By Brian Yauger
Former Vindicator sports editor Ed Puskas said he is a better person after walking out of the doors on the last day of printing than when he first started at the paper.
“A better writer, a better boss,” Puskas said. “I learned a lot of things about the business. Experiences that are only going to help me down the road.”
Like many others, what Puskas will miss the most about The Vindicator is the relationships he’s built in his seven years there.
“I’m going to miss my friends and colleagues,” Puskas said. “They’re more like family. We were in a situation where I spent more time with Tom [Williams], Brian [Dzenis] and Dan [Hiner] than I did with my family.”
In Puskas’ time covering Youngstown State University sports, specifically football, he saw the last years of YSU’s dynasty under Jim Tressel, bearing witness to the 1997 national championship win and the 1999 runner-up seasons.
Puskas noted that there was something special about those teams.
“It always seemed like Jim Tressel had some divine intervention,” Puskas said. “A kicker would be lining up for a game-tying or game-winning field goal for the other team, and his plant foot would slip out from under him and the kick would miss.”
This isn’t just an observation about the Penguins team. This actually happened when YSU faced the University of Montana in the 1999 playoffs.
With 12 seconds left, Grizzlies kicker Kris Heppner lined up for a field goal from 34 yards out to tie the game. The kick went wide left and YSU came out on top 30-27.
“I saw it happen with my own eyes in Montana,” Puskas said. “There was one spot on the field where you couldn’t plant your foot, and that’s right where the kicker’s foot was.”
Tressel said his relationship with The Vindicator goes back to about 33 years ago when he became YSU’s fourth football head coach.
“Most of my relationship for the first 15 years was from a sports standpoint, and they were always covering us,” he said. “One of the neatest things that I found was that maybe two or three years into my time here, they agreed to sponsor the male and female Vindicator Student Athletes of the Year, which is a big deal for our student athletes.”
Tressel said he was constantly in contact with Vindicator reporters.
“We had press conferences, and we had all those championship times together. I worked with The Vindicator day and night … Really, we felt like they were our biggest cheerleaders,” he said.
Now, as someone who has spent the last 24 years covering Youngstown area sports, Puskas has come to a conclusion.
“You won’t find a better sports town than Youngstown for its size,” Puskas said. “I firmly believe that. People are so passionate about sports here. I think that’s what drew me.”
This is true not just in the fandom but also in the vast amounts of local talent.
“All the sports are so good,” Puskas said. “Once football season is over, there’s basketball. We’ve had multiple state champions in baseball, softball and track and field. You just knew there wasn’t going to be a lull.”
That’s why Puskas believes covering sports is so important. It bridges almost every divide and reaches many types of people.
“Sports cuts across a lot of different boundaries and different people,” Puskas said. “You might be a baseball fan. You might be a football fan. You might be a YSU fan, or you might be a guy who is following Mooney football. They all came to us, and that’s why it was so important. We weren’t just a football section. We wanted to make sure every reader had something.”
Puskas’ sentiment extends especially to high school sports. Many local papers release a special football season preview edition, and The Vindicator was no different.
In its prime, it covered all 45 football schools in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties. While staff limitations may keep them from visiting all 45 throughout the season, they made sure every team got their time to shine in the preview.
“The Boardmans, the Austintowns, the Canfields are always going to get coverage,” Puskas said. “In our approach, especially in the preseason, we try to do as much as we could to get to every team and treat them the same. At least in that football preview because for a lot of those teams it’s the only coverage that they may get.”
As for the people taking the reins of Valley coverage, Puskas left some advice.
“My hope is that the people taking the baton from us appreciate that they’ve now been entrusted in covering the best sports town for its size in the country … There’s so much here; I would hate to see those stories go untold,” he said.
While he doesn’t yet know what the future holds for him, he does know writing will remain in his life.
“I’ve been writing since I was a kid,” Puskas said. “So, I have every intention of continuing. Whether I get a 9-to-5 or something in the business, I’ll still write on my own. Writing is a part of my life, and I don’t see that changing.”
Tags: Vindy, Ed Puskas, Vindicator, sports editor
Summary: Former Vindicator sports editor Ed Puskas gives insight on the paper ceasing production, sports in Youngstown and his plans moving forward