Like her dad, Elissa Walker Campbell has made a career with her voice, but she uses her’s to convey sports opinions
Anonymous The Cleburne Times-Review Mon Sep 27, 2010, 11:00 AM CDT
On Saturdays at 11 a.m., sports enthusiasts tune in to KCLE/1460 AM to hear Elissa Walker Campbell on her regionally syndicated Big E Sports Show. It begins where the game ends.
I asked the Johnson County resident if she would share her story. Her replies would have filled a poignant Father’s Day column.
Elissa was a full scholarship basketball player for the University of Oklahoma and played for the Sooners from 1989-92. She’d been recruited widely, but she wanted to play at the highest level and at a Division I school. She graduated with two degrees, journalism and communications in 1993.
From 1993-95, she served as the Sooners women’s first basketball radio color commentator. She made her television debut as a color analyst for the Southwest Conference on Prime Sports Cable Television in 1995 and later worked as an analyst and sideline reporter for Fox Sports, NBA TV, ESPN and CBS Sports. She hit her stride this past year covering the Oklahoma City Thunder and working for the NBA.
Her greatest mentor and hero was her dad, the late Country Music Hall of Famer and Grand Ole Opry regular, Charlie Walker, best remembered for his hit, “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down.”
Although she is not a music performer, she inherited her father’s skill at interviewing.
Before he was recognized for his singing, Walker worked as a disc jockey in San Antonio on KMAC Radio and interviewed all the top recording artists.
“Dad hosted a five-hour daily radio show where he visited with stars like Elvis Presley, Ernest Tubb, Gene Autry, Webb Pierce, Johnny Cash, Ray Price and Hank Williams [who celebrated his 29th birthday, his last, with him]. He was a master interviewer and had the unique ability to connect with his guests and make each feel as if they were the only person in the room,” Elissa said.
After her first appearance as a commentator on national television with Fox Sports, her dad was quick to telephone. She said he offered encouragment and provided excellent professional feedback. From then on, they made a point to talk after every show.
Theirs was a remarkable relationship — one that could have been severed by her parents’ divorce. Elissa, her two brothers and a younger sister lived with their mother, Shirley, in Great Falls, Mon. Her dad remarried and had six other children in Nashville.
“All 10 of us siblings are so compatible,” she said. “You would never guess that we have different mothers. When we, plus our families, spent time together at Dad’s during the holidays, it could get a bit crazy, as we had all these conversations going — but when he spoke, the house became very quiet and the decibel level dropped dramatically. We wanted to hear what he had to say. All of us adored him and were exceptionally close.
“Dad was completely dependable. If he said he was going to call, he called. He paid for my airplane tickets to fly to Nashville to spend time with him. If I needed money, he came through. After I went on radio and TV, Dad’s backstage friends at the Opry knew who I was when I visited.
“Garth Brooks told me once how proud my father was of me. That certainly is a sweet memory and something I will never forget.”
Elissa said she was almost born in the backseat of Grand Ole Opry star Jimmie C. Newman’s brand new white Cadillac. Her arrival was hardly routine.
“Dad was in a recording session when my mother’s water broke. Jimmie and his wife took my mother to the hospital with a police escort leading the way. They made it in time and the headline in the newspaper the next day read, ‘The Bumpty, Bump Ride of Elissa Ann Walker.’ ”
Elissa attributes her work ethic today to her mother.
“Mother had four children to raise,” she said. “I have a deep appreciation for all single mothers. I learned at an early age to multi-task and maximize my time. If I wanted to play basketball, volleyball and run track, I still had to get my work done at home.”
Elissa has memories of helping her mother clean up their multiple rental properties when she was 5 years old. Her family worked together to raise Black Angus cattle, pigs and chickens. When the cattle market crashed, times were rough.
“I was the caretaker of my younger sister. I kept house and gathered the eggs.
“Mother liked to do the cooking, but she wanted the house clean when she started a meal.”
Elissa’s height at 6 feet has been an advantage in sports, although she towered above others as a child.
“In third grade I wore a size 8 woman’s shoe,” she said. “In the seventh grade I was 5-foot-11. It was never an embarrassment to me, though, because of sports, I think. My German maternal grandmother, at 4-foot-11, always told me to stand up straight and be proud of who I was.
“I’ve always demanded much of myself and live by the motto, ‘Life is not a dress rehearsal.’
“I’ve never wanted to live a life of regret and think, ‘Oh, if only I had taken on that project I wouldn’t have missed that opportunity.’ My plate has always been full.”
Steve Campbell, a petroleum engineer, and Elissa met at OU and married in 1994. They moved to Johnson County in March 2005. The couple has two sons, Stephen Jr., 8, and Eli Walker, 4.
Young Stephen recently placed 16th out of 119 players in the U.S. Kids World Golf Championships in Pinehurst, N.C.
“It’s great that his sports ability is there, but our goal and commitment is to raise Godly sons who will serve and give back,” she said. “Without question, it’s exciting to watch our boys evolve and learn to take responsibility. My husband and I often share Luke 12:48 with them: ‘[For of those] to whom much is given, much is required.’ ”
Motherhood has taken top priority for her.
“I’ve had to make some major changes in my life, and I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to work from home, and still be the point person as a mom.”
Her radio interviews are always G-rated.
“My goal is to have a program in sports that is unique to this market. We start with the high profile athlete and coaches and discuss what is timely, of course, but often the conversation ends up being wide-ranging. It is formatted to appeal to a much broader audience than just the typical hard-core sports fan.
“It is remarkable what guests like Dan Reeves, former head coach of the Denver Broncos, or TCU head football coach Gary Patterson will share about their journeys in sports as an athlete and coach.
“One of our favorite guests is former All-America defensive tackle for the University of Nebraska, Jason Peter. He had an incredible career in college and as a pro player, but his life got off track from his injuries and involvement with drugs.
“It’s exciting to hear him talk about his recovery, his happy marriage, the new chapter in his life as a father. Jason is an inspiring testament of how people can get their lives together again.”
Her most recent television work was working sideline for the Fox Sports PPV football game, OU vs. Utah State.
“That Sept. 4 game was a historic win for the Sooners, their 800th since the beginning of the program,” she said. “It was an honor to be a part of such a special game. I interviewed Oklahoma’s head coach, Bob Stoops, running back DeMarco Murray and the University president, David Boren.”
On her weekly sports talk radio show, Elissa has interviewed the biggest names in sports.
“If I could have interviewed anyone in the world, I would have chosen the legendary former Dallas Cowboy head coach Tom Landry,” she said. “His ‘faith, family and football’ priorities have always seemed right to me.”
For six years she interviewed her dad every year on Father’s Day. He passed away Sept. 12, 2008.
“I’m committed to keeping my dad’s memory alive with our children,” she said, “and I talk about him often. One day we were leaving the golf course and Stephen said, ‘You know, I listen to Grandpa Walker’s records, but I wish I could hear him sing on the radio.’ ”
She paused. As we sat, facing each other, I sensed something meaningful was coming.
“I turned on the car radio. Somebody was playing one of my dad’s records. I couldn’t believe it — it was a remarkable moment. I was amazed that God would reach out in such a tangible way to do something so special for two little boys.”
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