Longtime Valley News Dispatch sports editor remembered for his keen eye for young talent
During his 26-year tenure as sports editor for the Valley News Dispatch, Bob Schank oversaw a drastic transformation of the local sports scene.
From the mergers of Alle-Kiski Valley high school sports programs to the elevation of the Pirates and Steelers from punchlines to world champions, Schank saw it all.
Robert V. Schank, sports editor of the Valley Daily News and its successor, the Valley News Dispatch, from 1952-78, died Jan. 12 at the AVH Hospice in Natrona Heights, Harrison.
He was 93.
Schank was born April 17, 1925, in Throop, Lackawanna County, near Scranton.
Before coming to the Alle-Kiski Valley, Schank was part of heroic missions while in the Navy during World War II.
He enlisted in 1943 and served aboard a destroyer escort (the USS McCoy Reynolds, DE-440), which earned four battle stars by sinking two Japanese submarines and taking part in the battles of Palau, the Philippines, and Okinawa in the Pacific.
When Schank was named editor, there were a combined 23 high schools in the Valley Daily News and the New Kensington Daily Dispatch circulation areas. Now there are 13.
Schank’s department experienced the zenith of local high school football. From 1960 to 1975, at least one A-K Valley team played in a WPIAL championship game.
To get reporters to cover all those games, Schank had a keen sense of developing writing talent.
“I think Bob was most proud of the staff he hired: Russ Brown, Bob Osborne, Rick Starr were excellent wordsmiths and colleagues,” said Bob Stein, who directly succeeded Schank as sports editor in 1978. “And we had a bounty of successful sports teams to cover at all levels. There were great teams to cover at every level, and we had the staff to do it.”
“He had a good trait in hiring and mentoring young people,” according to Ben “Skip” Beal, who worked in various capacities, including covering weekend high school sports, for the Valley News Dispatch and Tribune-Review.
One of those was a young Terry O’Neil, who, as a student at St. Joseph High School, would help Schank in laying out the next day’s sports pages.
O’Neil went on to win 17 Emmys as a sports producer for NBC, CBS and ABC.
Veteran reporter and columnist Rex Rutkoski also met Schank during high school.
Said Rutkoski: “When I did a job shadow in 1964 as a junior in Freeport High School, where I was sports editor at the school paper, The Yellow Jacket, I was assigned to Bob Schank for the day. When we went to the composing room, he showed me how he sometimes had to trim stories at the last minute, and he lifted out a paragraph of type at the printer’s desk and said, ‘This is interesting information, but it won’t fit.’”
“He hired young people, and they turned out to be good people,” Beal said. “He brought on Arnold native Joe Curcio and Leechburg’s Ernie Defilippi, who went on to bigger and better things.”
Schank also covered numerous Pirates spring training camps for the newspaper.
“I will always be grateful to Bob for hiring me as a summer intern in 1970,” Stein said. “That started me on a 40-plus-year career in journalism.”
In all, Schank worked at the Valley Daily News and Valley News Dispatch for 37 years.
Schank contributed to the area in other ways.
He was co-founder of the Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame with Bob Tatrn, who died July 23.
Schank was the inaugural president of the Alle-Kiski chapter of the Optimist Club International and was the first president of the VDN Federal Credit Union, which is today’s Valley-Wide Federal Credit Union, still in Tarentum.
After retiring, he had a weekly feature, “Schank’s Scrapbook,” a nostalgic piece that highlighted past local teams and players.
He loved to golf, even moving after his retirement to Greenacres, Fla., where he could golf year round.
Stein recalls that Schank was a huge Penn State fan and nothing disgusted him more than Richard Nixon’s decision to award Texas the 1969 national championship in football when Penn State was undefeated, too.
Friends are invited to attend a Christian Funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Thursday at Mount St. Peter Roman Catholic Church, 100 Freeport Road, New Kensington. A mercy meal in the church’s Marble Hall will follow the service. His burial will be private. Schank will be laid to rest in the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies near Bridgeville.
In lieu of flowers, the Schank family has asked that donations be made to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
George Guido is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.