By Teddy Allen
Written for the LSWA
The day Kenneth “Scooter” Hobbs found out he was going into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame — and no, it’s not because he played cornerback at a speed just north of idle for the Springhill High School Lumberjacks — I texted congratulations.
“I’m humbled,” he texted back, “…almost.”
You can pretty much wrap the story and put a bow on it here because that is the heart of The Tale of Scooter. Scooter is clever and funny and deservedly un-humble, but that’s because he pays dues, works hard, and tries. Scooter actually cares. So the writing prizes and achievement awards keep coming for this 39-year veteran of the LSU beat and Lake Charles American Press, a man who has done so well because, like one of his faves, LSU legend Skip Bertman, he has this silly notion that sports and life in general should be, well, fun.
Because of the joy he has brought his fellow ink-stained wretches, along with the information and entertainment he has so consistently shared with his readers, Scooter (I just can’t write “Kenneth” or “Hobbs” since I don’t even know THAT guy) will become a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame during the Induction Dinner and Ceremony for the Class of 2018 Saturday evening, June 30 at the Natchitoches Events Center. He and Lyn Rollins are recipients of the 2018 Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association.
Since the announcement in the fall, recognition has rolled in like river fog over Tiger Stadium or the Hoover Met. Scooter threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the LSU-McNeese baseball game this spring in Alex Box Stadium — “I went with my three-seam Bud-heavy changeup,” he said — and held both teams hitless in his one pitch of work. The Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office honored him, as did the state legislature with a resolution during its spring special session. (“Now we know why they called a special session,” Scooter said; he might have even actually meant it.) There’s even been talk that Class Clowns of America, Inc., and The National Dangling Participle Society are thinking of presenting him with lifetime achievement awards.
He’s kind of a big deal…
As we’ve mentioned, we could stop now and you’d have the heart of the story. But we like gravy, so we’ll write some more. A few of his friends can write some of it and Scooter will write most of it: makes sense. Besides, you can’t stop a story like Scooter; you can only hope to contain it. So…
Scooter: “I went to LSU with the lame-brained notion to be a genuine architect. On the list of possible jobs, alphabetically it was right after Archer. But that dream lasted about two days before reality and trigonometry set in. Meanwhile, in freshman English classes, my smart-ass themes kept being the ones the professor read to the class and I kind of liked that… Once I started working for The Reveille (LSU’s student newspaper), that was it — I was hooked, hopeless. Before that, I remember sitting in the student section in Tiger Stadium and spending half the game gazing up at the press box and wondering what glorious times it must be up there. Remember, I was pretty naïve at the time…”
Lake Charles golf buddy Jimmy Mitchell: “In the 19th hole, people are throwing one-liners at him just to get a response. And there’s no telling the direction he’ll go… He was born in the wrong generation; if he’d have come along in the 1930s, they’d have a Scooter Hobbs Bowl, like they had a Grantland Rice Bowl. That’s where he needed to be: with one of those old typewriters and a little flask by his notepad, a cigarette dangling and his snap brim hat tilted. But they shot him forward too soon; I just look at him as a failed experiment.”
His first job out of college is where he works now. Scooter: “Just west of the Atchafalaya, my car broke down on I-10 on the way to the job interview. I had to hitchhike to Lake Charles and was a bit weather-beaten by the time I got there. After the interview, the editor, Jim Beam, told (then-sports editor) Bobby Dower, ‘I don’t know how that guy is going to handle our dress code,’ which at the time included neck ties. Fortunately, he let Bobby make the decision. That was the start of a lifelong friendship; Bobby and I were quite a team.”
Whenever daughter Jennifer Hobbs — Scooter reminds everyone often that Jennifer is “THE city engineer for the city of Missouri City, Texas,” — would complain that Scooter was out of town for some event that all her friends’ dads made, he’d say, “Yeah, but how many of them had Shaquille O’Neal pick them up over his head?”
“As much as he works and as much as he was gone, ever since I was a little kid, every night he was home he’d hang out in my room until I kicked him out,” Jennifer said. “He wanted to know everything that happened to me that day. He was the only dad who did that.”
The two had a standing dad-daughter supper date on Thursday nights when Jennifer attended McNeese. After she graduated, whoever was paying for supper got to pick the place. “It was kind of our thing,” she said. “He taught me how to play blackjack on my 21st birthday; stayed up ’til 4.”
