Thank you, John P. Cosgrove!

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Myself with former National Press Club President John P. Cosgrove at the Newseum. 

I was a young reporter headed to our nation’s capitol for the first time.

Prior to that, I had covered some big events, including Penn State football overtime thrillers against Michigan and Wisconsin, along with the trials and tribulations of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.

But now, I was on my way to Washington, D.C. for the U.S. Olympic Committee’s “Best of U.S.” awards following the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. I was there to write about our beloved Stephanie Jallen after she won two bronze medals in Sochi.

I was nervous. I didn’t know anyone in D.C. and had never been there (except for a field trip in 10th grade). However, I did have one person in my back pocket, and I’m honored to have spent time with him in D.C. before his passing.

John P. Cosgrove, a Pittston native and former president of the National Press Club, passed away Oct. 15. He was 98 years old.

Current National Press Club President Thomas Burr released a statement to members of the club on Oct. 16, announcing the passing of John.

“He was our longest living president, and I think we all know he occupied a giant place in our history,” Burr wrote. “He was a sailor, a proud Irishman and a journalist at heart. We knew him by the twinkle in his eye, and his ready quip and his warm way with all.”

When I first met up with John in D.C., he told me stories while we sipped on a few beverages at his residence, which is actually in the same building as the Newseum, only a few blocks away from the Capitol. The Newseum opened in 2008 and includes exhibits highlighting the communication industry, as well as historical events.

I was there when the Newseum had an exhibit with pieces of the Berlin Wall, along with its popular 9/11 exhibits with artifacts from the World Trade Center.

That’s where our day started. John gave me an all-access tour of the Newseum. When we walked in, it was like the skies opened as all the employees knew him. We took the tour, which ended on top of the Newseum, looking at the Capitol.

I was given a history lesson about the buildings we could see from that vantage point. He told me how and why each was built. He told me about his time as president of the National Press Club, and gave me good advice for my young journalism career, even though I wasn’t into politics at the time.

We left the Newseum and headed to the National Press Club, which might as well be a country club for journalists. Again, John was known by everyone and had his lunch prepared exactly the way he liked it. We ate lunch and he continued to tell me stories about key club members, and the stories the place would tell if the walls could talk.

At this point, it was time to head to the Warner Theater for the awards ceremony. We flagged down a cab that took us back to the Newseum.

I thought the last time I would see John was in front of the Newseum when I was about to leave D.C. Thankfully, I was able to catch up with him recently.

John’s name might sound familiar to people in Greater Pittston. When he decided it was time to close his office at the press club, he donated most of his political and journalism belongings to the Pittston Memorial Library — and wrote a check to the library for $50,000. He was in attendance when the John P. Cosgrove Center was dedicated at the library.

When John was a young man, he hopped on the political train and headed to D.C. to see if he could make a difference. Not only is he considered one of the most influential presidents of the National Press Club, he proved that coming from a smaller town, anything is possible.

John began working at the National Press Club in 1937 as part of the Associated Press. He held an office there for more than 70 years. He was part of a laundry list of functions while serving the press club. President John F. Kennedy attended John’s inauguration as press club president in 1961. Rarely did the Pittston native miss a club function.

I’m not sure if John ever considered me a friend, but I am forever in debt to him for the hospitality he showed me while I toured Washington. I’ve been back to the city several times since then and, because of him, I always know where I’m going.

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Journalism allows us to express ourselves

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A few months back, my company started a series called “Beyond the Byline.” This series is open to all 40 newsroom employees, whether they are reporters, editors or photographers. It’s purpose is to show that newspaper workers actually have lives outside of the newsroom. It has also been a great way for me to learn about my colleagues.

Last week was one of the hardest of my life. I had to send my beloved dog to Heaven thanks to a herniated disc in his back. Read the story here: https://timesleader.com/news/538649/beyond-the-byline-a-thank-you-note-to-veterinarians-everywhere.

What his series did for me was get some things off my chest in word form. And you wouldn’t believe the response I got from our readers once the story hit print on Thursday. By noon that day, I had already received 10 or 15 emails, along with several phone calls to my office with people offering their condolences in my time of sorrow. It’s amazing how people can relate to such a tragedy.

