February 17, 1998 in Sports

After A Long Battle, Wright Succumbs To Cancer

John Blanchette The Spokesman-Re
 

A friend attended the basketball game at Gonzaga University a couple of weeks ago when Dick Wright had his “jersey” retired - No. 50 for his 50-year relationship with the school - and noticed that even one of three officials applauded politely.

Come to think of it, when he was broadcasting GU games that’s all Dick Wright ever expected of the refs.

That one out of three get it right.

Or rather see it like Wright.

In that respect, Dick Wright was just like the rest of us, only on the radio. And if you didn’t necessarily share his allegiances, there were occasions you just had to laugh and holler along with him, “Blow the whistle, you busher!”

Feel free to do so now - for therapeutic reasons or just in respect to the memory of Dick Wright, whose brave battle with cancer came to an end Monday at the age of 70.

That fight had kept him off the dial for the past year and damned if we didn’t miss both his voice and his viewpoint - both inimitable - in spite of our highbrow pretensions.

What will be missed even more is how, aided by his wife Jeanne, he kept caring and doing behind the scenes - for kids, for long-time contributors, for the common fan - even in such ill health.

The sports banquet, the B Tournament, the Hall of Fame were once just notions; they became Spokane institutions thanks in good measure to the dogged stewardship of Dick Wright, who was old-fashioned enough to see them as not only worthy of our participation but mandatory.

As long as the program moved along swiftly, of course.

When Dick emceed an awards show, there wasn’t a presenter or a recipient who didn’t receive a gentle zinger suggesting his remarks be abridged to save wear and tear on everyone’s bladder.

Everyone, Wright believed, deserved a slice of fame - but 15 minutes was stretching it.

Spokane first got a taste of the Wright stuff in 1947, when he came to school at GU from Anaconda, Mont. Within a decade of graduation, he was a fixture on the radio - as Frank Herron’s sidekick on Spokane Indians broadcasts, as the host of many incarnations of his own “Wright Time for Sports” and narrator of just about every high school game you could find between 530 and 1600 on the dial.

He called games for the Indians and Whitworth and Spokane Falls, the GSL and Border League and more than 30 State Bs. He would schlep radio gear upstairs to as many as four different press boxes on a football weekend or into a half-dozen gyms a week.

A three-game night was routine. If the Ferris hotshot’s name somehow popped up on a Shadle broadcast or KZUN got its call letters mentioned on a KGA station break, hey, was it any wonder?

He could turn a phrase - Santa Clara’s 7-foot-2 Ron Reis was “big enough to burn diesel” - and save a slipup with guileless humor. One of his best came after a B Tournament basket by Davenport’s Lana Becker.

“What a nice play by Lana Turner!” Dick gushed. “What a great looking shot! I’m sorry, I meant Lana Becker. But I remember Lana Turner, and she was great, too.”

And, of course, there was the most unforgettable line of all, when a long home run rocketed out of Pecarovich Field and Wright drew an uncustomary blank trying to equate it to a major-league shot.

“That would have been out of any park,” he said, “including … Greyhound.”

He installed himself in the self-deprecation Hall of Fame. Among his favorite recollections was a call from a secretary at Springdale High School, asking if he could emcee an awards banquet. Wright allowed that he would, for a fee.

“I don’t know if they want you that bad,” the secretary said.

And when GU roasted him one year, he joined with a full house in wearing a “Blow the whistle, you busher!” lapel button - never bothering to dispute that he saw every Gonzaga game for the past 15 years “through Bulldog eyes.”

“He made us run a little faster and jump a little higher and coach a little better,” acknowledged his friend, Dan Fitzgerald, the former Bulldogs coach. “He made the small guys a lot bigger - and that included all of us.”

It didn’t all happen over the airwaves. One year when it looked as if he wouldn’t have any prep games to broadcast, he led a drive that raised $100,000 to save city league sports. The breakfast that fetes all State B teams was his baby. And his passing means the Inland Empire Sports Writers and Broadcasters will have to elect a new president for the first time in, oh, a decade.

His was the pure joy of sports and all its corny trappings. His devotion to kids and causes was uncorrupted - and his dismay with any corruptions obvious.

Dick Wright was a homer, all right, but in the best way - long before he decided to champion one team on the radio.

Now there’s a voice urging us to keep this short, to wrap it up while everyone’s clothes are still in style. And there’s a tug at the sleeve, insisting we move along.

It’s just Dick Wright, blowing the whistle on us one last time.

You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

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