Former (Cleveland) Plain Dealer sports reporter Dick Zunt died on Saturday of cancer at the age of 78...Zunt, who was known as Zippy, covered Cleveland area high school sports for years...below is a column by Terry Pluto about Zunt:
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The first time I met Dick Zunt, it was on the phone. I was 16, calling in a Benedictine High school football score to The Plain Dealer.
Yes, I met Dick on the phone, because he did more than take the facts of the game. He asked about me, about the Bengal football team of 1971, and then he made a big deal of thanking me for calling him.
Whenever I called in another game and got Dick on the phone, he acted as if we were old friends, peers in the newspaper business. As former Plain Dealer writer Dan Coughlin said, "Dick shook more hands and made more friends for the Plain Dealer than any other reporter."
Coughlin also said Zunt was known to add a few extra bucks to the $2 a game that high school correspondents received. I know that's true, because I got a little of that bonus money during the two years that I reported games to the paper.
Zunt died from cancer at age 78 early Saturday morning. His full-time career at The Plain Dealer spanned 1957-63 and 1964-2001. He called The Plain Dealer with news items beginning in the early 50's.
From beginning to end, it was always about high school sports for the man called "Zip" or "Zippy" by his friends.
"He had no desire to do anything else," said Coughlin, who joined the PD staff in 1964 with Zunt. They covered high school sports together, along with Ed Chay.
Some writers view covering high schools as the damp, dark dungeon of the sports department. To Zunt, it was the penthouse. Every day there was a high school story to cover was a great day for him.
"He had great respect for high school sports," said PD reporter Mike Peticca. "That rubbed off on all of us who worked with him."
This man went to events on his days off. Coughlin said Zunt attended 50 consecutive Mansfield Relays, as track was perhaps his favorite sport. He was a runner at St. Ignatius in the late 1940s.
Coughlin added, "And for the last 40 years, he took up the collection at the noon Mass at St. Patrick's." Or as St. Ignatius football coach Chuck Kyle recalled, "It seemed like there were two Dick Zunts, because he was everywhere."
"High schools were the ultimate job to him," said PD executive sports editor Roy Hewitt. "He never acted like he was having a bad day."
"For eight years, I was a high school writer at the [Cleveland] Press and competed with Dick," said Tim Rogers, now with the PD. "When I went to an event with Dick, he always tried to help me. He introduced me to all the right people. He didn't have to do that, but Dick couldn't help himself."
Zunt's greatest fear was letting others down. The one thing he hated about covering a high school game is that one team had to lose.
"He was so understanding when you got beat," said Strongsville's Joe Lynch, who has been a basketball coach at various area high schools since 1968. Lynch said Zunt "never" second-guessed coaches, and "always praised your effort when you lost."
Or as Bishop Roger Gries, who visited Zunt this week said, "His stories were never about him, they were about the coaches and kids."
Some write for attention and awards, Zunt wrote for scrapbooks. He knew that it was a big deal for a kid to have his name in the paper, so he made sure lots of names appeared in his stories.
"He just had a rosy outlook," said Peticca. "He was excited to be with people, and wanted everyone to feel special."
Coughlin said former Plain Dealer copy editor Chuck Murr told a story about how Zunt would call the office to dictate a story. As he began to say that Cleveland Heights beat a certain team, he was stopping every few sentences to say hello or talk to people who were walking by as he was on the phone.
"Hey, Jim, nice shot there ..." Zunt would say, then returning to Murr with his account of the game.
"He had the longest good-byes," recalled Wally Mieskoski, who worked with Zunt at the PD. "He just wanted to keep talking to you."
Rogers said it would take at least 20 minutes to walk out of a high school gym with Zunt after a game: "That's because he had to say goodbye to every coach, player, parent, usher and janitor that he saw."
For Dick Zunt, this is the final goodbye. But so many people will always remember the first time that he said hello – and for that, the family and friends of Dick Zunt are blessed.
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