She decided to pursue engineering and not follow in her dad’s writing footsteps because, “uh…there’s no money in journalism?” (The daughter of the father, right?) “I just loved math as a kid,” she said. “That’s the funny thing: Dad helped with my English homework all the time. I’d give him my term paper and he’d write red ink all over it. Then I started coming to him with math problems. I think it was sixth-grade algebra when he said, ‘I don’t know how to help you anymore, Boonie …’”
“I think he’s a good writer because he’s witty and perceptive,” she said. “He keeps up with pop culture and everything else. He writes so a child can read it on one level and an educated adult can read it on another level. All my friends in high school would read him and laugh.
“He’s a charismatic guy,” Jennifer said. “Oh, and you won’t catch him without a Budweiser or a Diet Coke in his hands; which one depends on what’s going on…”
He’s been Scooter, “except for one persnickety junior high teacher,” he said, since he was six weeks old; nobody remembers how it started. But don’t let the playful name and attitude fool you: he’s a guy you want with you in life’s foxholes. Former American Press intern Glenn Guilbeau, who now covers all things LSU and New Orleans Saints for Gannett Louisiana papers/USA Today and has roomed with Scooter all over the South, has seen his friend fix a laptop with a paperclip, pull stories or expertly edit them when they involved “kid” athletes getting into minor trouble, and sternly say “That’s not funny” and walk away from a table of friends when a racist joke was told.
Still, as Guilbeau points out, “He IS the only ‘adult’ still referred to as ‘Scooter.’” So it’s no surprise to find out, according to Guilbeau, that Scooter “leads the SEC in Interruptions,” that he could once tell you every storyline of All My Children, that when a hotel front-desk attendant told him on the phone that the middle-of-the-night alarms were not pranks by kids but a tornado warning that had been ongoing for the past two hours, he said, “Two HOURS? Well hell, we might as well RIDE IT OUT!,” and finally that he is a “connoisseur of the sea cruise and an underrated foodie who recommends Dreamland in Tuscaloosa, Le Kliff in Puerto Vallarta” and, always, “Le Budweiser.”
And it’s no surprise that, in the spring of 1985 after LSU football coach Bill Arnsparger asked him how his honeymoon had just gone, Scooter went full-coach mode and said, “I don’t know; I’ve got to check the film.” Or that, when told by an NCAA Women’s Basketball media relations person that he couldn’t be credentialed to cover the LSU team in the Final Four in New Orleans because he didn’t cover the first two rounds of the tournament, Scooter said, “Ma’am, I didn’t cover the first two DECADES of the Women’s NCAA Tournament.”
He got the credential.
He’s covered LSU’s two most recent football national championships and all six baseball titles in Omaha, Neb., where he no longer needs to use a GPS. (“I think I can legally vote there.”) Because of his perfect-angle, by-chance seat in the auxiliary press box in Sun Life Stadium in Miami during Super Bowl XLIV, he was probably the first person in America who realized Tracy Porter was about to intercept Peyton Manning for the game clincher, giving him “the one column — ‘Saints Win Super Bowl’ — it never occurred to me I might write,” he said. And once covering a high school football game fresh out of LSU, he turned around from the bench at halftime to go back to the little press box and unknowingly ran into a dance line member who “did the big high-kick thing…right into my very personal, private-type area,” he said. He sprawled, the girl screamed, “but,” he said, “the fans seemed to really get a kick out of it.”
And that’s what’s always been most important to Scooter: the fans. As their eyes and ears and noses and hands and heart, he’s been loyal and given them their money’s-worth plus a bit more. A final example of that is from his favorite event to cover, the College World Series, where he almost missed the Warren Morris home run in 1996, only the most famous homer in college baseball history.
“The guy before him struck out for the second out and I was going to get a head start on the elevator,” Scooter said. “I figured if he singled and tied the game up, I’d just take it back up. But as I stood up I suddenly remembered the story Pete Finney used to tell about how the New Orleans media conglomerate all missed Tom Dempsey’s 63-yard FG because they were in the press box elevator at the time.
“So,” he said, “I sat back down.”
That’s half the battle, and who ever knows how much longer any guy will keep pulling up a chair? Scooter, unscripted as usual, certainly has no clue.
“Just the thought of having to write one of those ‘farewell columns’ keeps me trudging along,” he said. “Unlike some sports writers, I do consider it work. Most of the days do at least closely resemble work.
“But,” Scooter said, “this job does mean I never really had to grow up. I guess that’s why I never got a grown-up name.”