WRAL-TV Sports Anchor Tom Suiter stepped down from the news desk several years ago, but in true Capitol Broadcasting fashion we couldn’t completely let him go. Suiter kindly stayed on to continue to host “Football Friday” each fall and continued presenting the Extra Effort Award to amazing student-athletes in the Triangle. But he is now ready to completely step away from the working world and truly immerse himself in full-blown retirement. Two of his biggest fans at WRAL penned articles for WRAL.com, WRALSportsFan.com and HighSchoolOT.com. Here’s what they had to say about the WRAL sports legend.
After 35 Years of ‘Football Friday,’ Tom Suiter to Retire
By Nick Stevens
They say all good things must come to an end.
After 35 years of hosting “Football Friday” during the fall and presenting the “Extra Effort Award” to deserving student-athletes, longtime WRAL-TV sports anchor Tom Suiter is retiring.
Since the 1980s, Suiter has hosted a high school football highlights show that set the standard for high school football coverage. The show evolved over time from part of the late newscast to the current 30-minute format.
“‘Football Friday’ started out as a low-key concept that built and built and built. In 1984, I got a letter from the NCHSAA saying our coverage was the best they had ever seen, and we covered eight games,” Suiter recalled.
The show has grown tremendously since then. On an average week, ‘Football Friday’ crews cover parts of 28 games.
“I don’t think people understand all the work that goes into planning that show. Now there are so many schools. To cover 28 games with 13 crews, it takes a lot of planning,” Suiter said. “I think a lot of people think we just show up and do it, but it takes hours of planning to try and figure out how to get things done. It’s like putting together a puzzle, but that was the fun part.”
His coworkers know how much Suiter put into his work, and it is one of the reasons he is highly respected in the newsroom.
“Over the years, Tom earned the respect of many people in the world of sports, the communities he covered, and right here at WRAL,” WRAL-TV News Director Rick Gall said. “No one cares more about accuracy and fairness. No one works or tries harder. No one strives for excellence more than Tom. Whatever the hurdles, Tom finds ways around them.”
“If I was doing the ‘NFL Today,’ I would not have put more effort into that than I did ‘Football Friday.’ I was proud of ‘Football Friday.’ I was proud of the people who worked on it, and I always felt like it was part of a team.”
Teamwork is something Suiter says he learned himself through high school athletics, and that is one reason he believes covering high school sports is important.
“When I took over as the main sports anchor in 1981, I always felt like there was more we could do with high school sports, and with the help of people like Bob Holliday (former WRAL-TV sports director), we did that,” said Suiter. “High school sports are important because they teach teamwork. When you’re in high school, it might be the last time you get to be part of a team, and I think being part of a team is extremely special.”
Suiter recalled receiving a letter from a viewer who had just moved to the area from Houston. The viewer complained that Suiter showed too much high school sports coverage and not enough Hakeem Olajuwon coverage.
“I said, ‘Well, Hakeem doesn’t live in our community, and these kids do,'” Suiter remembered. “We can still cover colleges very, very well, and we did, but we can also cover high schools really well, and we did that too.”
While Suiter is very proud of “Football Friday,” he’s especially proud of what the Extra Effort Award has become. Each week during the school year, Suiter presents the award to a student-athlete who is talented on the field or court, strong in the classroom and involved in the community.
“Kids get a bad reputation sometimes, but we were able to show that there are really some outstanding kids out there,” said Suiter. “Some of the kids are just incredible – valedictorians, outstanding athletes who are involved in their communities.”
It is estimated that Suiter has given out about 1,000 Extra Effort Awards over the last 35 years.
“Nobody thought in 1981, when we started the Extra Effort Award, that it would still be around 35 years later,” Suiter said. “I will always remember meeting some really outstanding people – the kids, the coaches, the teachers, the administrators. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them.”
Suiter is the only anchor to ever host “Football Friday,” but the show will continue to air on WRAL-TV this fall, hosted by WRAL-TV sports anchor Jeff Gravley. The Extra Effort Award will also continue next school year.
For his contributions to high school sports through “Football Friday” and the Extra Effort Award, Suiter was inducted into the N.C. High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame – one of just two members of the media to receive the honor.
“That is such an honor, and I think it’s an honor that I didn’t really deserve, but I’m so proud to be in there. I think that should be reserved for the coaches, teachers and administrators. They’re at the school every single day, I just show up once a week and do what I’m supposed to do,” Suiter said.
NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said it is “a sad day” for the NCHSAA to learn Suiter is retiring.
“Tom’s contributions to the high school athletics community have been incredible, as demonstrated by his passion for covering the high school athlete,” Tucker said in a written statement. “Tom treated all with a great amount of respect and honor. He is an exemplary member of our NCHSAA Hall of Fame. His presence, passion and dedication to covering high school athl etics will be greatly missed.”
Suiter is also a member of the N.C. Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, the National Academy of Arts & Sciences Silver Circle for the Midsouth Region and the Nash-Edgecombe Counties Hall of Fame. He has also received two regional Emmys, was named the 1990 North Carolina Sportscaster of the Year and has won numerous awards from the Associated Press and United Press.
Suiter has worked at WRAL for 45 years. He was the 6 p.m. sports anchor for nearly 28 of those years, before shifting to part-time in 2008. He stayed on to continue his signature franchises.
“In local television, there are not many of these franchises that last as long as these two things – “Football Friday” and the Extra Effort Award – and I’m very proud to be involved in them at the ground floor,” Suiter said.
There’s only one Tom Suiter
By Nick Stevens
As I was writing the story that announced the retirement of Tom Suiter, a lot of things came to mind.
Like many other people, I had my first encounter with Tom Suiter when I was a young, aspiring journalist – a senior in high school who was writing a couple blogposts a week for WRAL.com.
