Dr. Ted Geltner’s recent release of his new book, “Last King of the Sports Page: The Life and Career of Jim Murray,” is bringing the professor a lot of attention from journalism students and fans of his book’s topic.
What began as a dissertation evolved into a biography as Geltner got to know Murray through his widow, Linda, and, as they say, the rest is now history. Recorded history for Geltner and a labor of love that took several years to complete.
Geltner is a relative newcomer to Valdosta, but he’s already a hit with his students at Valdosta State University. His very diverse background is an asset to those he teaches journalism to, as he has pretty much been there, done that.
He’s been published in newspapers such as The New York Times and Los Angeles Times. He has lived in California. He’s received a Ph.D. from the University of Florida. He’s married with four kids.
And he’s even interviewed former ESPN reporter, new Fox Sports reporter and all-around celebrity hottie Erin Andrews.
Geltner, who is also one of the editorial advisors for VSU’s student newspaper The Spectator, came to Valdosta in 2009 after his wife got a job with the university.
But journalism wasn’t always his first choice in a career.
Born in Brooklyn, N. Y., Geltner was raised in McLean, Va., in the Washington suburbs. He attended LeHigh University in Bethlehem, Penn.
“I was a political-science major but I wrote for the Brown & White,” he said. “I was the movie reviewer. That was about it as far as the newspaper. I had written for my high school paper and was into journalism, but in college I didn’t do that much.”
But soon after graduating from LeHigh, Geltner knew he wanted to go into journalism.
“I started as a proofreader for a newsletter company in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “This place called The Washington Business Information that covered different minor parts of the government like the product safety commission. My job was just making sure there were commas in the right place.”
Soon after, Geltner got a job in California at a newspaper, The Inyo Register, covering high school sports. He then moved to covering other things such as county government and the environment.
After being in California a few years, his future wife, Jill, whom he met in college, decided she wanted to go to graduate school at the University of Florida, so Geltner made his first move to the Sunshine State and Gainesville. He began working at a variety of newspapers including those in Crystal River and Ocala.
After moving back to Pennsylvania, where his wife is from, he began working at The Scranton Times-Tribune, where the television show “The Office” takes place.
“When I was there, ‘The Office’ hadn’t came out yet but after I left they started doing an ‘Office’ tour and you go to the paper and they will take you to all the sites where they’ve done Scranton stuff,” he said.
Soon the couple moved back to Florida where his wife began work on her Ph.D. in Gainesville and Geltner began working at the local newspaper before deciding to go to graduate school himself.
Then came the move to Valdosta.
“Jill got her Ph.D. and I wasn’t done yet, but she got her job up here and when this one came open I applied and got it,” he said. “I finished my Ph.D. because by then I had already finished my actual classwork and had to do my dissertation.”
His topic was Jim Murray, one of only four writers to win the Pulitzer Prize for sports journalism.
“I wanted to do (my dissertation on) journalism history and I was looking for a subject around the time that Jim Murray’s widow, Linda, came to the University of Florida.”
Linda Murray runs the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, which she started right after he died to keep his name alive and give out journalism scholarships.
“There’s 30 or 40 universities that have journalism programs that participate in this scholarship program,” he said. “They run an essay or sports writing contest and the winners get the scholarship and a trip to Los Angeles to go to a Lakers game or a Dodgers game and meet famous people.”
Geltner met Linda Murray during one of her trips to the university. He knew about the legendary sports writer and was a big fan, so when he learned she had a garage full of his old papers, he knew he had found the subject for his dissertation.
“I was like ‘this is prime dissertation stuff’,” he said. “I went out to Palm Springs (Calif.) twice and she let me stay there. I’d go out and you know, dig through all his stuff.”
He made one trip for the dissertation itself, but after realizing he wanted to take it a step further and turn it into a book, he made another trip.
“Some of it was weird, like when he got his first job, he was only 22 or something and it’s him saying, ‘Wow this was exciting.’ He kept a clipbook, because he wanted to move on pretty quick. He would write notes on the side. That’s the cool things you want to find.”
Originally, Geltner said he went into working on the dissertation knowing it would make a good biography, but when he turned his research in, other professors told him he should take the next step. So he did. The book was released in June, 2012, and a portion of the proceeds from the sale go to the Jim Murray Foundation.
If the book doesn’t impress his students, perhaps his brushes with various sports celebrities will.
“(Erin Andrews) was a good interview,” he said. “I also got to interview Dick Vitale for that one, too. This is back when Erin was just the sideline reporter for college basketball. Dick Vitale was the main guy and she gave me his number and he was like ‘She’s awesome, baby!’ doing all that Dick Vitale stuff.”
Geltner remembers from the interview how Andrews talked about how she was just getting noticed as a celebrity.
“She was like, ‘This is kind of weird. When I’m not working, I put on a baseball hat so people don’t know who I am as much but I like dealing with the fans,’ and this is before all the crazy stuff with her getting spied on.”
And another brush with sports greatness? Tim Tebow.
“I met Tebow, because his very first college professor was Jill,” he said. “He came to UF, and he got in and came in the spring. He was going to start on the team in the fall, so he came early to get used to college. She had him (in a class) and he signed all kinds of stuff for her and she still keeps up with him.”
For now, Geltner is working on a new book and getting ready for the upcoming fall semester at VSU.
“I’m writing (a new book) now and I’m trying to pitch agents again,” Geltner said. “It’s a biography on Harry Crews. He’s a novelist that just died in March. He was from Bacon County, Ga. and became famous in the ’70s.”