AUSTIN — Larry Starks tried out for his West Side high school’s basketball and baseball teams but didn’t make the cut.
But the former Austin resident’s writing skills in an English class at Holy Trinity High School helped him grab a spot on his school’s newspaper.
His first story: A critical article on a losing effort by the hoops team.
“The athletes were pretty mad at me,” Starks said. “But I said, ‘This is pretty cool.’ I thought I can’t be an athlete. I thought here is the way to be an important person.
"Right then and there I knew I was going to be a journalist.”
For the last three decades, Starks, 52, has been living his dream as a sports journalist.
He has worked at several newspapers, including the Los Angeles Daily News and the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
In St. Louis, he eventually rose to be sports editor, just one of a few African-Americans to lead the sports pages of a major newspaper.
Today, Starks is the NBA news editor for ESPN. He helps decide how news stories are handled during NBA broadcasts on ESPN and ABC.
The Connecticut resident was recently in his hometown helping with the broadcasts of Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers playoff games.
But Starks is so objective that colleague Lisa Salters said she didn’t know he was a Bulls fan as a youngster.
“He is really good at his job,” said Salters, an ESPN sports reporter. “He pays attention to detail. ... He comes up with things that we might not have thought of. He is just a great resource to have when you are broadcasting. ... He is always in the locker room before and after the game.”
Starks learned his strong work ethic as a youngster growing up in Austin.
Starks, who had lived with his family in various city neighborhoods, moved to the 5800 block of Ohio Street when he was about 10.
His family was about the second or third black family on the block. Just a year later, all his white neighbors had moved, he said.
“Chicago was very segregated then,” Starks said.
But Starks said he enjoyed living in the now-sometimes tough neighborhood.
“A lot of times the parents would open up the houses and there would be card games,” said Starks, who added that the block then was gang-free. “We would run between three or four houses.”
He recalled his friends’ parents all had jobs. His parents worked as production workers at factories.
Starks also typically had a job as a teen. He even worked as a janitor at a nearby suburban Post Office.
“I went from school to work, and Saturdays and Sundays I was always in church,” Starks said.
Even though he loved sports, he acknowledged he failed to make any of his high school’s sports teams.
But an English teacher suggested to Starks that he might make a pretty good journalist because of his good English grades.
He also knew to help reach his goal he would need a college degree.
Starks, the youngest of five children, was the first in his family to attend a four-year college. He graduated from Judson University in Elgin in 1985.
He said his writing skills dramatically increased while covering sports for the Elgin Courier-News.
“This sports editor there just ripped me" about a Little League baseball story, Starks said. “He said it was the worst story he had ever read. He told me to read news stories in his and other papers.”
Starks said he followed the editor’s advice. He then filed another story.
“He told me I had become a lot better,” Starks said. “That was my ‘aha' moment.”
He said he then learned an aspiring journalist needed a mentor — and a good editor.
He also learned it is important to keep his personal views out of his work — including cheering for the Bulls.
“I was a Bulls fan back in the day,” Starks said. “Now I root for a storyline. I am just rooting for stories.”
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