Junga to be inducted into the OPSWA Hall of Fame

Yaneek Smith

Press Sports Editor

Steve Junga is Toledo through and through.
The East Side native, who is known to many in the area for his work at The Blade, and before that with The Metro/Suburban Press, was recently honored for his efforts for the last 36 years and is going to be inducted into the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. The sportswriters are “honored (for making) significant contributions to the field of prep sports writing.”
Junga, who is entering the Hall of Fame with two other writers, will join with 70 other writers that have been inducted over the last 40 years. The ceremony will take place on March 19 at the boys state basketball tournament in Dayton.
Junga has been on the Northwest District football and basketball all-district panel for 23 years and has been an Associated Press poll voter during that time, as well. He’s won awards from the Associated Press, OPSWA and the Professional Bowlers Association.
After graduating from Waite High School, where he played baseball and basketball, and the University of Toledo, Junga got his start with The Metro Press/Suburban Press in 1985. He moved on to The Blade in 1987 and has specialized in high school sports while also covering college sports, ECHL and NHL hockey, MLB, NFL, NBA, PGA, LPGA, PBA and auto racing.
Junga recalled highlights from his career in a recent interview.
Q: When did you find out you’d be inducted in the OPSWA Hall of Fame, and what was your reaction?
Junga: “(OHSAA director of media relations) Tim Stried made a stop in Toledo and we met for lunch. He told me then and, truth be told, my first reaction was mixed. Certainly I was grateful, but I asked if I had to give a speech somewhere. I’m not big on speeches. I’m fine with being on television and radio but being at a podium in front of a bunch of people is not my thing.
“I’ve had to do it a few times for some other honors in the past, and when Tim told me there would be no speeches, just an award presentation at boys state basketball finals in Dayton, I was especially grateful.”
Q: Are there any specific games that stand out to you that you’ve covered during your career?
Junga: “Being near the end zone after having left the press box at the end of the Ohio State-Michigan football games in 2002 and in 2006. The first was the last step for the Buckeyes before completing their unbeaten national championship season in double-overtime against Miami, and the second was labeled as one of those ‘games of the century.’ They were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, both unbeaten, and Ohio State held on for a 42-39 win. Looking up and around Ohio Stadium with all of that noise and collective drama was a bit surreal.
“Another big moment, oddly enough, was when I was covering the PBA National at Imperial Lanes back in 1994. The old pro Johnny Petraglia rolled a 300 game, which was rare for the nationally televised finals. He won $100,000 for that. It was pretty amazing to see up close.
“As far as a high school game, nothing could match Central Catholic’s 56-52 win over The Plains Athens in the 2014 Division III state football championship game at Ohio Stadium. That game had 12 lead changes, the last when Central quarterback Marcus Winters scored on an 8-yard run with 15 seconds left. They beat an Athens team with Ohio’s Mr. Football that year, current Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who was phenomenal in that game.
“And one more was Game 6 of the ECHL’s 1993 Riley Cup finals, when Mark ‘The Diesel’ Deazeley scored the game-winning and series-clinching goal in double overtime for the Toledo Storm, just past midnight on a Sunday night at a jam-packed Sports Arena. That goal and win launched immediate euphoria.”
Q: When you started working for The Metro/Suburban Press, is it true that you started the sports section there?
Junga: “I was living in East Toledo when the first copy of the new Metro Press arrived. I was aware of The Suburban Press, but had only glanced at it because we didn’t get it delivered in Toledo. Anyway, I gave The Metro Press a look, and immediately leafed through looking for some sports stories. I didn’t see any, so, for some reason, and I honestly can’t tell you why, I looked to see who to call at The Press to ask why there were no sports in the paper.
“I called and spoke to (former editor-in-chief), John Szozda, and said something like, ‘Hey, I looked through your paper and didn’t see any sports.’ John replied, ‘No, we don’t have any right now.’ I answered, ‘Would you like some?’ He said, ‘What can you do?’ I told him I had not previously written for any publications, but was a UT grad and had several journalism classes — news writing and reporting and editing, and more importantly I had a pretty wide knowledge in sports.
