BY STEVE LOOTEN
Special for Muddy River News
Quincy sports fans have felt a great loss for nearly two weeks, worried that sports writer Matt Schuckman would disappear from the local sports scene.
Schuck had connected with area sports fans during his 22-year career, and his career change announcement freaked out his followers. When he announced his upcoming career change, it blew up social media.
- When the subject of best sports writer is broached, I have and will always say that Schuck is at the top of my personal list. You will be missed, Matt. THANK YOU. – Heath Hunziker
- Truly one of the best. Your incredible coverage and ability to share an athlete’s story will be greatly missed. – SPECS2020
- Tri-State sports are going to miss this guy. An absolute legend. You’re the man, Schuck! — Cooper Reis
- Your ability to bring the human side of stories will be missed and never duplicated – Glenn Sanders
- You are a Quincy legend, Schuck! The community will miss your coverage, and we’re thankful for all the energy you’ve poured into us all over the years. – Nic Frericks
- This man is the GOAT, and Quincy sports has been blessed to have Schuck! It will never be the same. – Paul Bell
- Truly irreplaceable! — Donavan Prost
Now we know the rest of Matt’s story. Starting August 16, he’ll be back to cover our local teams and athletes at muddyriversports.com.
We’re not losing a friend after all. He’s just moving down the street. We get to keep our favorite paperboy.
No subject too good for him to cover
When I first met Matt Schuckman, he was working with kids, helping them learn to love baseball. He was a Park District umpire/pitcher/motivator who spread his joy to all.
Those kids had no idea the little redhead on the mound would spend the rest of his life hanging out with kids at play. They had no idea that the redhead would never have to grow up because he would always be laughing, smiling and encouraging. It would be his foundation throughout a career that will be recognized on August 28 with his induction into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
His life centers on writing stories of all the area kids who made it big, at least for one game.
“There is no subject that he believes he is too good to cover,” former QHW Sports Editor Don O’Brien said. “He is just as happy writing about some kids playing sandlot baseball as he is writing about the Cardinals.”
He interned at the Quincy Herald-Whig for seven years, and after graduating from Quincy High School in 1991, he polished his skills at the University of Missouri. His love for Quincy, and every patch of woods and body of water nearby, pulled him back to town.
Quickly, he became a storyteller. His talent has enabled him to win numerous state and national sports writing awards.
“Matt has a gift for storytelling, like Jack Buck had a gift for being a master of ceremonies or Vin Scully has a gift for verbal storytelling during a broadcast,” Culver-Stockton College Athletic Director Pat Atwell said. “Matt’s gift is putting pen to paper and bringing the reader into the life of the person he is writing about.”
“I’ve always felt the best writers ‘paint a picture’ with words,” longtime co-worker David Adam said. “Describing the scene in a locker room or going to a Little League baseball game or sitting in a duck blind, Matt has an excellent way of making you feel like you’re there.”
“Matt has a true passion for writing. He’s a storyteller, and that is a priority in his professional life,” his wife Michelle said. “Telling those stories is so important to Matt. He gets his stories just by being there for people. He’s up for a conversation and ready to get to know people.”
Learning in the real world
Matt cherishes his time spent and is proud of his degree earned at the University of Missouri. He quickly realized the best way to learn how to do the job was not in the classroom but in the real world. Mizzou basketball legend Norm Stewart toughened up Matt in a hurry, often battling with local reporters but playfully bantering with the kid from Quincy.
“Schuuuuck, come down to my office,” he said on the phone. Stewart then would use Matt, the fresh meat of the Columbia Tribune sports department, as his sounding board.
“I’m not blaming you, but I just want to tell you how things work around here,” he said.
Matt learned to play the game in a hurry.
“What I learned from him was enjoy those moments,” he said. “Figure out why he was doing that and don’t take it personal, because he’s just having fun.”
At age 25, he returned to Quincy to join the Herald-Whig full-time. The real education was about to begin.
“I hate to label anyone a “natural writer” because it diminishes the time and effort it takes to hone the craft, but Matt is as close as anyone I have worked with,” Don Crim, Matt’s first boss at the QHW, said. “He uses his words gracefully, wittily, concisely and honestly. He reports and writes the way a fine athlete performs — by making it look easy, although we know it isn’t.”
