Jim Reding used to sit at his desk for hours upon hours coordinating this newspaper's high-school sports coverage. No one was sure exactly how many hours he worked because often...

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Jim Reding used to sit at his desk for hours upon hours coordinating this newspaper’s high-school sports coverage. No one was sure exactly how many hours he worked because often he would stay after everyone else had gone home.

Yesterday, the only thing on the keyboard behind his cluttered desk was a bouquet of flowers.

Reding, 62, died of an apparent heart attack Thursday morning.

“This is truly a sad day for high-school sports in the state of Washington,” said Lem Elway, former Anacortes baseball coach.

Elway and other members of the Washington State Baseball Coaches Association had honored Reding earlier this month. The football coaches had honored him with a Silver Helmet Award last fall and the regional track-and-field officials association had honored him years ago.

“Jim was as dedicated to high-school athletics as any newspaperman in the state’s history,” Elway said. “He liked sports and he liked kids and he believed that sports were good for kids. I worked with Jim on the state high-school baseball rankings for the last 20 years, and his knowledge of the state sport scene was encyclopedic. He did his job with a heartfelt enthusiasm and love and raised the level of all those around him. I felt honored and privileged to have known him.”

That’s the way his colleagues felt about him, too.

“He was more than a co-worker and mentor to me,” said Sandy Ringer, a Times high-school sports reporter who worked with Reding for 17 years. “He was like the big brother I never had. He was a cherished friend. I feel fortunate to have known a man as thoughtful and caring as Jim.”

Reding ran a regular command post on nights with high-school results pouring into the office. The deadline pressure was intense and the mostly college-aged underlings who took results began keeping a list of his funniest outbursts, many of them laced with salty language.

“I’m a three-cent stamp away from going postal,” he declared to the crew one night when the bedlam had begun.

Another night, when someone had messed up a volleyball score, Reding scolded the offender by saying, “Just when I think you’re ready to take that next step, you take that next step — and it’s backwards.”

Reding was a perfectionist, and woe to any reporter or freelancer whose scoring summary of a high-school basketball game didn’t add up to the final score. Sometimes a long look over the top of his glasses, eyebrows arched for emphasis, got his message across better than any expletive.

But his outbursts were never personal, and even the targets of his frustration knew he had their best interests at heart.

His desk was a perpetual mess, with files and papers stacked three feet high. Yet J.R., as he was known, knew where everything was and would deftly reach for it.

“Where’s the Seamount League all-star team?” someone would ask, and Reding would just reach under a stack of papers and produce it as if doing a magic trick.

He was devoted to his job. Co-workers would worry about him if he failed to check in on the second of his two days off. He received lectures from superiors for working too much and politely ignored them.

Reding was once sports editor of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, but his heart belonged to preps, perhaps because he had been sports editor of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, a small-town newspaper where high-school coverage was the bread and butter.

“He gave me my start, and I learned more from him than I’ve learned since,” said Jim Buchan, the current Walla Walla sports editor. “Two things stand out: Attention to detail and an appreciation for the small schools.”

Jim Reding’s newspaper career spanned 45 years.
Jim Thacker, now in his 29th year of coaching at Walla Walla High School, used words such as “fair,” “positive,” “accurate” and “knowledgeable” yesterday to describe Reding.

“He knew Eastside (of the state) and Westside and had all the background,” Thacker said. “And he had an easygoing way about him. You weren’t pressured to say things without thinking about them.”

Reding, the second oldest of four brothers and two sisters, was born July 25, 1942 in Osmond, Neb., where he attended St. Mary’s parochial school. The family moved to Springfield, Ore., in 1956, and Reding graduated from Springfield High School in 1960. Though he was never an athlete, he was drawn to sports, and became the statistician for the school’s baseball and football teams and worked for both the school and local papers.

He attended the University of Oregon, where he was manager of the football team and majored in Journalism.

He continued writing sports in college in Eugene, Ore., and worked at The Register-Guard, Springfield News and The Daily Press in Newport News, Va. He then became sports editor at the Union-Bulletin, where he worked for 12 years. He helped found the Blue Mountain Sports Awards to honor achievements in the greater Walla Walla area, and the awards and banquet continue today.

He was hired by the P-I in 1979, and soon became sports editor. The Times hired him as a night desk editor in 1981 and he became prep-sports coordinator in 1988.

Reding was a bachelor who lived in a Capitol Hill apartment and always seemed to own a cat or two. He knew how to play piano and loved attending the College World Series with his brother, Ron, who lived in Nebraska.

Although he coordinated coverage of thousands of healthy high-school athletes, Reding himself was their antithesis — he smoked, ate junk food and didn’t exercise.

Yet Reding’s tireless work ethic astonished younger editors, and his passion and commitment to preps influenced many.

Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen first worked with Reding at the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.

“In Walla Walla, as a very green, 30-year-old publisher, he was one of my first examples of an editor who always focused on the reader,” Blethen said. “I will miss him, but he will always be an inspiration for me, reminding me that our job is to serve readers, not our egos.”

Alex MacLeod, retired Times managing editor, not only worked with Reding in Walla Walla but lived with him.

“He gave me my start,” MacLeod said. “I started in sports, working Tuesdays and Fridays. He taught me a lot about the care that goes with that kind of work. He brought more passion to the work that he did than almost anybody I’ve known. And the payoff from that passion and care was the newspaper’s high-school coverage. Kids, coaches and readers saw themselves reflected in the newspaper every day, and that coverage wouldn’t have been there without someone like Jim.”

Don Shelton, assistant sports editor in charge of high-school coverage since 1987, made Reding The Times’ prep coordinator a year after arriving. It was a decision he never regretted.

“Ours was more like a father-son relationship, and he was the father,” Shelton said. “We sometimes disagreed on things, but I always knew he had The Times’ and the readers’ best interests at heart. He loved what he did. There were many, many nights when Jim’s passion and commitment inspired me and pushed me to do even better. He will be greatly missed.”

He is survived by his parents, Eugene and Marie of Springfield, Ore.; brothers Ken of Casa Grande, Ariz.; Arlen of Fayetteville, Ga.; Ron of Norfolk, Neb.; sisters Judy Kahler of Osmond, Neb.; Diane Alexander of Eugene, Ore.; four step-children; 20 nieces and nephews; and 28 great-nieces and great-nephews. He was preceded in death by a foster son, Randy, and a niece.

Services are pending.

Craig Smith: 206-464-8279 or csmith@seattletimes.com. Assistant Sports Editor Don Shelton contributed to this report. Shelton: 206-464-8284 or dshelton@seattletimes.com