REGIONAL

Groundbreaking sports broadcaster, Springfield native Fred Hickman dead at 66

Steven Spearie
State Journal-Register
Fred Hickman was perhaps best known for co-anchoring "Sports Tonight" with Nick Charles on CNN, beginning that stint in 1980.

Groundbreaking sports broadcaster and Springfield native Fred Hickman, best known for anchoring CNN's "Sports Tonight," died Wednesday.

He was 66.

Hickman died of liver cancer in Kissimmee, Florida, his wife, Sheila, told CNN.

At CNN, Hickman teamed up with another former WICS-TV alumnus, Nick Charles. "Sports Tonight," with its "Play of the Day," rivaled ESPN's "Sports Center."

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Charles died of bladder cancer in 2011.

A 1974 graduate of Southeast High School, Hickman was inducted into the Springfield Sports Hall of Fame as a "Friend of Sports" in 2007.

Hickman got his start as a news anchor at KLWW-AM in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after earning his undergraduate degree in sociology from Coe College. He worked briefly at WFMB-FM before joining WICS-TV in 1978 as one of the station's first Black reporters.

In addition to sports director, Hickman also was a news reporter and sometimes anchor, recalled former WICS news director Les Vann.

"He was instantly a star," recalled Vann, who retired in 2019 after 42 years in television broadcasting and now lives in Asheville, North Carolina. "He was a very versatile reporter, but he was an unbelievably good guy, too."

Vann, who met Hickman playing Colt League baseball in Springfield as a teenager starting a five-decades-long friendship, remembered the two covered a story on an Illinois National Guard refueling mission that took the duo to Lincoln, Nebraska, and back to Springfield.

Longtime educator and coach Larry Garrison remembered Hickman as an attentive math student at Southeast.

Garrison said he followed both Hickman and Charles, who he knew in Springfield, at CNN.

"He was an intelligent young man in math and I was surprised he went on in communications because he could have gone on in the science field, but I was happy that he did," Garrison said. "I thought he was outstanding at his job."

Sue Davies-Yoggerst, a history teacher at Southeast, also had Hickman as a student. Davies-Yoggerst also followed Hickman's career and two remained friends.

"Fred remained the nicest man," Davies-Yoggerst said. "He never got a big head about being famous or important. I was just so proud of Fred. It broke my heart when I saw (about his passing)."

Hickman also had stints with TBSYES (Yankee Entertainment and Sports) Network, and ESPN after leaving CNN in 2001.

He was the anchor and managing editor for the former Black News Channel before recently retiring.

Hickman won two cable TV Ace Awards and a New York Sports Emmy Award.

Along with meteorologist Flip Spiceland, Hickman left WICS in 1980 to go to CNN, where he joined Charles. CNN had just launched as the first television channel to provide 24-hour news coverage.

Hickman also helped launch YES Network in 2002. Hickman was a beat reporter for the Detroit Tigers in the mid-1980s, briefly leaving CNN before returning.

Hickman is survived by his wife and two adult children.

Funeral services will be held in Tallahassee, Florida. There is no date yet.

Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, sspearie@sj-r.com, twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.