A photo of a man sittng on a bench in a laundromat. He has a laptop on his lap and is looking at a notebapd. He has a black backpack next to him. In the background a woman is sweeping the floor and two other people are standng in front of a row of washers.
Paul Woody writes during the VCU men’s basketball team’s run to the Final Four in 2011. “Several of us went to Houston directly from the regional in San Antonio and since we’d only packed for the weekend, we needed to set up a ‘satellite’ office in a Houston laundromat,” Woody said. (Photo by Dean Hoffmeyer)

VCU alum and Richmond sportswriting veteran Paul Woody inducted into Virginia Sports Hall of Fame

Woody’s 40-year career had roots on campus and included coverage of Super Bowls and the Rams’ Final Four run in the 2011 NCAA tournament – and featured thousands of bylines.

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Paul Woody grew up reading the columnists in his hometown newspaper in Roanoke. 

“They were clever, they could be biting, they could be insightful, they could be sympathetic,” said Woody, who earned two degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University. “You read those guys, and you read the way they do things and approach things, and you think, ‘If I’m going to be in newspapers, ultimately, that’s what I want to do.’”

Long story short — 40 years long, that is — Woody got his wish, writing a sports column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch from 2008 until his retirement in 2019. This month, he was among nine inductees to the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, which commemorates individuals who have made significant contributions to athletics in the state. 

Woody is no stranger to accolades for his work — he has 15 awards from the Pro Football Writers of America, 10 from the Virginia Press Association, three from the Associated Press Sports Editors and two from the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. But this one is different.

A black and white photo of a man sitting on a brick fence. Next to him is a sign that says \"Virginia Commonwealth University, Commonwealth Times, Spectrum.\"
Paul Woody served as both sports editor and executive editor during his time as a student journalist with The Commonwealth Times. (Contributed photo)

“It was an unexpected honor and one that was a flattering culmination to a long and enjoyable career,” Woody said. “Illustrious? I don’t know. But it was certainly enjoyable.”

At VCU, Woody earned his undergraduate English degree in 1975 and his master’s in 1981. The lifelong sports lover gained his first sportswriting experience at The Commonwealth Times, serving as sports editor in his sophomore year and later becoming executive editor.

“I had a good friend who was the sports editor in Roanoke. I talked to him, and he told me, ‘Go work for the school newspaper and get started that way,’” Woody said.

Woody also met his wife in a VCU English class. They both received the same score on a particularly difficult exam — 92% — which he saw as an opportunity to strike up a conversation. For that reason, put together with the exceptional support from his professors and opportunities he was given, Woody looks back on his VCU years with immense gratitude.

“I came to VCU and so many things fell into place so easily that I’m shocked at that sometimes,” Woody said. “So much of what I was able to do, I owe to having come to VCU.”

From beat reporter to columnist

Woody’s career began at The Richmond News Leader in 1979, where he reported on local high school sports and quickly expanded his beat to include Washington’s NFL franchise.

“Friday nights I would cover a high school game; Saturday, occasionally, a college game; and then Sunday, an NFL game,” Woody said. “It was this great difference, but all of it was fun.”

Alongside his beat responsibilities, Woody wrote a column for The News Leader for a couple of years before the afternoon newspaper merged with the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1992. At the RTD, he transitioned to a full-time columnist role in 2008.

A group photo of six men wearing suits and ties standing in a room full of people
Paul Woody poses with some of his former colleagues from the Richmond Times-Dispatch at the Hall of Fame ceremony. Woody’s 40-year journalism career started at the Richmond News Leader in 1979, and he joined the staff of the Times-Dispatch in 1992 with the merger of the two papers. (Contributed photo)

Woody estimates that he published an average of 350 bylines a year during his career.

“It was easy to pile up the bylines,” he said. “The challenge was to make sure that what you’re writing is of good quality, and that you’re not mailing it in.”

In addition to covering 24 Super Bowls, Woody counts VCU’s run to the Final Four in the 2011 NCAA basketball tournament among his career highlights. He especially recalls how point guard Joey Rodriguez, after shooting an air ball moments earlier, nailed a three-pointer that helped seal an upset victory over the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks.

“It took some nerve to shoot that shot,” Woody said. “But that was that whole team, really. They were kind of fearless about things like that.”

He also cited the deadly shooting rampage at Virginia Tech in 2007, when RTD editors sent many staff members to Blacksburg to cover the tragedy. Woody wrote a profile on a professor who held his classroom door shut so students could jump out the window.

“Everybody on our staff who went out there did tremendous work,” he said.

Woody said that though the journalism industry has changed dramatically in recent decades, some things haven’t for career hopefuls: putting in the hard work and seeking opportunities to report and write.

“That might mean working as a stringer, staying up to 2 or 3 in the morning to write the story and then fighting to stay awake at your day job,” Woody said. “It might mean working part time on nights and weekends, where you’ll be given a lot to do and very little pay to do it. You might miss opportunities to do things with friends.”

A group photo of 10 people standing in two rows.
Virginia Sports Hall of Fame inductees (front row, from left) Rick Jeffrey, Monica Wright Rogers, Jill Ellis, Paul Woody, Dave Smith. (Back row, from left) Chris Long, LaShawn Merritt, Craig Littlepage, Paul Gartlan (who accepted on behalf of inductee Hal Nunnally) and Will Driscoll, the Hall of Fame’s director. (Virginia Sports Hall of Fame)

Persistence and initiative are key, he said – traits that ultimately guided him into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.

“I don’t know how many people from VCU are in it. I’m not sure how many people from Roanoke are in it,” Woody said. “But this guy, this little guy from Roanoke who sat on the bench in basketball and coughed so much running track that my mother was always concerned I was gonna get hurt … now look at him. I got this.”

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