John Conrad grew up poor near the cranberry bogs of Bandon, living in a small trailer with his adoptive parents. He would crawl under a table to listen to baseball games on the radio. He was passionate about sports.
When he wasn’t winning games for Bandon High School as a pitcher, he was writing sports stories for The (Coos Bay) World for 10 cents an inch. He never thought about college until the principal brought him into the office and told him if his grades were better, he’d probably get an athletic scholarship. He improved his grades and earned a full scholarship to play baseball at the University of Oregon.
At the UO, Conrad pitched for the Ducks and covered high school games for The Register-Guard. In 1966, he pitched an exhibition game for the semipro Eugene Royals, but never played professionally. Before graduating in 1967, he was offered a tryout by the New York Yankees. He declined: He had an offer to work for a newspaper.
After graduating from Oregon, Conrad worked for the Salem Capital Journal before joining the sports department of The Register-Guard as a reporter in 1969. He was part of a department that, under sports editor Blaine Newnham, became one of the nation’s best sports sections. He became its sports editor in 1984. He was a member of its sports staff for thirty-three years, and was voted Oregon Sportswriter of the Year in 1982—not that he cared about awards.
John cared most about the story, the readers, and his staff. He was uncompromising in his loyalty. He was tireless in making sure the job was done right. Tony Baker, The Register-Guard’s publisher, said, “John was many things: reporter, editor, teacher, mentor, friend. He was a principled and passionate editor who led by example, setting the pace for his staff—fast, thorough and fiercely independent. Pound for pound, John got more out of his staff than perhaps any other editor at the paper.”
Rich Brooks, Oregon’s football coach from 1977 to 1994, notes that “In a small college town, it is easy to be a homer, and in some places, that approach is not only expected, but it exists. But John never fell into that trap, either as a writer or as the man in charge of the sports section.” Colleagues, athletes, and coaches alike remember The Register-Guard’s sports coverage of the UO under Conrad as straight down the middle—fair, honest, balanced. His skills as a journalist were sharp: Ron Bellamy, recently retired Register-Guard sports editor and columnist, noted that Conrad “wrote as fast as he pitched.” Recognizing the emerging story of women’s sports, Conrad assigned a beat writer to travel to Pac-10 games with the UO women’s basketball team, when no other paper of comparable size made that investment. As sports editor, he continued to cover major beats himself, including three Olympic Trials in track and field and an Olympic Games. He chronicled the Ducks through a Rose Bowl, a Pac-10 basketball championship, and an Elite Eight.
Over many years, his department consistently earned state and national recognition for excellence. While doing so, John earned the abiding respect of coaches, athletes, sports executives, and—most important to Conrad—readers throughout Oregon and the West.
Conrad died unexpectedly in 2002 of a stroke after Oregon’s opening home football game of the season. He was fifty-seven. The John Conrad Press Box at the University of Oregon’s PK Park was dedicated in his memory in 2011.