Remembering former student sports reporter John McNamara

Since Ivy Hoops Online is a site devoted to Ivy League basketball, it would not seem to be a place to write about Thursday’s tragic shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis. However, the location of the assault and the death of one of its employees, John McNamara, reaches close to home for many of the people that have written at IHO over the years.

John McNamara, 56, was one of five people horrifically murdered in a targeted and isolated attack of the local newspaper’s office, by an alleged assailant with a long-standing grudge against the paper. The others killed that day include editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, 61; assistant editor and columnist and writer Rob Hiaasen, 59; community correspondent Wendi Winters, 65; and sales assistant Rebecca Smith, 34.

McNamara, or Johnny Mac as he was affectionately known, started covering sports as a student at the University of Maryland from 1979-1983. During his time in College Park, he wrote for the school’s independent student paper, The Diamondback, from 1980 though 1983. In his years at the paper, he was a staff writer, assistant sports editor and managing editor for features. There, McNamara learned the craft of journalism and developed a lifelong love affair with Terrapins sports. This passion led McNamara to write two books on University of Maryland sports history. The first was 2001’s Cole Classics!: Maryland Basketball’s Leading Men and Moments co-written with David Eflin, and the other was The University of Maryland Football Vault: The History of the Terrapins crafted in 2009.

After his time in College Park, McNamara began his professional career at the Hagerstown Herald-Mail before moving to the Capital Gazette as a copy editor. Missing his old sports reporting beat, he left the paper to become the sports editor of the Prince George’s Journal before returning to the Gazette in November 1994. There, he spent the next 20 years, first as a layout and copy editor, and later as a full-time sports reporter who covered the region’s high school, college and professional athletics. Over the last four years, he worked as an editor and reporter for the Gazette’s sister papers, the Bowie Blaze News and the Crofton-West County Gazette.

Profiles of McNamara at the Gazette, the Diamondback and the University of Maryland Athletics sites reveal a devoted husband, a true Maryland/D.C. sports fan with encyclopedic knowledge and a professional journalist, who was always able to check his fandom at the door as he objectively wrote about the players, coaches and teams that he covered. He also was a gracious mentor available to lend a hand to people just starting out in the business. As Connor Letourneau, a 2013 University of Maryland graduate who covers the Golden State Warriors for the San Francisco Chronicle, told the Diamondback, “But someone who had been in the area covering college and professional sports for decades at that point was reading my stuff on a daily basis. [That] really stuck with me. It said a lot about him. He just really cared about people. He wanted everyone to do well.”

Many of the contributors at Ivy Hoops Online, like John McNamara, began their writing career at their school’s newspapers, with some entering the professional ranks at local news organizations. Others, like myself, have come to this endeavor later in life and have been helped immeasurably by gracious writers, young and old, who have given their time and expertise to those needing guidance. As a nation, we are blessed with many people like this, solid citizens and hard-working professionals who help others while going about their days with little to no celebrity. It is a shame that it takes tragedies like these for these exceptional people to be recognized.

We here at Ivy Hoops Online send our condolences to the families of each of the victims, as well as the University of Maryland (where McNamara and Fischman attended, and Hiaasen was a faculty member of its School of Journalism) and The Diamondback (where McNamara and Fischman wrote). For those interested in donating in their memories, Tronc, the parent company of The Baltimore Sun Media Group which includes the Capital Gazette, has created two funds managed through the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County.  One is for immediate and long-term needs of the families, victims and survivors of the mass shooting and the other is a memorial scholarship for University of Maryland journalism students.

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