Famed North Carolina journalist Irwin Smallwood (center right) in front of the Wyndham Championship media center dedicated to him. Famed North Carolina journalist Irwin Smallwood (center right) in front of the Wyndham Championship media center dedicated to him. (Wyndham Championship on Twitter/X.)

One of the most notable North Carolina sports journalists has passed away. Irwin Smallwood was a sportswriter, sports editor, and managing editor for the Greensboro News & Record across a career that spanned more than four decades, and was both a member and past president of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. He died Saturday night at 98 at home while watching the North Carolina Tar Heels-Duke Blue Devils game.

That was a notable exit for Smallwood, as among many other notable moments in his career, he was in the building at the Sedgefield Inn when the Atlantic Coast Conference was formed in 1953. Tim Peeler of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame’s board of directors notes that Smallwood was the last surviving person who was at that crucial ACC meeting:

Here’s the full text of Peeler’s Twitter/X post there:

Not only had my friend Irwin Smallwood, former sports editor at the Greensboro News & Record, been to every @accmbb tournament until COVID hit, he covered a good many of the @SoConSports tournaments, too.

Smallwood, the last surviving person who was at Sedgefield Inn in Greensboro the night the ACC was formed in 1953, died peacefully Saturday night while watching the UNC-Duke game at his home.

There was no bigger booster of basketball and sports in the state of North Carolina than Smallwood, who was past president and a member of the @ncshof. His support and coverage of golf, and those who covered it, is legendary among my colleagues.

Irwin never failed to talk how about how much he loved @PackMensBball coach Everett Case. In 1947, when he was a student working for the @dailytarheel , he came to Raeigh to cover the State-Carolina game. In the mad scramble to get into Thompson Gym, Irwin was nearly crushed, until Case made sure he got through the doors. The game was ultimately canceled by the fire marshal, but the passion for basketball was ignited.

Irwin saw almost all of it in his 98 years, right up until he closed his eyes during college basketball’s most celebrated game.

May we all be so fortunate to exit this life dreaming of that which we love most.

On the ACC front, commissioner Jim Phillips put out a statement Sunday morning:

“Irwin was the consummate gentleman who led a truly amazing life. He was a Hall of Famer that was incredibly well respected as a reporter, editor and most importantly for being such a warm and wonderful person. His knowledge and love of the ACC, Greensboro and the state of North Carolina were unmatched and will be forever missed. Irwin will always be part of the fabric of the ACC and our hearts are with his entire family.”

Smallwood was also known for his coverage of golf, particularly around the tournament founded in 1938 as the PGA Tour’s Greater Greensboro Open (known as the Wyndham Championship since 2007). That tournament’s media room (on the grounds of the Sedgefield Country Club, the same grounds that played host to that ACC formation meeting) is named for him. And they put out a statement on his passing Sunday:

Irwin Smallwood knew them all – from Sam Snead to Arnold Palmer and Gary Player to Charlie Sifford. He witnessed more #WyndhamChamp history, whether at
@Sedgefield1926, @StarmountForest or Forest Oaks, than anyone else. He wrote about it, lived it and loved it. We are so sad to lose Irwin. Rest in peace.

Skip Foreman of the News & Record, Smallwood’s former paper, has a thoughtful tribute to him. Here’s part of that:

This is the kind of week Irwin Smallwood surely would have loved.

The Greensboro Coliseum is alive with the action of the 2024 Atlantic Coast Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament. Barely 10 minutes away, Guilford College is hosting the NCAA Division III Sweet Sixteen Men’s Basketball Tournament. And just down the road, High Point University is hosting the Big South basketball tournaments.

Plenty to do, plenty to write. Greensboro was the priority because Smallwood loved the city and did what he could to cast it in its best light. But his energy for the city was also shared with his passion for his newspaper, where he started as a copy boy, and for journalism. It was a devotion he showed for 42 years before he retired in 1989.

..Ask him about the history of sports in the Triad and Smallwood could hold court for hours on end. He was a walking font of knowledge on anything from the ACC to golf to football and anything in between. He was a man of faith as well as of conviction. Greensboro was his cause and he worked tirelessly on its behalf in print and throughout the community. Small in stature, he was large among his peers.

…Former News & Record staffer Jeri Rowe wrote that Smallwood always preached to his reporters — and anyone else who cared to listen — the same mantra about the importance of newspaper journalism: “We extract the essence from the revealed.’’ And he often did it with a pipe clenched between his teeth.

“This short, gregarious man ran the newsroom and filled it with quips like this one about his job: “I’ll hold the lantern while you chop the wood,’’ his account read.

And John Dell of the Winston-Salem Journal also wrote a tribute. That has some notable thoughts on Smallwood’s importance to ACC coverage, and how his work is still in evidence there:

It just felt right to begin writing my memories of Irwin Smallwood in the bowels of the Greensboro Coliseum in the press room that oozes with the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

I first covered Wake Forest in the ACC Women’s Tournament, and after filing my story I was the only one in the large press area for writers. I could feel Smallwood looking over my shoulder if that’s possible as I started typing.

The cool thing about the press room is its walls are adorned with large front pages of past ACC men’s and women’s tournaments at the old barn. That’s a nickname for the coliseum that, to me, is the epicenter of ACC basketball.

…The project that involved the past front pages of the News & Record being put in the press room was something Smallwood was involved with. [Former News & Record columnist Ed] Hardin couldn’t remember when those historic pieces of ACC basketball lore went up in the press room, but last year Smallwood had a request he made to Hardin.

“Irwin says ‘Hey, can you go by the Coliseum and make sure those things are still on the walls,’” Hardin said.

Those historic front pages are still there and those front pages include N.C. State’s magical run to the national championship in 1974 that all took place in Greensboro.

It was such a large project to undertake the ACC had a plaque made that’s also on the wall thanking the News & Record and Smallwood for making it happen.

Dell also has a good line on Smallwood’s stories about that June 1953 ACC vote at the Sedgefield Inn in Greensboro, where seven original schools (Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, and Wake Forest) opted to leave the Southern Conference to form the ACC. (Virginia would join in December 1953.) Smallwood insisted the school presidents waited until after midnight to conduct the vote so he couldn’t put the news in the paper the next day.

Smallwood’s impact was certainly felt across the ACC, golf, and more. Here are a few of the many Twitter tributes to him that have poured in:

Our thoughts go out to all of Smallwood’s family and friends.

[News & Record, Winston-Salem State Journal; image of Smallwood at the Irwin Smallwood Media Center from the Wyndham Championship on Twitter/X]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.