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George Von Benko

October 12, 2011

George Von Benko, Witer/Author (August 25,  2011):

First , can you tell readers about yourself – how you got started in broadcasting/sports Journalism and where listeners can find your work now?

I started in radio at the age of 15 on WPQR radio in Uniontown, PA. Just turned 59 – so I’ve been around awhile. Various stops along the way in Morgantown, WV at WTAE during the heyday of sports talk radio.

It was Myron Cope, Stan Savran and then me at night. Play-by-play for football and basketball for the University of Cincinnati and color for Duquesne basketball up until last season. I still do a sports talk show on Saturday’s from 10:15 am to 12 noon on WMBS Radio 590 AM in Uniontown.

I do a lot of freelance writing for MLB.com and the Pittsburgh Sports Report and do a weekly column called Memory Lane every Tuesday in the Uniontown Herald Standard. I also run the Pirates website for
the Scout network and you can find that at pirates.scout.com.

You’ve covered the Western Pennsylvania sports scene for a number of years, including color commentary for Duquesne basketball. What have been some of your most memorable experiences you’ve had doing so?

Covering all of the Steelers Super Bowl appearances was a big thrill and the Penguins first Stanley Cup in 1991 really sticks out. Having covered the team from its first season in 1967 – I never thought I would see that.

Who were some of the athletes you covered that left the biggest impressions with you – and why?

The super Steelers of the 1970’s were great to cover, I really enjoyed working with those teams, just a great bunch of guys. Maybe the most memorable interview that I did was with Muhammad Ali at his training camp at Deer Lakes.

You’ve covered many teams across a number of sports. What sport/team have you enjoyed covering most, and why?

Doing play-by-play for the 1999-2000 Cincinnati Bearcats basketball team. They were number one most of the season until Kenyon Martin broke his leg in a meaningless Conference USA tournament game. It still hurts because I believe they would have won the national championship had that not occurred.

You’ve come out with a new book – “Memory Lane”. Can you tell readers about the book and what inspired you to write it?

Memory Lane is a compilation of some of my favorite Memory Lane columns about athletes from western Pennsylvania and in particular the area where I grew up in Uniontown. When I was unexpectedly let go by Duquesne before last basketball season my father said now you have time to do the book and I did it. Dad who passed away on June 26 was the driving force behind me doing the book.

What are some of the things that surprised you most as you researched the book – and why?

Since I had written the articles previously there were no real surprises, putting the book together and going through that process for the first time was an eye opener.

The book focuses much on some of the more under-appreciated athletes in Western PA. Who were some of the athletes that deserved more accolades than they received – and why in your opinion didn’t they get that attention?

The first black All American quarterback was Sandy Stephens and his disappointment at not being given an opportunity to try to play quarterback in the NFL still sticks with me. He passed away in 2000 and I think it is great that he was just elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, I just wish that honor had happened when he was still alive. T

he accomplishments of some of the black athletes illustrates what trail blazers they were. There are other forgotten gems like basketball player Sam Sims who put up some amazing point totals in the 1950’s and Dick Washington the first black athlete to score a touchdown in Notre Dame football history.

How can readers purchase the book?

You can purchase the book at all Bradley’s Book Outlets, there are eight of them in Western Pennsylvania. Online the best place to get it is this link to buy the book on the front page of the Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame website on the right hand side of the page.

http://www.fayettecountysportshalloffame.com/

Taking a step back and looking at the Western PA sports “scene” today versus years ago, how has the Western PA sports landscape changed over the years and what trends have you noticed

The biggest thing for me is the emergence of the hockey franchise. Years ago I couldn’t get any of my friends to go to a hockey game and when I covered a game it was a sparse press box. Now hockey is booming with the fans and the media coverage is amazing. The Steelers remain a constant, but I was a huge baseball fan growing up and the losing has been tough to take – I’m hopeful that the Pirates are on
the right track.

On sports journalism as a whole – how do you think the coverage of sports has changed over the years – and is it for the better now?

I have worked on both sides as a publicity director for the old Eastern Eight basketball conference and as a journalist and it is much more adversarial and contentious than it used to be. Also as far as the broadcasting business experience was the biggest factor in gaining employment. That has changed drastically and in a lot of cases experience can be a detriment – they don’t want to pay for experience these days.

Any predictions for Duquesne basketball this season?

I remain in contact with Coach Everhart and I am hoping he can continue to move the program forward. T.J. McConnell should continue to improve, but they will be hard pressed to replace Damian Saunders and Bill Clark.

Any last comments/thoughts for readers?

Just enjoy the sports scene and be thankful that we have been blessed with some tremendous athletes over the years and we are still lucky to be able to watch some of the talent that wear the uniform of the various Pittsburgh teams

 

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