My time was special thanks to the people
Late morning, about 11 a.m. These grey corduroy and leather slippers hug my bare, size-14 feet on this chilly, snow-covered day as I make my way down the staircase inside my home.
My daughter, Alexa, enveloped herself in a charcoal black polyester winter covering with a furry, brown Chewbacca suit underneath and my wife’s purple, rubberized boots as I gazed outward onto our snow-covered deck to find her frolicking in the inches of white, fluffy precipitation doused on the Mahoning Valley.
The moments watching her in the frigid winter wonderland transported Alexa back to her elementary years, giving me pause as I think about my final evening inside the historic, aging walls of the Tribune Chronicle, a place I’ve spent the last 22 years of my journalistic career. My moments interacting with coaches, players, parents and co-workers, as I prepare for the new year with a new employer, are some I’ll cherish for a lifetime.
Dave Burcham, my first of four sports editors I’ve had at the Tribune Chronicle, assigned me to cover Youngstown State men’s and women’s basketball in the fall of 1998. He knew my passion for the game on the hardwood, something I’ve cherished, even in this maligned year of 2020.
Moline, Ill.; Nassau County, N.Y.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Chicago; Indianapolis; Detroit; Rochester, Mich.; Columbus; State College, Pa.; Pittsburgh; Dayton; Cincinnati; and Highland Heights, Ky.; are a few of the places I’ve covered both teams. It wasn’t about the venue, but an emphasis on the journey and the faces surrounding my path.
My sportswriting journey ended with YSU men’s basketball this past Monday as the Penguins hosted West Virginia University Institute of Technology inside the Beeghly Center, a place where my YSU basketball coverage began on a fall day in 1998 watching the late Dan Peters conduct practice.
It ends with my favorite men’s basketball coach, Jerrod Calhoun. I know some of you expected me to say Jim Boeheim, with my Syracuse University basketball loyalties dating back to the mid-1980s, or my alma mater, Kent State University, with former KSU and Cleveland State coach Gary Waters, who have the utmost respect of the way he transformed the Golden Flashes program into one of the best mid-major programs. Calhoun exuded that same passion Waters had in 1996 as a first-year KSU coach. Calhoun’s enthusiasm for this YSU men’s program has been more infectious than the spread of COVID-19. Success and championships will follow these Penguins as YSU is destined to become a basketball school once again.
I’d be remiss to not mention the YSU women’s basketball team. I was fortunate to cover the 1999-2000 team, the last to advance to the NCAA Tournament under the late Ed DiGregorio, a man who had passion for basketball, but more for the welfare of his players.
Current Ohio University women’s basketball coach Bob Boldon inherited a dismantled 0-30 YSU team almost a decade ago, far removed from the DiGregorio era. Boldon started the rebuilding of a once-decorated program. Current coach John Barnes, a defensive specialist, maintained and prospered over the remainder of the 2010s as YSU is one of the premiere teams in the Horizon League.
These Penguins are paused with a positive COVID-19 test for the second time this season. Injuries have plagued YSU as well. My wishes are for a healthy 2021 as these Penguins have their own championship aspirations.
State champions. I was blessed to cover the John F. Kennedy High School football team’s rise to the Division VII best in early December of 2016.
That wasn’t the first athlete or team I’ve seen hoist a trophy or wear a gold medal. The first was current Maplewood High School volleyball coach Christen Clemson, a national-level discus thrower who won multiple Division III state championships, as she saw her massive throws soar high above the tree line outside Welcome Stadium in Dayton, the site of the state track and field meet before moving back to Columbus in 2004. Seeing Clemson, who was a standout at Penn State University win in 2001 and 2002 weren’t the highlight, but meeting a very personable high school thrower was what was most memorable. It’s always been about the people, never the feats.
My last state champion was arguably the best distance runner this area has seen in Howland’s Vinny Mauri. He easily won the 2019 Division I 3,200-meter boys state championship, holding up his state medal. His reaction, show of emotion atop the wooden podium in the front middle infield of Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, was not lost on the contingent of Howland fans watching across the nine-lane, all-weather track inside The Ohio State University venue.
Lakeview’s Ben Moody, John F. Kennedy’s Chad Zallow and Garfield’s Lauren Jones were some of the many state champions over the almost two decades of the late-spring track and field showcase.
There were state boys team champions in Warren G. Harding (2010), McDonald (2011) and John F. Kennedy (2015), along with the McDonald girls in 2014.
McDonald’s boys and girls were both poised to vie for state championships in 2020. All spring sports were eliminated because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. No handshakes, celebrations or any kind of merriment. We’re all wondering what might have been.
I shadowed former Tribune Chronicle sportswriter Dave Dorchock in the fall of 2002 to Scioto Downs in Columbus for my first state cross country meet. It was the first time I saw what was and what will be the best venue distance runners in the state of Ohio had for a state championship. There’s no feeling like those distance phenoms coming over a short grassy crest into the infield. Spectators, when we could have them in this maddening world, would sit in the concrete stands on the opposite side. I was caught in the crossfire of sound as it reverberated past my frame. There’s no feeling you’ll ever have as a distance runner that will compare.
I weep for these current high school athletes who never experienced the wonder of Scioto Downs (now Eldorado Gaming Scioto Downs). The 2010 state cross country meet was the final one at Scioto Downs. Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich approved slot machines being installed at a few racetracks around Ohio. The Ohio High School Athletic Association opposes gambling. The slot machines would be not turned off during the state meet. Hence, the move to an NHRA track, which was a disastrous move for the distance community. Thank gosh the state meet moved to Fortress Obetz.
I could continue with many other topics, but it’s time to thank some people. Granted, I cannot get to everyone since we have deadline and only so much space in the paper. However, know that there are many of you out there who have my utmost thanks.
First and foremost is my co-worker Joe Simon. Those of you in the wrestling community are well aware of the legendary writer who is passionate about his sport. No matter the stress of the day, he could put a smile on your face and finds a way to make me laugh.
Brenda Linert, you have been the most professional editor I’ve worked for during my time in this business. You have brought a great, stabilizing presence we have not seen at this paper since I started back in 1998 with former editor Susan Svihlik, who was great in her own right.
There are plenty of co-workers I’ve had throughout the years. It’s been a pleasure working with all of you, but I have to thank my four sports editors, Dave Burcham, Ed Puskas, Dana Sulonen and Doug Chapin. I appreciate all of your leadership and molding me into the writer I am today, winner of six Ohio Associated Press Media Editors in my distinguished career.
Doug Chapin, I can’t thank you enough for letting me enjoy family time since you became my mentor in 2014. The best was seeing every game of my son’s senior boys soccer season at Cardinal Mooney High School, watching the Cardinals make history on their way to the Division III state championship at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus — the home of the MLS Champion Columbus Crew.
My son, Erik, who has a passion for videography and photography. He has followed me on many assignments the past couple of years. It’s been great to have you along for the ride.
My daughter, Alexa, I remember the YSU women’s basketball games and the time we went to A&W in Orwell for the Bristol-JFK boys basketball game. I’m looking forward to being dad in the stands, seeing you play volleyball next season.
Finally, there’s my wife, Michele, who I’ve been married to for the last 20 years. She has endured me working late nights, missing many family events and being the bedrock of our household. Then, she’s read countless stories and columns over the years. You, Michele, are my best copier editor, and always will be.
God has blessed me with 22 great years at the Tribune Chronicle. The great people I’ve encountered over that time is something that will forever be embedded in my mind as I end my sportswriting career.