Twenty-five years ago.
May 16, 1998.
That was the date I covered my first-ever sporting event in District 9.
It was the District 9 track and field championships at then-Clarion University’s Memorial Stadium. I was supposed to walk in my own graduation at IUP that day. Instead, I went to work covering the athletes in District 9.
I had no idea it was going to become a career at the time. I figured I would spend a few years at the Clarion News and then move on.
God had other plans for me.
First, I got my dream job working in Sports Information at Clarion University in 1999 (a job I held until 2015). Then my wife, Shenessa, got a great job. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Ah to take a moment to say thank you to Shenessa. She is a saint. She is everything I wish I could be. She is my rock. It is not easy being a sports writer’s wife. There are many long, lonely nights at home by yourself. There is the consistent talking of sports. Me complaining about stuff that she probably could care less about. But she has been by my side through every moment of this journey. She has supported me in everything I have done, and she and is a big reason I am the man I am today.
Twenty-five years of covering District 9 (and the last three covering District 10 as well) has brought a lifetime of memories, a lifetime of joys, and plenty of late nights (including this one where I am writing this at almost 4 a.m.).
I remember a lot of the past 25 years, but the one thing I didn’t remember until I went digging through my archives the other night was what the first “ball” sport was I covered. It was the Monday after the track meet, and it was Redbank Valley beating Northern Potter in a District 9 2A softball playoff game in New Bethlehem.
Northern Potter. My goodness. Where was that? I was a suburban Pittsburgh kid. I barely knew where Clarion was let alone Northern Potter. I had never heard of Ulysses, Pa. Had never been to Northern Potter High School – come to think of it I still somehow haven’t been there. It is one of just two District 9 schools I haven’t gotten to after all this time. Sure I have covered the Panthers a lot but I have never actually made it to Northern Potter High School (Austin – another Panther – maybe it has something to do with Panthers – is the other school I haven’t stepped foot inside.)
In those first few days I covered a track meet, a softball game, and a baseball game (Johnsonburg beat Clarion at the old field at Clarion University. I remember that game for some reason).
Since then I have covered literally thousands of events – probably more, I never did think to keep track – of games and events in District 9 and now District 10.
And the people have been wonderful.
From those first days of Brian Brubaker at North Clarion and D.J. Bevevino at Clarion putting up with a guy who knew nothing about Clarion County let alone District 9, to the countless conversations I have had with long-time District 9 guru Bob Tonkin to the friendships I developed with people like Larry Wiser, Dave Constantino, and Jess Quinn, who all have joined me in recent years to bring you action on video (who would have thought we would do video in 1998) and all of the great coaches, athletes, athletic directors and fans I have met. You all have made me who I am.
But three people stick out the most. Three people who are three of my best friends – Rich Rhoades, Jonathan Shaffer, and Rich Herman.
Rhoades was the Sports Editor at the DuBois Courier-Express/Tri-County Sunday at the time I got to Clarion, and we quickly became friends and colleagues. My knowledge of the history of D9 comes straight from that man, a Brookville native and a fellow Poly Sci/Journalism guy. The number of hours Rich and I have spent on the phone over the last 25 years, man we might talk more than any two people alive not living in the same house. I will forever be grateful to him and what he has meant to my career, but more importantly my life, so far.
Shaffer – I don’t remember the last time I called him Jonathan – was a senior at Keystone High School when I met him in the late summer of 1998, and he quickly became my right-hand man at the Clarion News (yes while still in high school. He was that talented) and my first real friend in Clarion County. That man probably has no idea how a high school senior helped a young sports writer five years older than him get through that first year in Clarion County. While Shaffer is now in Nashville doing things so big I am surprised he takes my calls – just kidding man – it was his idea to start a website on Geocities covering KSAC high school basketball that has led to where I am now.
Herm was the guy who hired me at Clarion University. He is the one who sharpened the iron into the sword. He is the one who encouraged me, supported me in my professional life for as long as I can remember. He is the one that still takes weekly, sometimes daily calls from me to talk sports and life.
Then there are my current business partners Andy Close – who was once a student-worker of mine at Clarion – and Brian Hagberg – who I have really only known for three years but it feels like I have known him for 25 years. Those guys are in the trenches with me every day. They are the ones that understand the labor of love this is. They are the ones I lean on.
People, as my buddy Coach Al Modrzejewski likes to say, “in the business”, like Paul Burdick, Jared Bakaysa, Mike Schnelle, Dustin Kifer, Scott Shindledecker, Bob Dunkle, Pat Kahle, JJ Michaels, the late Barry Morgan, Mike Kalinowski, Chuck Ferra, Jeff Say, Ryan Pugh, and so many more who I have learned from who have all a hand in making me who I am as a media person.
Then there are the the coaches who have impacted me in way that can’t be described. There are so may of them I couldn’t possibly name them all.
But Larry Wiser and Greg Heath need mentioned for helping mold me as a young reporter with advice I still carry to this day.
There was a conversation I had with Larry on our way across the old grass field at Varischetti Field in Brockway after Ray Reckner’s Rovers had throttled Larry’s Bobcats in the fall of 1998. I will never forget Larry saying that he would never mind me criticizing him but never criticize the kids. They are just high school kids. That is something I have tried to live by for the last 25 years.
Greg is the coach that made me realize that coaches in high school sports are so much more than just coaches. The talks Greg and I had in the locker room after Keystone hoops games about anything but basketball mean a lot to me even to this day. It showed me that coaches were more than just about sports. He is the reason I strive to create relationships that go beyond sports with the coaches I cover today.
While those two get mentioned, know that there are many, many of you that have made me the writer, the announcer, the business owner I am today.
The athletes. Without them there is no me doing what I do. They are the story. I just tell it.
From Jen Duhnke scoring her 1,000th point in the closing seconds of her senior season in 1999 to Kyle Cathcart dominating the football field like no one I have seen since in D9 to Jesse Bosnik feeding Josh Salter with ally-oops on the way to a state title to Tori Obenrader dominating inside and out to Owen Chambers raining threes all the way to the D9 scoring record the athletes’ stories and hundreds of more have been so much fun to tell. And, I can’t wait to tell more over the next 25 years (well maybe not that long, retirement at some point would be nice!).
The games have been so much fun to cover from state titles, including the most dominant team I have ever witnessed in the 2021 Clarion volleyball team, to state heartbreak. From upsets to individual dominance and regular-season classics, I have seen more great moments than anyone possibly should be allowed in a lifetime.
But most of all, I need to say thank you to you, the readers, the watchers, the listeners. No matter what outlet I have been at. No matter how you have consumed my work, you have meant the most to me. Every story I tell, I tell for you. Every word I write, I write for you. Every syllable I speak, I speak for you. I try to bring you the information you want, the stories you crave, the details you deserve. Without you reading and watching and listening, there would be no 25 years. So thank you, and I look forward to bringing you high school sports and beyond for a long time to come.