri­day in late Cap­i­tal Gazette ed­i­tor John McNa­mara’s honor dur­ing its game against Mary­land in the Vet­er­ans Clas­sic.

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