I will miss my puppy. However, doing something like this and seeing the amazing feedback is what I live for. I want to make people happy when I put words on paper or on their screen. Sometimes it makes them cry, like this case. In this industry, we live for the reaction.

Work all week, then work on Saturday

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Everyone knows journalists have extremely weird hours. I’m here to tell you it’s not all bad, except during golf season.

This weekend is my reporter shift for the Times Leader Media Group. Work started at 7 a.m. for me with posting traffic and weather information to all four of the company’s websites. Now, I shall take a break. This will be my sixth straight day of work, which is unfortunate. However, today should be an easy one.

See, I’ll be headed out of the office here soon to catch some late-morning high school softball between the only two teams I cover – Pittston Area and Wyoming Area. That starts at 11 a.m. Around 11:45 a.m., however, I have to head over to the 45th annual West Pittston Cherry Blossom Festival on the banks of the Susquehanna River. I will be composing two stories, taking and processing photos, as well as getting some video footage of the event. My shift is over at 3 p.m. So, how do I get all of that done? Solid prep work.

I have to write two stories on the festival – one for the Times Leader and one for Greater Pittston’s Sunday Dispatch, a weekly newspaper. I’m pretty good and busting out stories on deadline. With the Dispatch, the deadline for Sunday’s paper is around 2:30 or 3 p.m. on Saturday. I would say if I leave the festival by 1:30 p.m., the story should be buttoned up by 2:30. That’s when I’ll start to work on the Times Leader’s story, which has a much later deadline. However, I would like to get out of the office by 3 p.m. so I can salvage some of my Saturday.

Through all of this, I’ll have to do a write up for the softball game and make sure the photographer gets the photos to us on time. We’ve got a well-oiled machine here.

Although working the weekends is a little frustrating, it allows me to have the opportunity to work in a real newsroom environment for a couple days. I have worked in deadline, daily newspapers in the past, but it’s been about three years. Since then, working at the weekly Dispatch, the deadlines are completely different and a little easier to work with. The one drawback of this morning shift however, there is actual no one in the newsroom this early, except for Ron Burgandy and his friends.

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Spring time is time to create golf memories

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Fifteen years ago, my uncle introduced me to the game of golf. Ever since, the game and I have had a love-hate relationship but it’s always there for me when I need it.

I graduated from Northwest Area in 2007. During my four varsity years, I played golf in a co-op with Benton-Northwest. Along with my older brother and two older cousins, we were the only Northwest players contributing to the team at the time. We won a District 4 team championship in 2004, thanks to local star Tyler Brewington.

Springtime means golf is just around the corner as local courses start to open, and most look green as could be. We played Blue Ridge Trail Golf Club last weekend. The course was recently named the No. 1 public course in Pennsylvania by Golf Advisor and rightfully so. Yes, I stepped into the woods on the first hole and saw a snake. That’s a bad omen. Next time I snap hook a driver into the thick stuff, I’ll think twice about going after it.

One of my greatest memories while playing in high school wasn’t the district title, but being the only Northwest player on the team my senior year. I routinely got out of school at noon to go to golf matches (In District 4, matches were 18 holes as opposed to 9 holes in District 2). We had a match at Mill Race Golf Course against Sullivan County and there to see me were my mom and my cousin Anthony. At the time, Anthony was battling a sickness and that was the first time he had been out of his house in a while. I went on to shoot one of my better rounds in high school — a medalist, even-par 70 at the course in Benton. Having my mom and my cousin there to see that meant the world to me.

Once I graduated from high school, golf was not on my radar in college. I was asked to play baseball at Penn State Wilkes-Barre. However, when former PSU-WB Athletic Director Jack Monnick approached me, I decided to play. That led to a pair of Penn State University Athletic Conference championships while playing with the likes of local players Michael Haley, Stephen Sabol, Bobby Kanarski, Justin Sherin and Zach Aciukewicz.

The PSUAC conference championships both years — 2007 and 2008 — were played at Penn State’s Blue Course in State College. At the time, my brother Doug was the No. 2 golfer for Williamsport’s Penn College. Lo and behold, we ended up playing together in the final round of the 2008 tournament. Those kind of memories stick out.