“Believe it or not, I had never even written for the Waite newspaper, or the UT paper, ’The Collegian.’ John had me come in to meet him to show me some college work. He said he’d try me out at $10 an article and asked me if I shot photos. I had taken photography at UT and had my own 35 mm camera. He said he’d supply the film, and I’d get an extra $5 if I could produce pictures to go with my feature stories. I did my first piece on a Cardinal Stritch basketball player, then it just took off from there — sports in The Press, and me becoming a journalist.
“I was working full time at Blue Cross in Toledo at that time, and the next stroke of good luck found me. I was placed on a committee for a special project, and our chairman was a lady named Penny Campbell, whose husband Bob was in management at The Blade. She told me Bob would let me know if any part-time openings ever arose in sports. That fall, a spot opened, I interviewed, got the job, and 36 years later I’m still there.”
Q: You’ve been at The Blade for 36 years. How great has it been to work for a newspaper in a major city and see such great sporting events over the years?
Junga: “I have always understood that old adage: ‘If you find something you love to do, you’ll never work a day in your life.’ I had other jobs outside of journalism before I began at The Blade, so I do have perspective on that. From the time I began there in September of 1987, it has been a true blessing to cover sports in our community. It’s been so long now, I can’t even count how many great events I’ve been lucky enough to cover, and to tell the story. It’s mostly been at the high school sports level, but there’s been a little bit of just about everything – from youth sports to the college and pro ranks.
“Many people enjoy watching TV shows or movies, and so do I. But the best possible drama is what plays out in a really competitive game, especially in tournament play. There is no predetermined script. It plays out in front of everyone in attendance, and no one knows what’s going to happen until it happens. That’s the true beauty of sports — the drama.”
Q: You’re from Toledo and graduated from Waite High School. Could you talk about the pride that comes with being from the East Side?
Junga: “I have never had anything but pride from having grown up in East Toledo. I loved my times at Raymer Elementary and at Waite High School, where I was a decent (B+) student who also played baseball and basketball. My little league baseball coaches, Jack Emch and Bob Holland were awesome influences, and our head basketball coach at Waite was my brother-in-law, Dick Kuzma, who has been like a second father in my life.
“My parents, Steve (‘Herb’) and Barb, gave me a great foundation, and my four older sisters – Barb, Pat, Judy and Debbie – were like extra mothers and always supportive. I made many great friends, several of whom I still associate with today.
“My neighborhood buddies, who all grew up near the corner of Hefner and Kelsey, were a really tight-knit group as kids. We went to Raymer, St. Stephen’s, St. Thomas, and Sacred Heart in grade school, and then either Waite or Stritch for high school. But our real bond was our time together in that neighborhood. We eventually called ourselves the ‘Hefner Huns,’ because several of our families were of Hungarian descent.
“Always playing football, baseball and basketball together, we had our own version of the movie, ‘The Sandlot,’ including the angry dog on the other side of a fence where the foul balls and errant football passes often wound up. Our intimidating canine was not a mammoth St. Bernard, but a sawed-off mutt named Queenie, who was just as mean. After drifting apart slightly, in I believe 1992, we decided to have a get-together at Andres over on Summit Street. We had such a good time, we decided to have at least one Hefner Huns reunion every year. We’ve done it every year since, even during the pandemic, and we usually get anywhere between 13 and 18 guys together. We’re all between our late 50s and mid-60s now, and when we share our old stories it’s like no time has passed –- except for when we share takes on our current medical ailments. I love those guys.”
Q: Is there anything else we should know about you?
Junga: “I’ve been married twice, and had one daughter, my beloved Shaylee Junga. She had a rough life with a neurological disorder called Rett Syndrome. She was unable to talk or chew food or even sit up and had many struggles with pneumonias and seizures that led to somewhere close to 20 lengthy hospital stays.
“But, when she was healthy, she had the greatest demeanor I’ve ever seen in a human being, and was a pure joy to be around and take care of. She struggled mightily at times, but always bounced back until June of 2020, when she lost a 9-week battle with COVID. She would have been 20 on Sept. 18 that year. It was a devastating loss, but her life was an amazing journey, and I’ve never admired anyone more.
“As a sports reporter, I consider myself a good story sharer, and a decent but not great writer. My greatest value to The Blade has been consistent commitment and work ethic”


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