Riverside’s football team had made a Cinderella run to the 4-AA state championship game, and Tom wanted to know what I thought about the Pirates winning the Fabulous 15 trophy. I don’t know how much my opinion really mattered, but what did matter to me was the fact that Tom Suiter was calling my house to talk to me.
Soon after I went to WRAL to watch the evening sportscast, then Tom took me out to dinner. He asked me about what I wanted to do, why I wanted to get into sports media, and he joked (or maybe it wasn’t a joke) about the reasons I shouldn’t get into the business. We talked for a couple hours that night, and that was the first of hundreds of conversations I would have with Tom over the next nine years.
Every year since then Tom has come to me to talk about the Fabulous 15 Poll each week. I even helped him come up with a preseason poll that featured a team in the top five who ended up with only one or two wins that season. Even so, he still asked for my input.
There are literally dozens (maybe hundreds) of people who have a similar story with Tom Suiter. He is always willing to talk to someone or help someone, even if that person will never be able to return the favor. In an industry that is full of egos, Tom Suiter is as humble a person as you will find.
And that is why he is who he is.
Tom has a unique ability to be serious and funny at the same time. When crunch time hits for “Football Friday,” everyone involved has at least some sense of stress. After all, we’re under a deadline and it isn’t easy getting 28 games on television. But somehow, someway, Tom Suiter is going to make you laugh. He has his own catch phrases that everyone in the newsroom finds themselves using. And if you don’t have a Tom Suiter impersonation voice you’re doing something wrong.
A few years ago I was tasked with shooting the Extra Effort Award each week. I’m not sure who was more nervous about that assignment – me or him. We had a conversation on the phone one day about whether or not I even knew how to shoot a story like that. The answer was no, but I learned.
The Extra Effort Award is a production. We spend several hours going to the school, shooting interviews and other video, and then coming back to the television station where Tom listens to the interviews (usually several times) and puts together his story. Then I would edit the story and wait for Tom to come in and give his approval. And that’s when I would re-edit the story. It was tiring at times, but I learned more about shooting, editing, interviewing, and storytelling in that school year than at any other point in my career.
Tom is willing to teach anyone anything he can, and I am lucky and thankful to have been the beneficiary of that. I am better at my job because of it.
But perhaps the most important thing I have learned from Tom is the importance of kindness. You will never convince me that there is a kinder human being.
On any given day, you may walk back to the sports office and find a high school kid or college student talking with Tom. The number of people who have come to work at WRAL because of a recommendation from Tom Suiter is astonishing. There are longtime employees at the television station who got their start on “Football Friday.” Others have gone on to other stations, while some are at national networks.
Tom always made time to help other people – people who would never be able to help him. I’ve heard Tom talk about the importance of kindness on many occasions, but he doesn’t just talk about it, he demonstrates it.
When Tom comes in the backdoor of the television station (because he never uses the front door), you know he’s coming before he gets to your desk. You hear him greet everyone he passes and you hear them respond. Then you’re likely to hear, “Want a cookie?” Tom brings a bag of cookies to the station almost every time he comes – not for himself, for everyone else.
Simple acts of kindness, taking time out of his day to help someone else just because he can – those are the things that I will remember most about Tom.
Tom has earned his retirement. He has worked hard for 45 years at WRAL-TV. But Tom’s impact on the television station and the people who work there – myself included – will last for a long time. And that is why there is only one Tom Suiter.
Suiter’s support for high school sports lives in Football Friday, Extra Effort
by Jeff Gravley
On June 2, 1971, Tom Suiter walked through the door at WRAL for his first day on the job.
On June 2, 2016, Tom completed his final assignment for WRAL with the airing of the Extra Effort Award.
That’s 45 years of outstanding service at one TV station – a rare feat of longevity.
In a time of impatience and transfers, Tom stayed the course at WRAL. It’s not like he didn’t have other opportunities either. In the mid-eighties, I helped him put together, what I think, was the only resume tape he ever had. A station in Dallas was very interested in hiring Tom, but he decided to stay here in Raleigh.
He not only left footprints in the sand that will never be washed away, Tom helped so many people who were interested in getting into television.
He allowed me to enter WRAL as an intern back in 1985. My very first day he accused me of stealing his pen. (He still believes I did, but I disagree.)
Early on, I earned his trust enough to cue up the videotapes that aired in his sportscast. I hadn’t been here a month when I miscued one of the stories in Tom’s sportscast. Instead of hearing Bob Holliday’s voice, all that was heard was the dripping water in a lake. “That’s the wrong tape!!” Tom belted out. It was a great lesson in paying very close attention to every part of the process of TV.
Tom is a perfectionist who meticulously pored over his scripts before going on the air. He read them aloud to hear what it would sound like.
“JAMBURGER!!!!” was one of my favorite Suiter phrases. He used that to punctuate a superior dunk in basketball. It was so popular that we did an ACC basketball preview special and called it “Tom Suiter’s Jamburger Special.” Or what about “CRUNCHBURGER!!” which Tom said on the mighty swing of a home run.
Those phrases evaporated when Tom retired from the WRAL anchor desk in 2008. But he continued to pour his heart and soul into two franchises he created, the Extra Effort Award and Football Friday.
Those two franchises will continue on WRAL. They aren’t going anywhere.
You don’t spend 35 years building a house and then tear it down when the main tenant leaves. You put on a fresh coat of paint, move the furniture around a bit and keep the house alive.
That’s what we plan to do with Football Friday and the Extra Effort Award. It’s one way to say thank you to Tom for his incredible years of dedication and service to our viewing area.
Thanks to HighSchoolOT.com’s Nick Stevens and WRAL-TV’s Jeff Gravley for this capcom story.