Last full-timer weighs in on feeling at home

This was the only job that felt like home.

I wrote for six different newspapers across four states in 12 years — half of which were full time. The Vindicator has taken up the final three and half.

Originally from Monroeville, Pa., my father’s promotion at his job and subsequent moving of the family to South Carolina during my sophomore year of high school set up years of changing addresses every few years as I went through college and into the journalism business.

I didn’t ask for a lot out of my newspaper career, I just wanted to ply my trade near Pittsburgh. As I was in state No. 3 in Trenton, N.J., a frequent subject that came up in phone calls with my mother in Mars, Pa., was “wouldn’t it be great if you had a job closer to us?”

Credit goes to my father for telling me about The Vindicator as he learned about the departure of Kevin Connelly through a work acquaintance. We knew nothing about Youngstown other than it’s about 45 minutes from Mars — I didn’t know what kolachi was until my last day. I emailed Todd Franko, ate dinner with Ed Puskas at the MVR and ended up being the last full-time sportswriter hired here.

One of the lessons I learned as a sports reporter is that you should appreciate places, people and things for what they are rather than resent them for what they are not. Whether it was Youngstown State football or high school track, I always found ways to be inspired to write about people who put everything into their chosen sport.

It wasn’t so much seeing the state championships or marquee games that made the job special, it was the people.

Here’s a few memorable characters and moments: During the 2017 Division II district finals, Canfield wrestler David Crawford found himself on the wrong end of an officiating snafu. Enter his father and assistant wrestling coach Dave Crawford, who did what I can only describe as the greatest act of sports-daddery I’ve ever witnessed. He successfully argued and overturned a bad call, which I had never seen before or since. David ended up winning the district title in double overtime and his first of two state titles. A year-and-a-half later, Dave Crawford saved Canfield athletic director Greg Cooper’s life by donating 60 percent of his liver.

I had some trepidation about taking over the YSU beat in 2017 due to football coach Bo Pelini’s reputation for a sour demeanor and foul mouth. It didn’t help that one of my first conversations with him was about the controversial addition of Ma’lik Richmond to the team.

It turns out that while he can sling four-letter words with the best of them, Pelini is a decent man and we navigated that stretch with our working relationship intact.

The thing I appreciated about him was his authenticity. Too many college football coaches present themselves as God’s gift to leadership and pull out all kinds of gimmicks of dubious sincerity. Pelini is about the game and his team. If he wasn’t enthused, he wasn’t afraid to let it show. I love and share his contempt for National Signing Day. He was among a handful of people at YSU who wished me well in light of our closing and I was touched by the gesture.

There were great people in this newsroom too. I need to take a moment to acknowledge my cubicle neighbor and the Lisbon legend that is Tom Williams.

After some Google searching, I have concluded he is the only journalist to have covered a World Series, a Super Bowl and the Oscars. He covered the 1989 Oscars because Howland native Linda DeScenna was nominated for Best Art Direction (set decorator). His top souvenir from that trip was a bone-crushing handshake from Christina Applegate after a “Married With Children” taping. Tom was a great source of support and friendship in my time here. He was the stable presence in a sports staff filled with excitable personalities. He easily has the best hair in Vindicator history with his mullet of the 80s and 90s to his luscious locks remaining intact at 61.

Away from the newsroom, my family was nonchalant about the highs and lows of The Vindicator — Bo who? — but they appreciated that I could see them on a semi-weekly basis and that meant the world to them.

This was a special job in a special place with special people. The fraternity in this newsroom is something that can never be replaced.

This was home.

Brian Dzenis was a Vindicator sportswriter for almost four years.