Growing up in Jefferson City, with his dad, Robert, working as the advertising manager at the News Tribune, Tom Rackers spent his days reading all about the sports stars of Kansas City, St. Louis and in his hometown.
Back then, five newspapers combined from those I-70 cities were delivered to the family’s doorstep – two in the morning and three in the afternoon.
“I would pour over the sports sections in each of the papers, reading the stories and studying the statistics,” Rackers said. “I guess that’s when my love of newspapers – and sports reporting – began.”
Rackers eventually joined the Jefferson City News Tribune in 1985 and carved out quite a career as a sports writer. That’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly iducted Rackers with the Class of 2023.
A 1980 graduate of Jefferson City’s Helias Catholic High School, Rackers joined the paper full-time after graduating from the University of Missouri in 1985. He was promoted to sports editor in 1988 and remains in that role today as the longest-serving sports editor in the paper’s history.
Additionally, Rackers is past president of the Missouri Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association and is a four-time winner of best columnist in the Missouri Press Foundation Awards.
Along the way, he earned multiple awards from the Missouri Press Foundation, the Heart of America Awards by the Kansas City Press Club, and Associated Press. His leadership also led to multiple honors for the sports section from the Missouri Press Foundation.
Overall, he has gone about it professionally, knowing that the true news of a story is what you would immediately tell editors once you return to the newsroom from a game.
“My first sports assignment was covering Fatima High School in the MSHSAA Track and Field Championships at the end of my first week of working at the News Tribune,” said Rackers, who in 1985 was hired as a part-time sports writer who also worked news and handled page layout duties. “I did it wearing a cast on my right arm after dislocating my elbow playing softball about a month before I started. Trying to find the right people to talk to at the meet where there were probably 2,000 people in the stands and the track was a little overwhelming. But I got through it.”
Rackers counts former sports editor Mike Flanagan as a key mentor. Flanagan’s move to the new side led to Rackers’ promotion to sports editor in 1988. Former sports editor Bob Bax also was a news side reporter at the time. Both shepherded Rackers through the early years.
“Mike was a good person to get my career started. I learned a lot about how to lead a staff and how to navigate the sometime murky waters of dealing with people in a town that loves its high school sports,” Rackers said.
His career saw the installation of boys soccer programs at Jefferson City and Helias Catholic high schools, and the rise of girls basketball. Rackers saw to it that coverage of girls sports were treated equally.
One of his best projects was a week-long, award-winning series in the late 1990s as MSHSAA considered its first multiplier rule for private school enrollments. At the time, there had been growing concerns from other schools about recruiting, with Helias Catholic able to compete against rural schools.
“This was an issue that was important to our readers, and we knew it,” Rackers said. “We had a front-page story every day, plus at least two stories each day on the front page of the sports section, breaking down the issue by talking to officials at MSHSAA, coaches and administrators not only at Jefferson City, Helias and Blair Oaks, but other smaller schools in the area.”
Rackers covered Game 7 of the 1985 World Series, and the Fifth Down Game between Missouri and Colorado in football in 1990.
Still, high schools have been his bread and butter. In his career, Jefferson City, Helias Catholic and nearby Blair Oaks have combined to win more than 40 state championships since 1985. And that number doubles when counting runners-up or Final Fours.
He also thanks family support, including from sister, Kathy, and brother, Greg. Rackers also points out two past assistant sports editors, Tony Hawley and Greg Jackson.
“This is a hard job to do; a harder job to do well,” Rackers said. “But I have been fortunate to work with great groups who have put in the hard work, but have had fun doing it.”