College was a growing experience but thoughts of playing golf with my family never left my mind.

Throughout the summer months, my family participates in many charity golf tournaments. My brother, my two cousins and I are usually in contention for championships. But we’re a different breed — that makes it all the more fascinating. When we take the course, there’s no pressure or bickering. We get out there, hack it around and turn in solid scores.

Playing golf in high school with those three will always be a memory. But each year when we hit the course, new memories are written — memories of chunked pitch shots and worm-burner tee shots. There are memories of winning long drive contests and closest to the pin contests — memories of nailing 60-foot putts. There are even memories of re-routing our golf carts to make it back to the keg. It’s all in good fun.

In a few short weeks, we’ll begin the Mill Race Tuesday Night League, of which my brother is the commissioner. Once again, memories will be at the top of the priority list.

Don’t be afraid to wear a camera on your head

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Don’t be alarmed if you see thousands of vehicles parked on the side of the road while driving up Route 29 from West Nanticoke this weekend. The coveted first day of troutfishing is Saturday, and Harveys Creek in Jackson Township and Plymouth Township is one of the best places for a fisherman to be that day.

I can’t remember how many years I have fished that particular creek with family and friends. For the most part, we fish the “Hippy Hole” on the first day. The hole, probably about 20 feet by 30 feet wide, usually draws dozens of people on the first day.

The Hippy Hole sits about a half mile south of Chase Road. The catch to this hole, however, is there’s a steep concrete ledge that fishermen must scale to reach the hole. At the bottom, fishermen are required to stand on a six-inch ledge and risk falling into the chilly water. I’ve never seen anyone take a nosedive into the hole, but sometimes it gets sketchy.

I have a lot of memories of that fishing spot. When I was 8 years old, I wanted so badly to go fishing with my Uncle Bob and my older brother. My forehead was casting off a 103-degree fever at the time but I stuck it out. Around 9 a.m., my mom showed up and I was sitting on the ledge bawling my eyes out — I was still fishing and, for whatever reason, didn’t want to leave. My uncle is one of the main reasons I got into fishing and hunting. I hope to spend some time there with him this weekend.

Last year, I stepped up my fishing game and took my GoPro camera to take in all the action. It was one of the best decisions of my life.

I have no trepidation of wearing a camera on my head, or chest, or wrist or even mounted on a fishing pole. Some might think it looks awkward. They’re right. But it’s all about getting a great shot without using your hands.

During last year’s trout season, the first video I made was trial and error. At first, I attached the camera to my head, then my chest — both seem to be great ways to shoot my fishing expedition. This way, I could see my hands reeling in fish and then taking fish off the line. If you’re looking for something a little more “artsy,” attach the camera to the pole facing you instead of the stream. You won’t get any fish on camera, but your facial expressions may tell all, especially if you hook into a 24-inch rainbow.

Starting with the trout fishing adventure last year, my GoPro “game” has quickly evolved into other outdoor adventure. My fellow hunters and I shot a cool waterfowl video last fall and also got some goose hunting footage. My camera has also made its way to the golf course. The greatest thing about the GoPro? It’s worry-free.

The technology revolving around action cameras these days is incredible. The camera can be completely controlled from my smart phone which gives me a preview of the footage. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

For the most part, I like to set my GoPro up in a stationary position to catch all the action. If that means setting it up facing the hunters or fishers, so be it. Sometimes those shots are the best. However, there’s something about attaching the camera to a gun or fishing pole. Shaky footage puts the audience into the action.

If you’re out this weekend and you’ve taken a second mortgage to purchase an action camera, don’t be afraid to get creative. Last year, I hooked the largest trout in the hole only to see the fish spit out the hook on camera.

If you’re in the area of Harveys Creek Saturday, I like my coffee with cream and sugar. Best of luck to my fellow fishermen this weekend.

I don’t know why, but I can’t seem to sit still

So, I’ve started to grow plants in my apartment. Let me set the stage.

