October 21, 2021

Remembering 20 years behind the sports desk

Tom Vartanian Sports Editor

It was 20 years ago when I first stepped foot in the offices of the Cortland Standard as the new kid in the sports department. I was coming in to fill a vacancy when former sports editor Jere Dexter was stepping down and I was filling the spot previously held by Alan Butler who was moving to the sports editor’s desk.

It was August 9, 1999, and we were three people who would put in a long run covering the local sports scene for many years. A few years ago, Al retired and the reins were handed to Taney Beaumont who came to the paper a year before me. Taney stepped down one year ago after the two of us continued to do our best to keep the loyal readers informed.

Finally, Sept. 1, 2019, I got my chance to be the sports editor. I held down a similar job at weekly papers in the Fingers Lakes area and back in my hometown area with the now gone Tri-Town News. There was also a stint with WPIE Radio (now 1160 ESPN) as the sports director and play-by-play guy, but those were all steps in a 35-year career of covering high school sports mainly the Interscholastic Athletic Conference and Section 4.

It was a great opportunity for me but who knew a pandemic would short circuit this final year and actually help me decide that it was time to retire for some health reasons. It was a fall and winter season of solo work for me as the paper looked for another sportswriter to help me before sports ground to a halt in March.

Back to that fall of 1999. That was my first introduction to Section 3 sports on a regular basis and my introduction to Homer Central School. There was a football team looking to regain some of its glory days with a head coach in Gary Podsiedlik who is just a non-stop ball of energy and

a coaching staff that included Tom Cottrell and Jim Whidden who are all still together. There also some other veteran coaches like Dave Shiffman (boys’ soccer), Nancy Cavallier (girls’ tennis), Barb Wood (field hockey), Jerry Frare (cross-country, track). These coaches were, and some still are, teaching kids the way to play the game with passion and hard work. It was the same when I moved to the winter season and spring season. It’s been a great time. I was so comfortable with this school district that it’s where my wife and I sent our daughter Katie who was a 2017 Trojan graduate.

Meanwhile, the IAC coverage I had included Dryden, Groton and Marathon. There are so many coaches I dealt with there that I really don’t want to start a list where I will not mention someone I should, but I would be remiss to not mention Marathon field hockey coach Karen Funk, who started the Olympian program when I was a senior in high school and is still going strong to this day. Also, there is Chip Stewart who has been the boys’ soccer coach throughout my tenure.

In Groton, there was John Filzen for many years of boys’ basketball and Gary Giroux with baseball among others while Dryden gave me people like Paul “Buddy” Lang, Lee Stuttle and Janine Bennett. Like I said, there are so many more who put up with me over the past 20 years and I really can’t mention all of them. Thank you all for making me feel welcome.

As for memories, how about six New York State championships for Marathon Field Hockey and multiple Section 4 titles, the most recent, the first-ever state championship for Marathon boys’ soccer in the fall of 2019, and a number of other individual competitors from all four schools who would reach the state tournament in their sports. There were three Section 3 championships for the Homer Football team and many other Trojan teams made those great runs deep into sectional and some state play.

I have met many great student-athletes, coaches, athletic directors and parents over the past 20 years. Whether it was Homer, Marathon, Dryden or Groton, there was loyalty and spirit from the whole community. This past year, I saw that same passion from the Cortland, Cincinnatus, DeRuyter and McGraw communities.

There were many feature stories on teams, coaches and players that I got to write and each one holds a special part of my heart, but who knew that Spoon’s Goon Platoon would strike such a chord with the readers. That still seems to be the story so many people remember and comment on. Thanks, Coach Whidden for those guys.

What’s next? I become a fan like all the rest of you and will wait for that day when there are high school and college sports to watch. The best part, I can enjoy the game and not worry about writing about it later. Of course, the coaches won’t have to deal with me and my annoying questions either.

I should mention Charlie French and the folks at Cortland Country Club for the years of covering the Collins Cup along with Bruce Martins and everyone at Elm Tree Golf Course for the Cortland County Invitational years. Two local tournaments that have been a key part of the local sports scene. Thanks for your help over the years.

Sam Feeley came on board as a sportswriter at the paper right as the pandemic took hold and he will step into the role of sports editor. I wish him the best of luck and hope the coaches, players and fans out there will give him the same support they have given me for 20 years.

There have been many friends I have met and worked with at the paper, including current publisher Evan Geibel who actually cover my daughter’s kindergarten graduation at Parkside Christian School. I thank him who giving his approval to me becoming sports editor. Stories with our former photographer extrodinare Bob Ellis and other co-workers will never be forgotten. I learned a lot from Al Butler and it was a great time with Taney for all the years we worked together.

I guess I’ll stop rambling because I can’t write about every person I have interacted with the past 20 years. It has been fun, trying at times, and such a blast. There’s nothing better than high school sports and I am glad you let me be a part of your lives. I’ll see you out there and can really now root with you for your teams.