Longtime Ledger Sports Editor Cecil Darby dies

Cecil Darby, right, presents Bi-City lineman of year award to Ronnie Yarbrough.
Cecil Darby, right, presents Bi-City lineman of year award to Ronnie Yarbrough. The Ledger-Enquirer / John Rogers Partners

The Columbus Ledger sports pages were where you could find Cecil Darby during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

As a sports writer and columnist, he documented high school sports and minor league baseball with care and precision.

“He had tremendous integrity,” said former Columbus College baseball coach Charlie Ragsdale. “He wrote it just as he saw it — and it was the truth.”

Darby, who worked 36 years for the Columbus afternoon paper, died on Saturday at Spring Harbor. He was 92. The funeral will be Friday at 2 p.m. at the McMullen Funeral Home chapel.

“He was one of the good ones,” said retired Ledger-Enquirer Editorial Page Editor Billy Winn. “He worked in an era when high school and college football and minor league baseball dominated the sports pages.”

Darby started as a sports writer and became the sports editor.

Sammy Howard, former mayor of Phenix City, knew Darby on multiple levels — first as a standout player for Central High School in the 1950s, then as a coach at Hardaway and Glenwood.

“He’s the best sportswriter we’ve ever had,” Howard said of Darby, a longtime friend.

Even today, Howard pulls out the tattered old newspaper clips and reads Darby’s words.

“He really, and I mean really, cared about high school sports and you could tell by the way he wrote it was dear to him,” Howard said. “I was recently reading the article about the 1956 game we played against Columbus High.”

Central lost 14-13.

“It was just like I was there again,” Howard said. “He got it right. Just like I remembered it.”

In 1969, Howard coached a Yazoo City team that won the Mississippi state championship.

“He called me up to do a story and I remember he was so easy to talk to,” Howard said. “We ended up at Hardaway the next year. You could always trust him to get it right.”

Darby, the son of Cecil Albert Darby Sr. and Jewel Owen Darby, worked in the Ledger for 36 years. He was a 1942 Columbus High School graduate, he briefly attended the University of Florida.

He spent nearly three years in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, mostly in the Pacific.

After his retirement from the newspaper, Darby was honored for his work many times.

He was inducted into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame. Darby went into the South Atlantic League Hall of Fame in 1995 in a class that included pitcher Bob Gibson, catcher Al Lopez and the legendary Enos Slaughter.

He kept meticulous records and in 2006 donated much of what he had accumulated to the Columbus State University archives. The collection included extensive material on Columbus minor league baseball teams dating back to the late 1800s.

He has boxscores, rosters, photographs and scrapbooks of the Columbus Cardinals, Columbus Foxes, Columbus Astros, Columbus Yankees, Columbus RedStixx, Columbus Mudcats and most recently the Columbus Catfish.

“I can remember when we went to Golden Park to see the Columbus Cardinals,” Winn said. “The men in our family read the sports pages. And I am convinced one of the reasons they went to the ballpark was because of his coverage.”

In the 1980s, Ledger-Enquirer columnist Guerry Clegg was a young sports writer who covered minor league baseball as part of his duties.

“As much as he had on paper — and he had a lot — he had more than twice that much in his head,” Clegg said. “If you needed to know something about minor league baseball, the first call you made was to Cecil. Why would you call anyone else?’

When the Columbus RedStixx replaced the Columbus Mudcats and Double-A ball gave way to Single-A ball in the 1990s, Darby, long retired, could be found at Golden Park most nights.

“He loved baseball,” Clegg said. “There would be nights there were 50 people at the park. You could bet, Cecil was one of those 50.”

His material also included extensive information on the Columbus College athletic programs in the earlier years. Ragsdale was the first baseball coach at Columbus College when it went from a two-year to four-year school.

In the early years of Columbus College athletics, Darby and the newspaper played a crucial role, said Ragsdale, who coached from 1970 to ’84.

“Now, he favored the hometown team,” Ragsdale said. “He would ride the bus with us to games. But I can safely say this, he was the best recruiter we ever had. I would take a scrapbook with a lot of articles to someone we wanted and I would always say, ‘This is the kind of support you will get from the local newspaper.’”

Chuck Williams: 706-571-8510, @chuckwilliams