By Adam Bouton
Suds Sumney’s first love was playing baseball. Another one of his passions was writing. He did both well; however, following a severe World War II injury, his playing days were over. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise, even if he didn’t see it at the time.
“No more baseball for me, so I had plenty of time for writing and that is exactly what I did,” he said.
Sumney, 86, played baseball throughout high school and into college. He was a second baseman and leadoff hitter for the 1941-42 Western Michigan University freshman baseball team.
He was also an avid writer during high school and worked for the Sturgis Daily Journal, writing sports stories from 1937-1941. Following his transition to college, he started working for the Western Herald and eventually also worked for the Kalamazoo Gazette.
Sumney enrolled at WMU in 1941 and began playing baseball and writing for the Herald. Following the attacks on Pearl Harbor during 1941 and like many other college men, Sumney volunteered himself for the Air Force.
Sumney was called into active service in February 1943 and fought overseas for a little more than two years. While on duty, he was a tail gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress. On April 5, 1945, Sumney and his fellow crew members were heavily damaged near Nuremburg, Germany after receiving anti-aircraft fire near their primary target.
The plane, without a navigational system, crash-landed at Merriville, France, but not before an 88 MM exploded directly behind Sumney. Flak penetrated Sumney’s arm and back and he spent 18 months in the hospital, suffering through several surgeries.
Following the war, then WMU athletic director Judson Hyames appointed Sumney to assist Homer Dunham, who was the sole member of the WMU Sports Information Department. Sumney was the assistant to Dunham during his treatment for flak wounds.
Even following the injury that ended his playing career in baseball, Sumney never gave up his love for baseball.
“My fondest memories of Bronco sports are with the baseball teams of the past 67 years,” Sumney said. “Especially memorable are the many trips to Tiger Town in Lakeland, Fla. and rubbing elbows on a daily basis with [former Detroit Tigers] Al Kaline, Alan Trammell, [former manager] Sparky Anderson and the voice of the Tigers, Ernie Harwell.”
Suds has traveled with the Bronco baseball team the past 35 years and has only missed one spring training trip.
Bronco football is another sport that Sumney has followed throughout his life. He attended all Bronco home games this season, including the Brown and Gold victory at Ford Field against the University of Illinois.
The 2008 campaign has been special for Sumney.
“This 2008 Bronco team reminds me of the undefeated team of 1941,” Sumney said.
One of the players, tackle Jack Streidl, who was on that 1941 team, is still close friends with Sumney. That friendship has also inspired a motto that Sumney believes in wholeheartedly.
“Today, Jack is one of my best friends and we room together at the annual meeting of the Michigan Sports Sages,” Sumney said. “One of my mottos has been: sports builds friends for life.”
Over the years, Sumney has obviously also seen a lot of change. He’s seen a lot of change and growth in the newspapers, such as the Western Herald.
In 1941, he was a member of four or five member Herald staff.
“If my memory serves me correctly, we had an editor, sports editor and two or three contributing writers,” Sumney said. “The Herald was a four-page paper published once a week in the WMU Print shop.”
Sumney covered all of the Western Michigan sports, which were football, basketball, baseball, tennis and track.
He’s also seen change in the way the media covers sports.
“[When I was working there] it was pre-television days and newspaper coverage was king,” Sumney said. “Radio was secondary, but die-hard fans were tuned in. Along came TV 24-hour coverage and it is a whole new media game.”
Even though the way the media has covered sports has evolved throughout the years, Suds has fond memories of writing, covering athletics and getting to know the athletes.
“The best part of writing about sports is being involved on a day-to-day basis with the athletes and enjoying the game and associated activities,” he said.
Sumney was the sports editor of the Vicksburg Commercial Express after he retired from his own insurance company, named Sumney Insurance and Financial Services. He was in the insurance business for 53 years, but after his retirement from the business, he finally came back to his passion in 2003. After the Kalamazoo Gazette bought the Vicksburg Commercial Express in 2007, Sumney was retained as a freelance writer for the paper.
“Now, at 86 years of age, I am enjoying sports writing as much as I did during the Great Depression days,” Sumney said.