Living in Northeast Pennsylvania, we are “blessed” with about five months of favorable weather. Two weeks ago, it was sunny and 75. This week, we got three inches of snow on two separate occasions. Growing up, my parents always had a garden in their backyard where we would grow anything and everything. I started to miss that.

In late February, I decided to head to Walmart and check out some of the ways I can grow plants indoors. However, I did hours of research beforehand. What I didn’t know was how cheap it is for me to grow plants inside. I took the easy way out and bought these “preplanted” pots where you just add water. In two days, I had several sunflower plants, green peppers and some kind of wild flower. That cost me about $5.

But being the go-getter and overachiever I like to think I am, I decided to take on tomatoes. See, Pittston, Pa. is home to the largest Tomato Festival in the United States (to me knowledge). Each August, thousands of people come to town to celebrate the tomato. There are tomato fights, tomato contests and tomato sauce tastings. So, for the first time, I would try my hand at growing some tomatoes. It even crossed my mind that some day I might be able to submit a tomato into a contest. Optimistic is the word!

Believe it or not, it’s hard work. All of my plants are in pots and they are scattered on my coffee table. Cherry tomato and regular tomato plants are abundant, but are no where near producing any kind of fruit, or vegetable, or fruit. Hmm, no one knows what a tomato is. I water them every day and I can see them growing. I just can’t wait until they really start taking off. I need to get them more sunlight on my window sills. However, it’s still in the 30s at night so it’s pretty chilly next to the window.

I will say this: If anyone wants to grow plants inside, it’s easy. Don’t get your hopes up, though. Getting enough sunlight, especially in an apartment that sees only about two hours per day, is difficult. I’ll keep you all posted on how I do over the next several weeks.

POY banquet signifies what Greater Pittston is all about

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Sunday Dispatch Person of the Year Rose Randazzo with Sen. John Yudichak. Photo by Bill Tarutis.

This was my third Sunday Dispatch Greater Pittston Person of the Year banquet. I had the pleasure of introducing 2015 Person of the Year and breast cancer-survivor Barb Sciandra, who organized an event that raised $30,000 for cancer research, in 2015. I had the pleasure of working on many stories and visiting the White House after local skier Stephanie Jallen won two bronze medals at the Paralympic Winter Games – she was the 2014 Person of the Year.

But it never gets old.

More than 200 people attended our banquet held at the Gramercy Ballroom and Restaurant in Pittston. There were judges, former mayors – Pittston elite – all in attendance. There were also State Representatives and State Senators there. Sen. John Yudichak, representing the 14th Senatorial District, presented citations to all of our winners. His story, however, was the talking point of the night.

Yudichak was in Harrisburg earlier in the day helping pass a nine-month state budget impasse which was about to close education centers across the Commonwealth. He got the deal done and returned for our event. However, while traveling back to Pittston from Harrisburg, the Senator ran out of gas about halfway there. Basically, it proved we were all humans.

Former Pittston mayor and the first Sunday Dispatch Person of the Year Mike Lombardo presented the award to Rose Randazzo, Pittston’s Main Street Manager, for her revitalization of Downtown Pittsotn. U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Saporito Jr. and his brother Carlo presented the Joseph F. Saporito Sr. Lifetime of Service Award, which is named in memory of their father, to the family of the late Tom Tigue Sr.

Attendees donated to the Greater Pittston Historical Society for Randazzo, and the Miles for Michael Foundation for Tigue. In all, the event raised more than $1,400 for the charities.

For one night, the entire city of Pittston came together to celebrate two great people. The work they have done over the past several decades signifies what Greater Pittston once was and what it can be again. It starts with the people, who are caring, generous and willing to work outside the box to make it’s city great.

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The Tigue family with Sen. John Yudichak. Photo by Bill Tarutis.

Technology still amazes me

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As I sit here working on several different stories,  a quick glance to my left reminds me of how amazing technology in this industry is. We’ve recently started using a service called Chartbeat within the newsroom. On several TVs throughout the building, the statistics of our main website show up, and are constantly updating. Chartbeat allows us to see exactly what is happening on our site at any given time.

