When Chris Dortch received the news that he had been elected to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame (TWSA), he immediately thought back to the first day of his first sports writing job at the Kingsport (Tennessee) Times-News.
“My boss, let’s just say he was a handful,” said Dortch, an adjunct faculty member in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Department of Communication.
“It was a rough gig at first. He was tough. He was unfair. He was irrational, and he was unpredictable, but he made me tougher. I probably wasn’t as ready as I needed to be, but I learned and became good at it.
“But that first day, I never would have thought that I would have lasted.”
Forty-plus years later, Dortch is being recognized for his achievements. The TSWA, comprised of writers, editors and college sports information directors who work in sports in the state, has elected Dortch, longtime Knoxville News Sentinel women’s college basketball writer Dan Fleser and former Nashville Banner sportswriter Mark McGee to its Hall of Fame class for 2022.
The induction ceremony is scheduled for July 14 in Lebanon, Tennessee.
Dortch has been writing about sports since graduating from East Tennessee State University in 1978. After stints at the Kingsport Times-News and the Johnson City Press, he was a columnist and beat reporter for the Chattanooga Times from 1987 to 1999, covering Tennessee basketball and golf.
In 1996, he took over as editor and publisher of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, an annual guide to the sport. All 351 NCAA Division I men’s basketball programs are featured in the publication’s recently released 400-page 41st edition.
In addition to publishing six books, Dortch has written for Sports Illustrated, NBA.com, SECdigitalnetwork.com and Tennessee Golf Quarterly. He has been a commentator on the NBA draft for NBA TV and Fox Sports South.
Since 2018, Dortch has been teaching a sports writing course at UTC. When faculty and students needed to move to online during the early days of COVID-19, the connections he made during his reporting career came in handy.
“The kids were scared, depressed and worried, and I was bummed, too,” he recalled. “But I saw where a professor at UT Knoxville asked Peyton Manning to Zoom in without telling his students, and I said, “I’m going to do that.’”
He reached out to a good friend, UT men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes, an NCAA Division I head coach since 1987.
“I asked him, ‘Coach, would you mind Zooming into my class? I’m not going to tell them. I just want you to pop in,’” Dortch said. “When he came on, those kids freaked out. It was so much fun. It was sort of like kids at Christmas, just to see the looks on their faces.”
Barnes spent nearly 45 minutes on that Zoom, leading Dortch to invite a trio of ESPN personalities—Reece Davis, Seth Greenberg and Jay Bilas—to his following three online classes.
“When Jay Bilas came on, the students went bananas,” Dortch said. “I had the students write about each of them.
“They were just so grateful and so excited that I didn’t just phone it in on Zoom. That was as rewarding a thing as I’ve ever done.”