“I learned so much from Don Crim,” Matt said. “There’s not a single person I’ve learned more from. There’s not a single person who I owe more to.”
More than the score
Matt realizes anybody can report who led the team in scoring or who hit the winning shot, but readers want more.
“It’s ‘Who changed the game?’ It’s ‘Why did that happen?’ That’s what you’ve got to look for,” Matt said.
Matt puts in the time to get to know the players and coaches. He’s a familiar face at practice, at games and after games when the players can relax for conversation.
“It’s not about shoving a tape recorder in their face and getting a quote. It’s about having a conversation. The more conversations you have with them, they won’t think you’re interviewing them,” he said. “Then, when you have to interview them, they’re comfortable.”
Knowing the athletes, their families, their joys, their fears and being familiar with them personally allows Matt to draw you into his stories:
- On Cooper and Taylor Reis, graduate assistant soccer coaches at Quincy University and Lewis University, coaching against each other for the first time: “Coaching brought them together for one night, but the brotherly bond will link them together forever.”
- On life-long Blue Devil Tom Lepper, crossing over to be on the bench for the Quincy Notre Dame Lady Raiders, supporting his daughter, Jordan, after she hit a couple of free throws to nail down a victory over Brown County: “The fist-pump was subtle. The hug not so much.”
- On the passing of local sports great Jim Hiland: “Therein lies the only thing everyone should remember about Hiland. He cared about kids and this community with a huge heart and an even bigger presence.”
“His goal is to make lives better and tell local stories to bring people together, and he is fortunate enough to see the results in real life. It makes him keep going,” Michelle said.
“When I was young, playing in all the local and regional tournaments, it was beyond cool when you were in the paper,” golf professional and QHS graduate Luke Guthrie said. “My grandma and parents cut out a lot of the articles that were written. I still have them today. Just getting asked and answering questions made me feel like a big deal. I mean, that’s what the pros on TV did!
“Matt is always professional, and you can tell he takes his job seriously. Saying that, I have always felt Matt rooting for me to succeed. As with all the athletes in the area, he enjoys watching us have success and attain our goals. He’s not only been a member of the media to me, he’s been a good friend who I’m lucky to know.”
“This would go back to my head coaching days at Hamilton,” QHS football coach Rick Little said. “Matt always makes your team feel significant. This means a lot to athletic programs, schools and communities.”
“He would wait until the last player or coach came out to gather information for the story that he would write deep into the night,” Blue Devils basketball coach Andy Douglas said. “It did not matter what it was, Matt was there. Matt also made it his goal to shed light on the positives around sports over the years.”
Someone you trust, someone you talk with
Matt is our area’s sports whisperer. Players and athletes alike knew they could talk with him, confide in him and trust he would handle their information responsibly.
“Matt was a ‘coaching reporter.’ He understood the games he was covering. You knew when Schuck walked in, it was a ‘big game’ and that you as a coach had someone you trusted to tell the story of the game as it unfolded,” QND girls basketball and softball coach Eric Orne said.
Matt followed many state championship runs by the Lady Raiders.
“During our state runs, Matt always had the ‘side stories’ that brought out the truly human factor of what it was like to be on the team and told it in a way that made the student-athletes relatable to those reading their Sunday paper,” Orne said.
“Matt has always been a true professional when covering any sport I coached,” QND girls soccer coach Mark Longo said. “To be honest, he knows the history of my Lady Raider soccer program almost as well as I do.”
“Matt always had my 100 percent trust,” Atwell said. “He earned that with his professionalism. He told the truth and understood that these are college student-athletes, not professional athletes.”
“I always loved the coverage that Matt gave me specifically and our team as well,” QU record-setting pitcher Riley Martin said. “The postgame talks we had throughout my time at Quincy were always great, and he always did a great job of writing postgame articles.”
Matt’s relationship with Martin is a perfect example of a true professional at work. He covered the games, wrote accurate and interesting stories and became a person the players knew they could trust. However, Martin was willing to share this spring his story of losing his best friend, Roudey Hensley, when they were going out for ice cream while growing up in Salem, Ill. The car they were in was hit by a drunken driver. They were just 17.
Matt’s lead for that story:
“Beneath every scar there is a story.
Riley Martin hasn’t told his often. When he has, it’s rarely in full detail.”
