Ron Strollo is beginning his second year as director of athletics at Youngstown State and the Austintown native is pleased at what he has been able to accomplish so far.
Strollo, who took over when Jim Tressel was named football coach at Ohio State in January 2001, is excited about what has been going on at the YSU campus the past 12 months.
"I'm really very satisfied with the first year, it was a great year for all our sports competitively," he said. "We began a new era with Jon Heacock as our football coach, we entered a new conference for basketball and our other Olympic sports and we have made great strides facility-wise."
The Penguins began play in the Horizon League last season and although they weren't at the top of the standings it was a good, competitive season.
"I think that we found out what we need to do to be more competitive in the league, and that's important," Strollo said.
Under Strollo the university has installed a new playing surface at Stambaugh Stadium for football and soccer.
Sprinturf was put down in June and will be ready for the 2002 football season opener on Aug. 29 when Clarion University invades for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
"We've also added some red and black paint along the sideline walls of the stadium and we are presently working on some extended practice areas on each corner of the East stands," Strollo added.
More of the Sprinturf is being installed in both of those corners and the Penguins will be able to use those areas for additional practice sites.
"We have completely renovated the Jermaine Hopkins Academic Center, which will be a beautiful area, and we are also in the process of renovating the softball, baseball and volleyball locker rooms," he continued.
"We also have a $2.5 million renovation to Beeghly Center, which will include just about everything except to the basketball playing and seating areas."
Strollo also said that the softball team also competed for the first time at McCune Park in Canfield, a beautiful facility with lights that was beneficial to the program.
"We weren't really excited about taking the program off-campus for its games, but the facility is so much better and enabled us to play makeup games under the lights," he added.
Strollo said that this year it will be exciting to see all those facility improvements in operation.
"We have a fun home football schedule upcoming and we are entering a very young period for our soccer and volleyball programs, but we have some exciting and outstanding athletes coming in there," he added.
More home games
YSU will also begin having more home basketball games, now that they have completed their commitment to the old Mid-Continent Conference.
"It will be good to see the Penguins at home more in the future," said Strollo.
The future football schedules are also being worked on, but Strollo said it is difficult, especially with the current eight teams in the Gateway.
"One year we have four home games, the next three and it makes it difficult to fill them up," he said. "The league would like to go to nine teams, but it probably won't happen in the immediate future."
He has contacted a lot of schools, but with new rules for Division I-A teams playing lower-level opponents coming into effect it appears that the Penguins will lose their connection with the MAC teams.
"The job, honestly, has been very challenging and I've been through peaks and valleys, but the community has been very supportive. Sept. 11 last year was something we went through and hopefully we never have to again," he said.
XPete Mollica covers YSU athletics for The Vindicator. Write to him at email@example.com.