Raising money for charity

Chances are you have never met Jim Meston, but you should know that the longtime member of the Hickory, Pa., Lions Club enjoys having a good time while helping others.

Meston served as the master of ceremonies for the annual sports dinner held July 25 by his club at the Hickory Fire Hall. While the draw of the dinner was the presentation of the Myron Cope Legend in Sports Award, its purpose was even more impressive – to help raise money for organizations that offer help to the visually impaired, including Leader Dogs for the Blind, Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh and the Sight First Program of the International Lions Clubs.

This year’s recipient of the Cope award was Bill Hillgrove, longtime play-by-play announcer for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the football and basketball teams at the University of Pittsburgh. Cope, who died in 2008, worked alongside Hillgrove on Steelers broadcasts for more than a decade before he retired in 2005.

While not billed as a roast, his media colleagues made every effort to get a dig or two in while paying tribute to Hillgrove. And the list of those who made to trip to the little town of Hickory was impressive. Among those on hand to recognize Hillgrove and remember Cope were Andrew Stockey, Guy Junker and Sally Wiggin of WTAE-TV, where Hillgrove once served as sports director; Paul Alexander and Kent Tekulve of ROOT Sports; current Pirates broadcaster Steve Blass; Alby Oxenreiter of WPXI-TV; and Craig Wolfley, who patrols the sidelines during Steelers broadcasts.

To a person, they recognized Hillgrove as being a generous man who has a tough time saying no when asked to participate in community events. They also pointed out that he is, arguably, one of the best, if not the best, play-by-play guys in the National Football League. He has a style that makes it easy for fans to follow the games.

It was a point driven home by Alexander, who said Hillgrove is among a handful of announcers around the country whose presence at a game means fans need to stand up and take notice.

He said that if you happen to come across a hockey game being called by Mike “Doc” Emrick, for example, or remember a college football game called by Keith Jackson, you get the same feeling you have when Hillgrove’s behind the microphone: “You just know you are listening to the right game,” Alexander said.

When paired with Cope, the two become legendary, bringing a style that’s unique to the Tri-State Area, and a flavor to games that, sadly, is missing from many of the other broadcasts heard around the country. It’s a formula that works today with Hillgrove, Wolfley and Tunch Ilkin.

What’s important to remember, though, is that while an excellent writer and the most colorful of color commentators, Cope was heavily involved in his community. His Terrible Towel, mandatory equipment for every Steelers fan, has become a huge fundraiser for the Allegheny Valley School – he donated the copyrights to the school and proceeds from sales of the towels have brought millions of dollars to the facility, which helps those who have developmental disabilities, like Cope’s son, Daniel.

Like Cope, Hillgrove has stayed involved in helping the communities around the Tri-State Area.

What made the evening even more special is that Hillgrove received the award, a creation of Lions Club member Rick Schohn and artist Fran Hnat, from Elizabeth Cope, Myron’s daughter. Other winners of the award have included former Steelers Andy Russell and John Banaszak and current Detroit Tiger and former Pirate manager Jim Leyland.

Raising money for charity while honoring some of the region’s best sports stars is a great accomplishment for the Lions Club in rural Western Pennsylvania, and something the members of the club, and Meston, should be proud of.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)