Robert D. Hammel
- IUB Athletics Hall of Fame (2008)
- Bill Orwig Award (1978)
BIOGRAPHYWhen Robert "Bob" D. Hammel got his first professional sports editing job, his mom had to drive him to his assignments. He was only 17. That was the summer of 1954, just after Hammel had finished his freshman year at Indiana University. He had gone home to Huntington for the summer, as students do, and taken a job at the local newspaper, the Huntington Herald-Press. After getting his start at his hometown Huntington newspaper, Hammel made stops en route to Bloomington at the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, the Peru Tribune, the Kokomo Morning Times and the Indianapolis News. In 1966, he went to Bloomington to take the sports editorship of the newspaper then called the Herald-Telephone, a newspaper which that year had lost several key people to a new newspaper in town, the now-defunct Courier-Tribune.
Hammel was seemingly everywhere that Bloomington readers themselves wanted be: He was in Pasadena in 1968 for Indiana University's only appearance in the Rose Bowl; he was in Munich in 1972 when Indiana's Mark Spitz swam for seven gold medals at an Olympic Games marred by international terrorism; he was in Philadelphia in 1976 when the Indiana University basketball team achieved perfection and won the national championship under a 35-year-old coach named Bob Knight; he was back in Philadelphia in 1981 and was in New Orleans in 1987 when Knight's teams also won national championships; he was, in short, where the action was. His last assignment before retirement was the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
In his final newspaper column, published August 5, 1996, in the Bloomington Herald-Times, Hammel recalled his first newspaper column, published June 12, 1954, in the Huntington Herald-Press. At about 2 a.m. that day in 1954, as soon as the presses began to roll, the 17-year-old Hammel walked the four blocks from the newspaper to his home, where dashed in, turned on the bedroom light and handed his mother a freshly printed edition that carried the first Bob Hammel column. That first column was in many ways like so many that Hammel was to write over the years, but it was in one way very unlike the others. Like so many others, that first sports column showed Hammel to be a perceptive judge of talent, for in that first column he predicted good things for a young man from the nearby town of Bippus, the then-new DuMont television network boxing announcer Chris Schenkel. Said Hammel in that first column: "One can only wonder how far that Schenkel star will rise." Unlike the 10,000 or more columns that would follow, however, that first column was just 327 words long. The last one he wrote, the one in 1996 in Bloomington, was more what readers through the years had become accustomed to: about 1,600 words long.
Hammel proved, to everyone who watched him on press row, and read his work the next morning in the paper, to be an uncommonly gifted wordsmith. He wrote long and he wrote fast. And he wrote awfully well, as so many prizes over the years would prove. Even after a night basketball game, you could expect to see a game story, a locker room sidebar and column in the next morning's paper, all with the famous Hammel byline on them. He could do all that because he loves writing, and because he doesn't have to scurry around searching for literary illusions or researching sports facts, for those things are filed away in his memory.
In 30 years at Bloomington, Hammel was an unprecedented 16 times named Indiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association and was four times named winner of the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters' Corky Lamm award. He was awarded the Bill Orwig Award in 1978, and in 1990, he was selected to the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame. In 1995, he received the coveted Curt Gowdy Award from the National Basketball Hall of Fame. And in 1996, he received the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame's Silver Medal Award for distinguished service. But there's more than basketball: He has also been awarded the Bert McGrane Award by the College Football Hall of Fame and the Jake Wade Award by the College Sports Information Directors of America. His peers have additionally honored him by electing him president of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, president of the Football Writers Association of America and president of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. The Associated Press's legendary Will Grimsley describes Hammel as "one of a diminishing breed of our craft, to be linked with such giants as Red Smith and Jim Murray."