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Before long, thanks in part to the 5'6", 240-pound Wilhoite's unmistakable physique, which one friend describes affectionately as "short and stumpy," approaching drivers had no trouble recognizing him. "People see him and think, We've got to pick up Marion because he's the sports man covering the team," says Troope.
Wilhoite sometimes gets calls from coaches who offer to take him along during scouting trips. "If I need a ride, I'll say, 'Yeah, I'd be glad to go with you,' " he says. "I get to know coaches that way." And whenever a local high school or junior college team plays in a tournament in a distant place, he often hooks a ride on the team bus.
His sports beat, which stretches some 50 miles in all directions, poses some serious logistical challenges. During the fall and winter he catches a ride to about 20 out-of-town games a month. In January, for instance, he usually attends eighth- and ninth-grade basketball games on Mondays, high school games on Tuesdays, Vanderbilt home games in Nashville on Wednesdays, junior high, high school or junior college games on Thursdays and high school games again on Fridays. He works in his office at the Herald on Saturdays.
The trick for Wilhoite is to cadge a ride for himself and his wife, Dorothy, who often comes along to help him record game statistics. She hasn't logged much time behind the wheel, either. "I think she can drive a car, but she's never had a license," he says.
On the other hand, Glenn Wilhoite, his 18-year-old son from a previous marriage, has been driving since he was old enough to get a license. "The things I'm not good at, he's very good at," says Wilhoite, who gave Glenn a car on the boy's 16th birthday. Marion's younger brother, Andy, who also lives in Columbia, drives the local fire truck.
Since 1986 the Wilhoites have lived two miles from the Herald. Before then they lived a few blocks from downtown—a short stroll from the grocery, the paper and the courthouse square. These days, if he has to run errands he calls on friends who aren't busy. In return, he pays the cost of their gas and does favors for them, like helping one pal with his office paperwork.
Wilhoite has a simple explanation for how he copes with arranging family outings, weekend drives in the country, vacations and other jaunts that people with driver's licenses take for granted: He usually avoids them. "I don't know anything but sports," he says, adding that he typically spends the day and early afternoon at the paper, heads home for lunch and fills up his afternoon and evening by attending games. When he finally returns home, it's usually too late to do much more than eat dinner and watch sporting events or an episode of the soap opera Days of Our Lives that he has taped during the day.
A year ago, after nearly 30 years of riding in just about every car in Columbia, Wilhoite was told by his doctor to begin a two-mile-a-day walking regimen to improve his health. He now tries to walk home from the office each afternoon, but when the locals see him tramping along, they have other ideas. "I have to fight off people who come along and want to give me a ride," says Wilhoite. "I tell them, 'No, I can't go. I've got to walk.' "