Honoring a Legend – 3/26

To this day, there are moments when I walk into the radio booth at GIANT Center and think “oops.. this isn’t the right door.”

I still remember coming to this venue as the visitor and walking down the press row hall to catch up with John Walton on lineups, recent play, and have a few hard laughs about stories emanating from the former “I-81 Mafia” (myself, John and Binghamton’s Grady Whittenburg).

I can still remember hoping we weren’t going to be whipped to badly by the mighty Hershey Bears.  But now I realize that I AM in the right place.

One man took a chance on hiring me on the very same day that I lost a dear member of my family.  On Tuesday, August 23, 2011, I was leaving the Grontkowski Funeral Home in Nanticoke, just south of my home town of Laflin, near Wilkes-Barre.  My great Uncle Syl Kuligowski was one of my idols growing up because of the wide array of eloquent $100 words he used to use when talking to me and my brothers.  I used to laugh at those instances, and then promptly head to find a dictionary.  On my desk at my parents’ house sits one of the last birthday cards I received from him.  The words are tremendous.  And there is still $1 inside it.

Most people know that I hold a degree in meteorology from Penn State, and – via a whirlwind of story outcomes – jumped into the American Hockey League to work for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins with only a half-hour in between careers as a TV meteorologist.

There is only one man who would have taken a chance to bring someone who truly loves calling games to the most historic AHL franchise.  One man who could convince this dedicated fan base “hey, give this guy a chance.  We will mold him into our next voice.”

Doug Yingst is that man.

I dedicate my two broadcast careers to my great Uncle Syl because of his ability to speak and get people’s attention.  He was an instructor at Canisius High School in Buffalo, New York.  He taught two things: economics and driver’s education.  His most famous student was the late Tim Russert (former host of NBC’s Meet the Press), who wrote about him in one of his books.  At the funeral, Russert’s book was open to the pages in which he mentioned Uncle Syl.  That was a tough, draining day.  He was in the Merchant Marines, and the military ceremony will always be in my mind.  He and a few other family members now deceased, along with my thankfully healthy Dad, are the very reason that I get chills during any of the national anthems played before all of our games – here or on the road.  (I think Utica’s pre-game anthem last night was wonderful).

And I truly believe he was right there with me at 2:00 PM on August 23, 2011, when I walked away from the post-funeral luncheon over to my car.  As soon as I buckled my seatbelt to head for home on that warm and sunny day, I received a phone call, with a voice at the other end of the line saying “we would love to have you as our next voice of the Hershey Bears.”

I hope I’ve made my great uncle proud.  And I will never stop trying to make our fans, and readers of this blog, proud as well.  I won’t succeed for some people, I know that.  But I’m not going to stop trying.

Thank you, Doug, for bringing me to Hershey.  I really hope I can be the voice that calls your sixth – my first – and the Bears’ 12th – Calder Cup championship.