Leechburg native collects 4th Sports Emmy at ESPN
Growing up in 1980s Leechburg, Denny Wolfe dreamed of stacking his shelves with awards he'd earn playing alongside Mario Lemieux in the National Hockey League.
That vision didn't quite pan out. But three decades later, Wolfe can still say he's worked professionally with Lemieux, and there are plenty of awards to fill the shelf space in his Bristol, Conn., home.
Wolfe, 39, took home his fourth Sports Emmy in 11 years on Tuesday as a feature producer for ESPN. He was among a crew of 15 to be recognized for their work on an Outstanding Short Feature at the 35th annual awards ceremony in New York City.
The feature, titled “Richie Parker: Drive,” showcases the ingenuity and resilience of a Hendrick Motorsports engineer who has overcome the challenges of being born without arms.
“It's a great story, and it's a wonderful feeling to be recognized like that for all the hard work that all of us put in on a daily basis,” he said. “Whenever something like this happens with my job, I always think back to the values I picked up in Leechburg.
“It's a small town, and you're taught to dream big,” he said. “Sometimes it doesn't work out. I've been fortunate that it did.”
Wolfe largely attributes his individual success to his support system in Leechburg, population 2,156.
It was his father, Dennis, that first introduced him to sports journalism. As the public address announcer for the Leechburg Area High School football games, Dennis would let him watch the games from the booth with the local sports writers at a young age.
“I loved sports and I loved to write,” he said. “When I realized you could get paid for both, I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
Wolfe pursued his new passion as early as third grade when he began reporting sports for his David Leech Elementary class' fake TV show. He began writing in seventh grade when he joined the student newspaper and knew then that he'd pursue a communication degree in college.
“He was always a driven kid,” his father said. “If he wanted something, he went after it, and he'd get it.”
Wolfe enrolled in Westminster College in 1993 and immediately got involved in the school's TV and radio stations, doing the weekly play-by-play commentary for the football team.
Wolfe spent the summer months of his college years covering sports for the Valley News Dispatch.
“That was a great experience for me,” he said. “(Then sports editor Kevin Smith) took a chance on me and that allowed me to get my feet wet with my first real-world media job.”
Wolfe interviewed at ESPN immediately following graduation in 1997 and was brought on as a temporary production assistant shortly after. The network brought him on full time that November.
In 2003 and 2004, Wolfe received back-to-back Sports Emmys for his contributions to “SportsCenter.”
He was later promoted and earned another Emmy in 2006 for his work on “Sunday NFL Countdown,” where he produces a series of features that provided in-depth looks into the league's players and coaches.
“The coolest part of this job is that you sometimes meet and work with the guys you grew up idolizing,” Wolfe said. “Sometimes, I still fell like the die-hard sports fan kid from Leechburg when I'm at work.”
Brackets with Barack
Wolfe's job has afforded him the opportunity to meet President Obama for the “Barack-etology” segment in which the president fills out his March Madness bracket. He's also had the opportunity to work with some of his favorite athletes from childhood like Michael Irvin — and Mario Lemieux.
But none of the subjects for the features he's worked on, he said, have left more of an impression on him than Richie Parker, the focus of the latest award-winning piece.
“The things that he's able to overcome and the challenges he faces in his daily life really puts things in perspective,” he said. “Sometimes it's easy to complain when you think the deck is stacked against you.
“What this guy shows you is that there is no obstacle you can't overcome if you're willing to put in the work and chase after your dreams.”
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.