The Penguin Club, the official booster organization for Youngstown State University, contributes to the success of student-athletes on the field of play and in the classroom with scholarships and capital project investments.
With 500 to 600 members from the Mahoning Valley and across the United States, the Penguin Club provides scholarships to student-athletes in YSU’s 19 varsity sports.
The number of scholarships has grown over the years, says Tom Morella, associate athletics director.
“This year we were up to 36 student-athletes that are receiving a full or partial scholarship,” Morella says. “So, we’re looking at $36,000 to $40,000 a year to help supplement what the YSU Foundation can provide for our student-athletes.”
The club acts as a general fund that supports all of YSU’s sports – not just revenue-producing sports. Memberships can be general or geared toward basketball or football ticket-holders. But those funds will also support teams such as swimming and softball.
Graduate student Isidora Sisic was a recipient of a Penguin Club scholarship in February. She’s studying professional communications and is a member of the volleyball team. The generosity of the Penguin Club makes everything possible.
“The scholarships are a dream come true,” says Sisic, who is from Serbia. “I came from the other side of the world and if there wasn’t this type of scholarship, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be able to afford tuition, rent, bills and insurance. They make it easier for you to focus on your life goals without worrying about it all.”
Sisic says the club looks at the student-athletes holistically when deciding on recipients for scholarships. Student-athletes are also expected to be community leaders.
“We’re very involved with the community. We work with United Way, Buddy Up Tennis and Salvation Army. We also go to a lot of local schools where we do PE classes, read to them and do a lot of social interaction,” Sisic says.
The Penguin Club was also involved in capital projects for YSU Athletics. The club has contributed funds to the indoor Watson & Tressel Center, the Farmers National Bank Field, renovating locker rooms and enhancing student-athlete study halls.
“We’ve done a number of capital projects, whether it be the enhancement of the lounges, we added the second level [or] … the [DiBacco Family Leadership Center], we helped with the lighting [and audio] project with the stadium,” Morella says. “Anytime there’s a major capital project, the Penguin Club is usually one of the first organizations to step up and help with funds for that.”
In the last 25 years, the Penguin Club has donated $2.1 million to capital projects that have benefited more than just YSU student-athletes, Morella says.
“The new fields, equipment and centers enhance the image of our campus,” he says. “Any student walking across the campus will see our state-of-the-art facilities and think ‘This campus is nice – and our board is very tuned into that.”
A board of student-athletes from each sport, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, discusses with YSU Athletics and the Penguin Club any issues or improvements student-athletes have, according to Sisic.
Membership fees are the main source of revenue for the club. There are levels of memberships and benefits that individuals can buy into. Memberships range from $75 to $6,000.
Anyone can join the Penguin Club, according to Morella. The only condition is being a fan of YSU sports.
Scott Schulick, a past president and board member of the Penguin Club, has been involved with the club for over 20 years and has been an avid Penguin fan since he attended YSU. Schulick says it’s not hard to be a fan with YSU’s athletic success.
YSU won the Horizon League’s 2022-2023 McCafferty Trophy for the first time and received its second Horizon League All-Sports Trophy. Plus, the Penguins have four football national championship wins and an improving program.
“This is our home team and the people of the Youngstown region love YSU,” Schulick says. “Everyone that sits [on the board] loves our programs and YSU. I would say that we are a family – a big family – that loves Penguin sports.”
Student-athletes at YSU also excel in the classroom, according to Morella. “[They’re] great kids. We had the highest combined GPA ever,” for the 2022-2023 academic year. “These kids are dedicated to their academics,” he says.
The Penguin Club hosts three main events throughout the year for members and student-athletes. A scholarship ring banquet takes place early in the year, a golf outing in the summer, and a casino and online auction later in the year.
Morella says participation has grown over the years.
The golf outing was in June at the Youngstown Country Club.
The scholarship ring banquet is the event with the most impact, according to Morella. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge the hard work of Penguin Club members, student-athletes and YSU athletics staff.
Members get an opportunity to meet the student-athletes and community leaders that their donations are directly supporting. “We get a lot of great feedback from everyone involved,” Morella says.
Sisic attended the scholarship ring banquet twice and she says it’s always nice to talk with the members. “I met [some members] my first year attending and then they requested that I sit at their table [again]. I see them around campus or at the games and I always stop and chat.”
Sisic and Morella say the members just want to get to know the lives of the students they are supporting and their goals. Sisic says it’s also a great networking opportunity because the members’ generosity extends beyond their support for their athletics career.
“We get to know each other [at the ring banquet] but there is also a possible connection for something you may need later in life, like an internship,” Sisic says. “It’s really nice to know that there is a community
of people who just want you to succeed.”
Morella and Schulick say they hope the Penguin Club continues to grow so they can provide more opportunities and scholarships for YSU Athletics.
“I hope in the next few years we can provide 50 scholarships because then we are supporting about 10% of our student-athletes,” Morella says. “That would be a wonderful thing and then [we can] continue growing and expanding that impact.”
Pictured at top: Isidora Sisic is a Penguin Club scholarship recipient, a volleyball player and a full-time graduate student at Youngstown State University. (Photo courtesy of Isidora Sisic)