39-11-28 — my final stat line as an employee of The Vindicator.
For 39 years, 11 months and 28 days, I’ve been a copy editor, Sunday section editor, entertainment editor and sportswriter.
What an amazing journey it’s been.
Here are some scattered thoughts from being blessed to write about and work with some of the Mahoning Valley’s finest.
I’ve worked for four sports editors since 1993. Jim Nasella pulled the strings to get me transferred to sports. Nobody looked and acted cooler than Jim, who once wrote a blistering four-page memo that we probably deserved much of and ended it with “Have a Nice Day.” Classic Jimmy.
Matt Arnold replaced Nasella in 1995. Safe to say, Matt was the best headline writer The Vindicator ever employed. We lost Matt last year to cancer.
Rob Todor took over in 1999. As long as you worked hard, Rob would take a bullet to defend you. Seven years ago, Rob became the editor of the Alliance Review and Ed Puskas took charge.
Dedication? No one puts in the hours Ed does. His passion speaks volumes.
The original crew that I joined included: Ray Swanson, who had kindness for all; Mark Miller, who made every caller feel like their call was most important; and Bill Sullivan, who tries to hide a heart of gold under a crusty demeanor.
Also on board were Pete Mollica, John Kovach (Big John) and John Bassetti (Little John) — stay tuned.
Around 1997, Brian Richesson replaced Swanson when he retired, launching a new wave of young sportswriters. Monica Hare was with us for a year, the first full-time female member of the sports staff.
George Welker, the sweetest sportswriter we ever had, moved to sports when Rob was promoted to sports editor. Way too soon for our hearts, cystic fibrosis claimed George in 2001.
When Joe Scalzo came on board, our sports department was never the same. Joe is a hurricane of energy — his enthusiasm for work and writing energized us all. Before Joe, Big John said little, it wasn’t his style. Joe brought Big John out of his shell, nicknaming him K Man and turning Big John into a storyteller.
Little John should have been an oxymoron — the man has a voracious appetite but is constantly moving, burning calories. His lunch bucket exploits remain legendary despite his thin physique.
By far, Joe and Pete were our most popular writers. Pete loved golf, writing about golf and chronicling Youngstown State University athletics. One year after his retirement in 2010, cancer unfairly captured Pete. Pretty sure he’s enjoying heaven’s finest courses.
Joe’s fan club was huge and well-deserved. To Joe, why write a 15-inch story when you have 45 inches of material? And when you finished reading his stories, he made you want more.
Four years ago, Joe left for a writing gig at the Canton Repository. He’s home where he belongs, but he is missed.
In recent years, young writers on our staff — Matt Peaslee, Kevin Connelly, Brian Dzenis, Dan Hiner, Charles Grove, Codie Talley and Alexis Bartolomucci — have tried their best to keep me up-to-date in a world dominated by TwitterBook (patent pending).
BEHIND THE SCENES
You may recognize the writers’ bylines on our stories, but there have been many skilled people putting the paper together each night who didn’t get recognition. They’re called designers/copy editors and among those the sports gang was blessed to work with regularly are Jenn Schatzel, Bob Fusco, Jeremy Harper, Darren Constantino, Matt Arnold and Shirley Brown. They picked the photos to showcase our stories and created the headlines that grabbed your attention.
Tricia McChesney McCaffrey is a hero, the force who convinced our supervisors that I should spend nine days in California in 1989 when Howland native Linda DeScenna was an Academy Award nominee for set decoration for “Rain Man.”
The trip included interviewing Youngstown natives Stan Foster (“Tour of Duty”) and Ed O’Neill (“Married With Children”).
My credential application for the Academy Awards was decline, but Tricia urged me to make one last request two days before the ceremony. She was right — the credential was approved (the Academy PR crew apparently was impressed I was calling from a California phone number and decided we were serious).
On March 29, 1989, I spent two hours in a tuxedo trying to look cool in the California sun next to the red carpet, guarding the company’s Tandy computer as if it was gold before making it to the press tent behind the Shrine Auditorium.
The icing on the cake would have been DeScenna winning and asking her questions at the podium. Alas, not all dreams come true.
Still, it was a night to remember, one of so many in a career witnessing and writing about so many talented people and events major and everyday.
It’s been a blast, Mahoning Valley. Thanks for the ride.
Tom Williams has been a sportswriter at The Vindicator for 26 years.