“You could tell the trust that was built up over time by Riley towards Matt,” Atwell said.
“One of the best articles I have ever read,” QU baseball coach Josh Rabe said. “Riley trusted Matt to do this story. It was professionally done in a manner that honored a legacy of a friend who passed. He was able to get details that not many have heard. Unreal story.”
“I was very comfortable with Schuck,” Martin said. “He and I have had many good conversations throughout my time in Quincy, not only about baseball and the games but also about life.”
“Matt’s ability to use discretion appropriately is something I really respect,” Little said. “I know personally on many occasions when Matt could have just written what the coach or player said, but always did a great job of still telling the truth but also protecting a teenager or angry coach in the heat of the moment, win or lose.”
One interviewee after another talks about Matt’s tremendous and personal connection. Matt wrote the following about a conversation this spring with Pittsfield baseball coach John Schultz.
“We talked about our fathers and the influence they had on our lives. We discussed hunting season, which seemed light years away at the time, but the preparation for it would be upon us soon. We chatted about our families and the ongoing changes in both of our lives.”
O’Brien believes this is the secret to Matt’s success.
“Some writers will go into an interview looking for the quote they want. I think Matt avoided those preconceived notions and let the interview happen naturally,” he said. “As a result, he got much better stories.”
Matt filled the sports section each week with game coverage, but he also could touch your heart.
Sometimes it was story like Martin’s or one about a football player with Down syndrome who scored a TD,. Maybe it was like one he wrote about Highland’s Ashton Luttrell who returned to the court for her senior year after a knee injury to make her one and only shot of the season. He wrote about the spirit of the late Mary Ann St. Clair of Hannibal, Mo., and the heartache of Hannibal junior safety Kaiser Greenwell, who courageously played following his mother’s death.
“His prose is captivating, yet unpretentious, and he seizes the reader’s attention from the first sentence to the last,” former QHW sports writer Blake Toppmeyer, now a SEC columnist for USA Today and a reporter for the Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel. “He’s also a talented deadline writer, and he can deliver sharp commentary when it’s needed. His talent far exceeds his market size, and readers have been fortunate to enjoy his coverage for more than two decades.”
“Matt comes to me with the stories that he’s proud of,” Michelle said. “He’ll catch me the morning after and excitedly tell me the story, and I’ll get so into it that I’ll call it up online and read it. I’m tickled pink to hear his stories from his own mouth.”
“The thing about Matt is that he makes every story sing, not just the big ones,” Crim said.
Loving the outdoors
His life-long love of the outdoors is obvious. You can almost hear the whippoorwills,or early-morning turkeys when you read his words.
He described Frank Winchester’s turkey hunting near Clayton: “Winchester had a rabbit scurry past. A sparrow landed on a low branch of a tree just a few yards away. A rope of Canada geese flew overheard. Finally, the first gobble of the morning rained down from the roost.”
On the ritual of deer camp for hunter Joey Bergstrom: “The highlight, aside from the harvesting of big bucks, is the time spent at deer camp — poker and steaks on Thursday night as everyone convenes, biscuits and gravy each morning and tales of the deer seen from afar, the shots missed and those pestered by a squirrel or rabbit running around on the forest floor.”
Who wouldn’t want to hang out in Blake Calvert’s workshop as he prepares for an upcoming fishing season? “A small refrigerator is situated in the corner, stocked full with bottles of water, a few cans of Pepsi and a case of Budweiser. A radio hangs over his workbench, already tuned to his favorite country music station. A bag of sunflower seeds he purchased that day lays on the bench next to a small plastic container filled with Christmas candy his grandkids hadn’t eaten.”
One of the greatest sportscasters of all-time was NBC’s Curt Gowdy, who for many years called the only nationally-televised baseball game of the week each Saturday afternoon. He also was the host of the tremendously popular “The American Sportsman,” which often featured Gowdy hunting or fishing with Ted Williams or celebrities like Bing Crosby, Andy Griffith, Burt Reynolds or Redd Foxx.
Gowdy once said about fly-fishing, “Whether I caught a fish or not, just the thrill of rolling out that line and watching my fly turn over has been good enough for me.”
