Sportswriter pens another trip down 'Memory Lane'
Sports journalist George Von Benko has written a second volume to his successful first book, “Memory Lane.” Just as his initial work, the second volume recounts the accomplishments of western Pennsylvania elite athletes and coaches who have excelled at the scholastic, collegiate and professional level.
The second volume's reflection pieces include sports personalities from Washington, Westmoreland, Greene and Fayette counties, while the first book covered athletic figures primarily from Fayette County.
The second volume contains interesting looks into such athletes as Dick Gray, who hit the first home run in Los Angeles Dodgers history, or Russ Grimm, a Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman who was a quarterback at Southmoreland.
Two legendary local retired coaches chronicled are Waynesburg University men's basketball coach Rudy Marisa and Connellsville wrestling coach Tom Dolde Sr. The two other coaches in the second volume are longtime German Township High School football coach Lou Rozzi and Laurel Highlands boys' basketball coach Harold “Horse” Taylor, who guided the Mustangs to the 1968 WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA championships.
Along with Grimm, other gridiron greats include Harry Clarke, Don Croftcheck, John Denvir, Ray Gillian, Ace Grooms, Ray Parson, Joe Righetti, Bo Scott, Ray Stephens, Joe Taffoni, Bill Thomas and Larry Vignali.
Four baseball players besides Gray — Fran Boniar, Bobby Locke, Gene Hasson, and Ed Roebuck — are profiled.
Fittingly, basketball is also represented by five standouts in the second volume. They are Stu Lantz, Bobby Quertinmont, Willie Ross, Daryle Ruby and Julie Jones Venick.
Also covered are track and field star Willie Brooks and dominant wrestler Carl Carbonara.
The book reveals Von Benko's firsthand accounts from his own diverse writing and broadcasting career. He began working in radio at the age of 15 and has broadcast college football and basketball for a number of schools including West Virginia University, Pitt, the University of Cincinnati, Duquesne University, and California University of Pennsylvania.
He has also been a sports talk show host for many radio stations and a freelance-contributing writer for several newspapers, as well as The Louisville Sports Report, Pittsburgh Sports Report, Pirates.scout.com and MLB.com.
A sports enthusiast, he is also co-founder of the Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame, where he serves as executive chairman and banquet master of ceremonies.
Both volumes can be purchased at all eight Bradley's Book Outlets in western Pennsylvania and at the Uniontown Public Library.
He started writing his “Memory Lane” articles in 2007 and compiled them into a book from after strong encouragement by his father, John Von Benko, who passed away in 2011.
With the second volume, a total of 49 athletes and 10 coaches are in Von Benko's two books.
While cleaning out his father's attic, the younger Von Benko found in storage more than 300 of his taped radio interviews from his 44-year career. His latest project will feature highly recognizable national sports figures from those interviews such as basketball great Jerry West, hockey defenseman Bobby Orr and football broadcaster Ray Scott.
“I am very excited about this project,” said Von Benko. “While the ‘Memory Lane' books are niche books, this should have a more of a national appeal. There's just some great stories and information from these world-class athletes that I've been fortunate to cover.”
Bruce Wald is a freelance writer.