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Gorman: Inspirational stories remain to be told

| Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, 10:21 a.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Photos of Luke Blanock's life serve as a memorial to the 19-year-old whose long battle with cancer inspired people across the nation. Blanock's funeral was held at St. Mary's Church in Cecil on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016.

This column comes to you from the perpetually ink-stained fingertips of a Pittsburgher who turned a love affair with sports and newspapers into a career.

As far back as I can remember, it was a race between my younger brother, Brian, and me to retrieve the paper. Whoever won got the sports section; the loser had to read the front page. Brian, by the way, is an attorney.

Seriously, we both read the sports section front to back every day as kids. We memorized the starting lineups for every MLB team and spent summers calling out nine-inning games with just a baseball, gloves, ghost-runners and our imaginations.

We were children of the 1970s, when Pittsburgh was the City of Champions and had morning and afternoon editions of the newspaper. Our first jobs, not surprisingly, were as paper boys: Brian delivered the Post-Gazette and I the Press.

I knew then what I wanted to do for a living: Not only become a sportswriter, but one for my hometown newspaper. That dream became a reality when I joined the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in August 1999.

The Trib has afforded me a chance to cover everything from preps to pros, from the WPIAL and PIAA finals to Pitt and Penn State football in bowl games and Pitt's men's and women's basketball in Big East, ACC and NCAA Tournaments to the Steelers winning the Super Bowl, the Penguins the Stanley Cup and the Pirates in the playoffs.

I've been privileged to use these pages to share the stories of sports figures from all over Western Pennsylvania. Where I've been blessed to witness Ben Roethlisberger's pass to Santonio Holmes, Marc-Andre Fleury's last-second save and Lance Jeter's heroic half-court shot, there is one story that stands apart from the rest.

I've always been drawn to the stories of ordinary athletes accomplishing extraordinary feats. None left as lasting an impression as that of the late Luke Blanock, the Canon-McMillan basketball and baseball player, and his battle with Ewing's sarcoma.

A year to the day of his cancer diagnosis, Luke returned to make his first varsity basketball start for the Big Macs. After rounds of radiation and chemotherapy sent his cancer into remission, it returned just before the start of baseball season. Luke, a pitcher and outfielder, continued to play. It was where he felt normal, instead of a kid with cancer.

The charisma and courage Luke maintained was inspiring, as was watching Western Pennsylvania rally around his fight. When Luke finally succumbed, six months later than anticipated, it brought me to tears. Even though he was terminal, you wanted to believe that Luke could beat cancer.

At his viewing, a relative wondered aloud whether anyone would have known about Luke if not for newspapers sharing it on the sports pages. It was a profound statement that will stay with me forever. Luke Blanock is a champion, as much as any I've covered, and his story resonates.

Sometimes, sports aren't about the games we watch but the people involved and their impact on us.

These are changing times at the Tribune-Review, but we will continue to cover Western Pennsylvania sports, from preps to pros, online at TribLIVE.com, in a new digital edition on PghTrib.com and for print publications in Westmoreland County and the Alle-Kiski Valley (Valley News Dispatch).

So, this isn't a farewell as much as it's an invitation to read the Tribune-Review in a different format, to follow the teams you love and the stories we love to share.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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