Schuck shares Gowdy’s spirit. Lover of sports. Lover of sport. He promotes smart conservation. He loves his time in the woods or on the water, and cherishes the memories he has. He wrote:
“The starting points vary from duck blinds to tree stands to river banks, but most outdoorsmen remember their first experience in the wild for one very important reason. It happened alongside their dad. Like so many kids, I had a Snoopy fishing pole or something like it, and I loved riding in the jonboat on the river, especially if I was with my dad and my uncle, Charles. The memories of tagging along when they built duck blinds or threw out decoys are as vivid today as ever. I remember being too short to climb fences when we’d go rabbit hunting, but even as a husky kid, I could crawl under them. I will have those memories forever.”
Pouring his heart and soul into book
When he was 5 years old, Matt would stand on a bleacher in Blue Devil Gymnasium singing to the pre-game music.
“People would say ‘Oh, look at that cute little redhead over there,'” Matt said. “My brother would look down, rub his face, and whisper in secret, ‘That’s our brother.”
Those early years lit an eternal flame in that little redhead. Years later, that kid chronicled the program’s history in his book “Stand Up And Cheer: A Century of Blue Devils Basketball.”
“I have one at home and one in the office, and I sift through it often,” Douglas said. “There could not have been a more knowledgeable person to do what he did.”
“He poured his heart and soul into it. I am biased, but it is the best book on high school hoops that I have read,” O’Brien said. “He did dozens of interviews. I think it should be required reading for every QHS player. There are few schools with the history that the Blue Devils have. Those kids should know what happened before them.”
That project still brings a glow to Matt’s face.
“I was telling the story of the program I grew up on. What’s better than that?” he said.
His duties have taken him across all roads in the area, often white-knuckling it as driver and radio partner Eric Ervin tried to scare the life out him. Life on the road with them could be a sitcom. Matt faces his deadline, Ervin is comic relief. In the end, Matt gets his revenge.
“Besides being an outstanding writer, a damn fine broadcast partner and a good friend, Matt has one other skill that has to be experienced to be believed,” Ervin said. “I can tell you from personal experience that if there was an Olympics for snoring, Matt Schuckman would not only be a gold
medal winner, he would be a world record holder. We roomed together at the boys state basketball tourney in Peoria once. Once! I ended up sleeping in the bathroom. Love the guy, but no amount of money could get me to room with him again.”
“I remember sleeping in the same hotel room as him at the Pekin Holiday Tournament,” Douglas said. “My wife says I snore from time to time. There is no way I hold a candle to the snoring of Schuck!”
A part of Quincy’s history
Matt’s stories will be read for years. Today’s athletes will reminisce about their good ‘ol days because Matt took the time to tell their story.
“I know I will look back on my collegiate career and be very appreciative of all the work Schuck put in,” Martin said. “When my baseball career comes to an end, whenever that may be (hopefully many years from now), I will be able to reminisce on my personal and team accomplishments by reading the articles that Schuck wrote about us.”
The search for the next great story and participation in a team’s breakthrough moment has Matt excited about his next adventure at muddyriversports.com.
“Sports draws everybody together,” he said. “You associate your community with your school. In these communities, that matters. In every little town around here, and certainly here in Quincy. It showcases what kids can accomplish with structure, discipline and hard work.”
“He knows that article is part of someone’s life story,” O’Brien said. “He knows it is going on to refrigerators and into scrapbooks. He makes sure every story gets the attention it deserves.”
Not all of his reader’s feelings are revealed on their refrigerator. Some are in person, from the heart.
After writing the story about the Greenwell family this winter, Ron Greenwell saw Matt in the stands at the next game. He hopped the fence and got a hug. You haven’t been hugged until Matt gets his hands on you.
Matt is a softie at heart with the grasp of a bear.
For a man of many words, sometimes he’s told “thank you” without the sound of a single word. He knows this community appreciates his work and acknowledges that with a wink, a smile and occasionally one big damned hug.
From all of us, Matt … thank you.
Bring it in, Big Fella.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: I’d like to thank Steve Looten for reaching out and offering to honor Matt in this way. Steve is also an ICBA Hall of Famer who will be honored in August. Steve spent more than two decades as a master storyteller and videographer for KHQA and WGEM. Yeah, he was a sports anchor, but he was more than that.
And congrats to our newest member of the team, Matt Schuckman. We’re proud that he’ll be steering the Muddy River Sports ship.
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