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Former Youngstown State Football Coach Jim Tressel was honored as the 2009 Penguin of the Year at the Penguin Club’s 19th Annual Scholarship Ring Banquet on Sunday evening at Mr. Anthony’s in Boardman.

Nearly 900 people attended the event celebrating the Watson and Tressel Families and their commitment to the Watson and Tressel Training Site, an indoor athletic complex.    

Master of Ceremonies Paul McFadden opened the evening by recognizing the late Ray Travaglini. Travaglini was one of the founders of the original event in the early 1990’s. The montage featured photos of Travaglini with various celebrities and dignitaries including Joe DiMaggio, Sylvester Stallone, Larry Holmes, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, President Gerald Ford, President Bill Clinton and many more. Travaglini passed away in late December and had been honored as a Penguin of the Year in 2004.    

YSU President Dr. David Sweet took to the podium next. Dr. Sweet announced that $5 million for the WATTS Center has been allocated by the Board of Trustees to go along with $3 million in funds that have already been raised by the athletic department. The project continues to move closer to production, however, $2 million is needed to make the process move into the construction phase.    

Following Dr. Sweet’s remarks, YSU Director of Athletics Ron Strollo recognized the Penguins’ student-athletes and coaching staffs along with Penguin Club board members who were in attendance. Junior defensive tackle Torrance Nicholson (Columbus, Ohio) spoke on behalf of all male student-athletes while senior track and field member Emily Wollet (Canfield) spoke for the women’s athletes and represented her squads which won the Horizon League Championships in the Indoor and Outdoor conference meets last year.    

Finally, Tressel took over the evening with an entertaining talk. He joked about being the “Penguin of the Year” when in fact he said he wasn’t even the Penguin of his House and that no one had told him he was earning the honor until he showed up on Sunday.    

He reminisced about his 15 years at YSU and what it was like when he took over the program. He said FCS football has undergone many changes in the past few years, including his final few as the Guins head coach. His final year was in 2000 before leaving to take over at Ohio State in January 2001.    

Tressel told the crowd that back when Stambaugh Stadium was first planned in the late 1970’s, economic times in the Mahoning Valley were difficult, but the dream of building a stadium for the community came together and has been the home of the Penguins for 26 seasons.    

Also, middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik attended most of the event. Coach Tressel said he told “The Ghost” to leave at 7 p.m. to get rest for his upcoming title defense coming up on Feb. 21 in Youngstown.    

Tressel said that winning the 1997 National Championship was one of the most special events in his coaching career. He remarked that winning the 1991 title and the subsequent run (championships in 1993 and 1994) that followed was memorable. However, after not making the playoffs in 1995 and 1996, YSU returned to the summit of the FCS world for the fourth time in his tenure taking a 10-9 decision from McNeese State in 1997. What it took to return to the top is why that crown is one that stands out in his mind.

In concluding his speech, Tressel said he hoped the final $2 million for the project could be raised by June so the WATTS, along with all other YSU on-campus projects, could move forward to benefit the university and the community.    

Following the evening Tressel signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans who attended the event. A special reception was held prior to the dinner for special contributors to the evening and the WATTS project.

~ courtesy www.YSUsports.com