3. The longest-serving sports reporter, and, most likely of the entire News editorial staff, was Willie Ratner who wrote sports at the News for more than half a century. Born in Newark in 1895, he started at the News as a copyboy in 1912 and quickly advanced into sports writing.

Already an established writer at the News when Jack Dempsey was a young struggling fighter, Ratner was reported to have helped the young fighter financially years before he won the world heavyweight title in 1919 at the age of 24 by knocking out Jess Willard.

Ratner wrote a column at the News for many years called "Punching the Bag" which dwelt mostly with boxing, but covered all other sports as well.

In the early years after World War II, he called me a couple of times to cover for him on late night sports assignments for the News.

On April 4, 1980, I attended his private graveside funeral at Graceland Memorial Park in Kenilworth. He had died the previous day, just two months shy of his 85th birthday. I stood beside his widow, and joined the rabbi, the only other person present, in reciting the Kaddish (Jewish mourning prayer) as his casket was being lowered into the grave.

Six months later, on October 26, 1980, Willie Ratner was inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame posthumously. Henry Hascup, longtime president of the Hall of Fame, said of Ratner "He was one of the very top sports writers in the country for many years."

I had first met Willie Ratner in the late 1930s during several seasons of boxing coverage at the Newark Athletic Club, where we sat side by side at ringside -- Ratner for the Newark News and me for the Star-Ledger.

Although less than half his age, and still a teenager, he befriended me at that time, and mentioned to me a number of times in his "Punching the Bag" column during my overseas service during World War II, and always in his annual Christmas Greetings column.