Hockey, hip checks and Hartzell

I’ve been fairly outspoken the last few weeks about issues surrounding government workers’ pay, benefits and expenses. I’ve generally just been cranky about my tax dollars paying for things my neighbors and I are not getting in the current economy.

Conveniently, that theme is engulfing America, from Columbus to Wisconsin to California to New York.

I still believe everything I’ve said.

Except — as it pertains to police and firefighters.

For them, I withhold judgment for one more week. It’s not due to principal, or due to technicalities, or due to any new understanding I have.

My pause is strictly self-preservation.

I am a police officer for two hours next Saturday at the Covelli Centre,

It’s not for the pension, or for the uniform allowance, or to hold a gun, or for the great discounts they get on pizza and subs.

It’s for Mike Hartzell.

Guns and Hoses 4 is a charity hockey matchup between area police and firefighters. Well, it’s mostly police vs. firefighters — save for each team having a few “auxiliary linemates” like me. Last year, the game took on enhanced meaning when it benefited the Mike Hartzell Scholarship Fund.

Hartzell is the last Youngstown Police Department officer killed in the line of duty. It was April 29, 2003, when Martin Koliser Jr. of Boardman walked up to an unsuspecting Hartzell on West Federal Street as he was readying for the end of his shift.

Mike Vodilko was working the day Hartzell was killed. Also a member of YPD, he talks of the day like it just happened — reciting the officers who responded from the two-state area to assist in the search.

“I don’t want to minimize others’ deaths, but when a policeman gets killed — it’s a huge crime against society when you start to knock off the people who are there to protect everybody else,” said Vodilko.

Howard Hartzell said uncles in the family were the likely influence on his son’s becoming a cop.

“He came home one day and said he passed the test,” said Howard matter-of-factly. And simply, like that, Mike was a cop.

He’s grateful for the scholarship fund that gives his son’s life meaning long after his death.

The fund is anchored by a summer golf outing that started the year Mike was killed. The outing at Knoll Run Golf Course grows stronger each year. It is the main seed for the $180,000 fund and more than 40 scholarships that have helped the children of local officers attend Youngstown State University.

The fund also is aided by a summer bike rally hosted by the Blue Knights and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 28. Add, too, this hockey game.

The game is at 3:45 p.m. next Saturday at Covelli, and for $10 you can watch us play for a good cause, as well as take in a Phantoms game at 7:30 p.m. Call or visit Covelli or the Ice Zone in Boardman for tickets. If you mention the Hartzell game as part of your purchase, a portion of ticket sales are set to go to the scholarship fund.

The better hockey for sure will be at 7:30. Our hockey before that will be old-school. (I’ll be the chiseled guy on the ice — 6 foot 3 inches tall, 180 pounds, George Clooney looks.)

We’ll play for the love of the game and for appreciation of a fallen officer.

Hartzell was one of the new breed of younger guys on the force, Vodilko said — a good kid from a great family. His death affects that generation of officers to this day, he said.

“Lots of our officers now were young then. It changed the way they worked,” he said. “They’re more careful now — and less trusting.”

Vodilko’s 36-year YPD career ended this week with retirement.

It’s a great age to grow a hockey career.

On Saturday, he’ll be lacing them up for the love of hockey, hip checks and Hartzell.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes e-mails about stories and our newspaper. E-mail him at He blogs, too, on

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