In the months since Rick Woodson died in March, I've been asked a number of times if we planned to find another sports columnist. My answer has always been, "Maybe, someday."
In truth, I was in no hurry to look for one. In the 17 years Rick had written a weekly column for this paper, he'd become a good friend and part of the RBJ family. Rick's passing was hard on all of us, and out of respect for him I couldn't even imagine filling his spot in the paper. Not soon, anyway.
But there was more to it. Anyone who eventually succeeded Rick would need to measure up--and finding someone with his credentials and craftsmanship was not going to be easy. Who knows, maybe I was trying to set myself up to fail?
At the same time, I knew Rick would want us to continue the tradition he started. Doing that would honor him too.
Somehow, without ever really beginning to look for the right person to be the next RBJ sports columnist, I found him: Scott Pitoniak. Starting with this issue, Scott will be writing a column for us each week, bringing his own style and wealth of sports knowledge to the paper.
Rick and Scott were friends. As he notes in this week's column, Scott got to know Rick nearly 30 years ago when the Democrat and Chronicle promoted him to the Buffalo Bills beat. Rick was his counterpart (and competitor) at the Times-Union (yes, back in the days when Gannett had two daily papers here).
Rick started writing for us after leaving Gannett in the mid-1990s. In addition to his years as a columnist and sports beat reporter at the T-U, he'd been sports editor of newspapers in Honolulu and Washington state and assistant sports editor and reporter in Shreveport, La., where he'd grown up. Some two dozen writing awards, including two from the Professional Football Writers of America, were on his resume--and he added quite a few more while writing for us.
A native of Rome and a Syracuse University graduate, Scott has 35 years' experience in the newspaper business, including 25 years as a reporter, feature writer and sports columnist with the D&C. He's won scores of awards and three times has been named one of the nation's top columnists by the Associated Press. Scott also has written 16 books, most recently "Juke Box Hero," his collaboration with Lou Gramm of Foreigner fame.
I didn't meet Scott until this year's Rochester Press-Radio Club dinner, where Rick was honored posthumously with the George Beahon Award. A short time later, during planning for our PGA Championship supplement, I reached out to see if Scott would like to contribute to it. He readily agreed, writing three great pieces. After that, the idea of a weekly column naturally followed.
During a conversation with Scott about the column, I'd recalled that Rick initially had written only for our then-fledgling website. When we added him to the paper a short time later, I felt it necessary to explain to readers why a sports column belonged in a business newspaper. It now seems almost laughable, but back then, most business publications stuck strictly to business.
I could use the same rationale now with Scott that I used then with Rick: Many businesspeople have an avid interest in sports, and sports itself is a business. Both points are just as true today. But as with Rick, the chief reason we're adding Scott as a weekly columnist is this: He's a great writer, and we want our readers to have the chance to enjoy his work.
So look for Scott's column each Friday--or if you want a competitive edge, on our website Thursday afternoon, a half-day before it appears in print.
In two weeks, the Ravenwood Golf Club will host the inaugural Rick Woodson Memorial Golf Tournament, which will benefit the Brockport Foundation and its Rick Woodson Journalism Scholarship. Created after Rick passed away, the scholarship recognizes an outstanding student in the communication/journalism program at the SUNY College at Brockport, where Rick taught journalism and news writing for many years. All proceeds from this year's tournament will be used to endow the scholarship.
For more information on the Sept. 21 golf tournament, cocktail party and silent auction, contact Terry Quinn at email@example.com.
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