The service shows us several different things. The most important stat that is given is the number of users, or concurrents, currently on the site. It also provides statistics on recirculation, which is the number of people moving from one online article to the next, and engaged time, the average amount of time a user stays on the site. Finally, it tells us how people are getting to the site, whether it’s internally, from social sites, direct, links or search engines. It’s astonishing.

There’s only one downside to this. Once a story hits the web, I find myself constantly looking at the screen to see what’s taking off. All morning, the Blake Shelton concert has had users, along with a marijuana raid from last night. No surprise there. This thing updates so quickly, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of where stories are. It reminds me of watching the stock exchange. If only there were a buzzer or something when a new top story hits.

The technology is even a far cry from when I started the business just 10 years ago. We’re light years ahead of anything imaginable.

This photo makes me smile – all the time!

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Exeter resident Angela Sperrazza and her rescue, four-year-old Nikki, cross the finish line in the Leprechaun Loop One Mile Fun Run/Walk

Each time my girlfriend and I go out to eat in the Wilkes-Barre area, I have a tendency to find myself at some kind of pet store. Our local PetsMart has teamed up with the Luzerne County SPCA to feature cats that are up for adoption. Many of the cats are old – one my girlfriend’s sister adopted was eight. But it breaks my heart every time I go in there.

On Saturday, March 5, I attended the third annual Pittston City St. Patrick’s Parade. Prior to the parade, there was a fun run/walk. When the race was coming to a close – maybe halfway through – the next person to cross the line was Angela Sperrazza. She wasn’t alone.

Angela was escorted by her four-year-old rescue, Nikki. Nikki got a little sidetracked right before the finish line and took out one of the cones as you can see in the above photo. I just can’t get over the look on Angela’s face. I’m not sure if Angela is an avid runner or not, but I do know that look on her face has a lot to do with her companion at her side. The fact that Nikki is a rescue makes my smile from ear to ear every time I look at it. Best of luck, Angela! Thanks for setting up this photo for me.

Nikki wasn’t the only dog in attendance during the parade. Check out this photo below. I wasn’t able to track down the owners to ask names or anything, but the photo speaks for itself. You don’t need names. This is not an illusion. The dog is a giant!
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Sarah Holweg’s record-setting performance is one to remember

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Wyoming Area sophomore Sarah Holweg with former Wyoming Area player Nikki Conway.

With a bit of simple math, which isn’t so simple for me sometimes, I figure that I’ve covered somewhere around 100 high school basketball games and maybe another 30 college basketball games. Never have I seen something like I did on Friday, Feb. 19.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen anyone “on fire” during a game – until last night. Wyoming Area super sophomore Sarah Holweg scored a school single-game record 44 points in a win over Dallas in the district playoffs. She hit seven threes in the first half and nearly outscored the entire Dallas team.

I sat next to fellow reporter Matt Bufano, Pittston Area coach Kathy Healey and Nikki Conway. Conway was on pins and needles as her record was in jeopardy. However, I don’t think there was anyone at the game pulling for Sarah more than Conway.

I spoke with Sarah after a win earlier in the week and, off the record, we talked about a 25-footer she airballed in the waning minutes against Valley View. She says it got tipped, but I’m not sure about that. Looking at coach Chad Lojewski as that attempted three was in the air, I expected him to be frustrated with his all-star point guard taking a contested, difficult shot. Nope! Lojewski continued to give her the green light. And she let it fly.

In the record-breaking performance, Holweg was not left open. Dallas, one of the better defensive teams I’ve seen this year, locked her up pretty well. Each three was contested with a hand in her face. She has ice in her veins.

Since Lojewski took over the program two years ago, I loved watching his team play. He lets his players control the game on the floor. He doesn’t coach much during in-game situations.The Warriors have now put themselves in contention for their first district championship and a serious possibility of advancing to the state tournament. It was a long week for me – four games in four days. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. That’s what this business is all about.

So I thank you, Sarah Holweg and Wyoming Area, for making my Friday night busier and more satisfying.

Here’s the game story of Sarah’s record-breaking night, including video of her 43rd and 44th point: http://psdispatch.com/sports/local-sports/37984/wyoming-areas-sarah-holweg-breaks-scoring-record-against-dallas-as-warriors-advance-to-district-2-semifinals.