Larry Taft awards story
By Mike Organ, The Tennessean and Middle Tennessee Chapter Board Member
Without question the contribution to football Larry Taft has made in Tennessee has been remarkable.
From the time he began covering high school football and other local sports for the Knoxville News-Sentinel to his time as sports editor of the Democrat-Union in Lawrenceburg and on to the point where he ascended to sports editor of The Tennessean in Nashville, the state has been the benefactor of Larry’s talents, hard work, and above all else, relentless dedication.
Aside from newspapers Larry also spent more than a year with the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association as director of media relations.
And while Larry is unquestionably deserving of receiving the Roy Kramer Contribution to Football Award, he says his dedication to his work was more a matter of giving back.
Football became a beloved passion at an early age for Larry as he was growing up near the Alabama border in Southern Middle Tennessee., It was his motivation. It consumed him, he says.
“When I was about six-years-old, there was this guy who was a regional legend in lower Middle Tennessee. He ended up playing tailback in the single wing at the University of Tennessee. Crowding around the radio and listening to broadcasts of the UT games was a ritual throughout the area if not the entire state,” Larry said. “They called him ‘The Drum.’”
The reference, of course, was to Johnny Majors, the 1956 Heisman Trophy runner-up and later coach of the Vols.
“We didn’t have a TV so we would always listen to the broadcasts each Saturday afternoon,” Larry said. “Johnny Majors had played at Huntland, the next county over from mine, and everybody knew him or thought they did. He was almost worshiped. I don’t want to say it too strongly, but that’s almost the way it was.”
The enjoyment Majors and the Vols brought to Larry and his family left Larry feeling almost indebted to the sport. And so he set out to give back.
His greatest impact came during his time at The Tennessean where he made his mark as one of the most admired, recognized and respected high school football reporters across the state in the newspaper’s history.
In a career that spanned 35 years at The Tennessean, Larry went on to cover nearly every other sports beat at one time or another, including Tennessee football. He was eventually promoted to sports editor. And even in that lofty role Larry never lost his passion for high school football and used his influence to help high school sports, especially football, continue to have a prominent place in the sports section.
“I think to have a sports section that will generate circulation the way you need it and want it, you have to begin at the grassroots level,” said Larry, who was inducted into the TSSAA Hall of Fame in 2011. “And I never lost my love and the way I cared about high school football and other sports and I knew the readers, at least many of them, were the same way.”