It was a tough day for this old, broken down sportswriter.
One of my friends, a former co-worker, and one of the most optimistic guys I had ever met died on Thursday. Mason Linker, the go-to guy for prep sports in this area for 23 years, died at the age of 49.
Linker, who last worked at the Journal in July of 2015, and I played a ton of golf together back when we both didn’t have any children and had more free time.
We also had plenty of time to talk and share stories. When I first started covering WSSU in the fall of 1996 it was Mason that clued me in on high school talent who signed with the Rams.
It didn’t matter the sport because Mason knew whether those players would be successful at WSSU.
As is the case a lot of times it was local talent that first left for other schools but came back to Winston to play at WSSU. Thad Young, a former center on the basketball team, comes to mind. He came from another school but was a local player in Winston-Salem during his high-school years.
“Thad was a stud in high school,” Mason said when I told him who was coming to WSSU. “He’ll do very well there.”
Of course Mason was right and Young was very good during his time at WSSU in the mid-1990s.
Others who Mason touted when they arrived at WSSU was a ‘Who’s Who’ of Rams athletics. Tory Woodbury, Ced Hickman, Bryce Sherman, Monte Purvis, Josh McGee and Jed Bines are just a few football players who came to WSSU out of high school or transferred from Division I schools.
For some reason I remember Mason touting Roy Peake from Thomasville, who was the ultimate point guard. Peake didn’t have good grades and wound up at WSSU and was a four-year starter who earned his degree.
“I love me some Roy Peake,” Mason would say. “He is so much fun to watch play.”
And Mason was right because Peake was fun to watch play.
I know I’m leaving out other local players because my memory isn’t as good as it used to be, but covering WSSU athletics for 23 years I always thought it was neat that local high-school stars ended up at WSSU. I think sometimes it means a little more to them to play in their hometown.
As for Mason, he always loved to talk about the guys that he covered in high school and I followed up with them at WSSU.
Two of the biggest upsets that helped out the Rams’ football fortunes in the early 2000’s were Purvis and Bines going to WSSU. I actually helped cover some of those powerful Parkland teams and Mason loved watching those teams play.
I know recently Mason talked a lot about his daughter, Molly, who is a sophomore at Mount Tabor and on the field hockey team there. He was so proud of her, and he also loved coaching his son, Bo, in little league baseball.
Mason played baseball at Mount Tabor and then went to High Point where he graduated. His first job out of college was at the Journal in 1992. I came to the Journal soon after that in 1993 and he and I became friends. Our daughters were born a week apart in February of 2003.
We also played softball together on the Journal team called "Bob" in the city's recreation department. One year we even won the championship and I still have the trophy. But the times I'll cherish were after the games at a local brewery or at one of our starter homes.
I’ve heard from countless high-school coaches today and they echoed the same thing: “Mason was good people.”
You'll get no argument from me.