Hickory Lions Club honors Hillgrove with Legend Award

HICKORY, Pa. – Bill Hillgrove, Pittsburgh Steelers play-by-play announcer, was recognized for his contributions to sports journalism with the Myron Cope Legend in Sports Award Thursday.

Hillgrove, who was Cope’s on-air partner for many years, was feted by many Pittsburgh-area sports broadcasters, including his current side-line partner Craig Wolfley; Paul Alexander of ROOT Sports; former Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers-turned-broadcasters Steve Blass and Kent Tekulve; Alby Oxenreiter of WPXI-TV; and Andrew Stockey, Guy Junker and Sally Wiggin of WTAE-TV.

Elizabeth Cope, Myron Cope’s daughter, and Fort Cherry High School track standout Jessie Merckle also attended the dinner as special guests. Lion Jim Meston was the master of ceremonies.

Hillgrove, despite the many guest speakers singing his praises, chose to speak about Cope, their working relationship, mentor-protege relationship and Cope’s enduring community service legacy.

“I miss him every day,” said Hillgrove. “I miss him as a colleague and I miss him as a friend. You can’t even begin to try to fill that void.”

Hillgrove described being at a WTAE-AM meeting while still a radio disc jockey, where the staff discussed how to “jazz up” the morning sports report.

“Roy McHugh said, ‘I’ve got the guy, I drink with him at Dante’s – he’s off the wall,'” said Hillgrove. “I was there at the beginning.”

Hillgrove, who received two standing ovations from the audience, spoke lovingly of Cope, crediting his mentorship and the example of Cope’s community service as influential in his own life.

“He valued you as a colleague and as a friend,” he said.

Hillgrove also shared some “off-the-wall” stories about Cope.

“The first time he showed up with his hearing aids, he was telling me all about them – state of the art, eight channels,” said Hillgrove. “So I asked him, ‘what kind is it?’ He looked at me and said ’20 ’til two.'”

Cope was often recognized and fans usually gave him space, but Cope was capable of handling those few who didn’t.

“This guy, he just walked up to Myron, and he rubbed that (bald) spot on the top of his head, and he goes, ‘smooth as my wife’s behind,'” said Hillgrove. “I just sat back, ‘how are you going to wiggle out of this, Cope?’ And Myron reached up, touched it, and said, ‘come to think of it, pal, it is.'”

Hillgrove pointed to the Terrible Towel – and the millions it has raised for the Allegheny Valley School, which specializes in serving those with developmental disabilities, such as Cope’s son, Daniel – a unique celebration of both sports and community service that was the hallmark of Cope’s career as Cope’s lasting legacy.

Hillgrove also had words of praise for the Ohio Valley’s own Charles “Red” Donley, who also had been a Steelers broadcaster.

“I didn’t know him, but I listened to him any time I could – he was a professional’s professional,” said Hillgrove.

Hillgrove was presented with a personalized trophy created by Lion Rich Schohn and Hickory artist Frank Hnat.

Hillgrove also is the play-by-play announcer for the University of Pittsburgh Panthers football and basketball teams and previously served as the WTAE-TV sports director.

The dinner was a fundraiser for the Hickory Lion Club’s club charities, including Leader Dogs for the Blind, The Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh and the International Lions Club Sight First Program. Leader Dogs provides service dogs for the visually impaired; Rehabilitation Services offers a variety of services to the visually impaired from eye exams to job training; and Sight First supports programs and research to assist the visually impaired.

Sponsors included Washington Financial, Battery Specialist Co., Bedillion’s Farm and Fruit Market, Chuck Orton Photography, Fort Cherry Golf Club, Hickory Hair, Hickory Telephone Co., Indian Springs Rod and Gun Club, McDonald Pharmacy, William G. Neal Funeral Home, The Old Hickory Inn, Professional Chimney Sweep, Reynolds Brothers Landscaping and Lawn Care Inc., Alex E. Paris Contracting Co. Inc., ROI Inc., Sunnyside Properties, Tony Muggar Plumbing and Wagner’s Greenhouse.

(Wallace-Minger can be contacted at swallace@pafocus.com)