Day, Tressel Help United Way Raise $110,000 at Champions Among Us

POLAND, Ohio — Ryan Day and Jim Tressel caught the attention of the 375 in attendance at The Lake Club during the 13th annual Champions Among Us event hosted by the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley — the organization’s signature event.

A live auction fetched $10,000 for tickets on the 50-yard line at this year’s showdown between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions, as one of many items donated that night for this fundraising event.

The United Way continues its COVID-19 recovery by funding nonprofit partners and hosting the Saturday of Caring event, which provides food to older adults, shut-ins and families once a month. These also funds help students with wraparound services such as Success By 6, Success After 6, Imagination Library and mentorship programs, said Roxann Sebest, United Way’s director of marketing and communications.

“To raise more than $110,000 will help a lot of people in the Mahoning Valley in need. But I think it also exposes people here tonight that are donors and potential donors to the work the United Way does and the first-class event that we can put on at The Lake Club,” said Bob Hannon, president of the United Way chapter.

Last year’s event was cancelled because of the pandemic, but was able to return this year. Hannon said the United Way has been blessed to have major athletic figures not charge them an appearance fee, like it was on Tuesday with Day and Tressel. Day is the Ohio State University head football coach, while Tressel is Youngstown State University’s president and former Ohio State and YSU football coach.

“It sends a message that they want to help.” Hannon said. “They want to make a difference. In Ohio, we want to support Ohio. That’s why Jim Tressel and Ryan Day are here.”

Day said Youngstown has an unbelievable football tradition, which is a big part of Ohio State history and tradition.

“Being here with president Tressel giving back to the United Way was very important,” Day said.

The current and former OSU coaches talked for more than a half hour to the crowd in attendance with Hannon – who also serves as the Penguins’ play-by-play announcer – being the moderator.

There’s plenty of buzz around the Buckeyes with OSU coming off a run to the national championship game last season. Day said it’s exciting to contemplate what the team is going to look like with a new quarterback this season with last year’s signal caller, Justin Fields, drafted by the Chicago Bears. C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller III and highly-touted true freshman Kyle McCord are vying to be the starter this season.

“You got me to Youngstown, but you’re not going to get me to Youngstown to spill the beans. It’s going to be an exciting year for us,” Day said.

Whoever is this year’s quarterback has talented offensive players surrounding them, but there’s no learning curve with the season starting Thursday, Sept. 2 at Minnesota, then nine days later as the Buckeyes host Oregon.

“It’s a great situation for a young quarterback to come into,” Day said. “The hard part is it’s Ohio State. I talk to those guys all the time. Try losing a game at Ohio State. It’s not easy. You have to be ready. You have to be prepared. A big part of it is we’ll have to help him be the best version of himself.”

Pickerington North High School defensive end Jack Sawyer graduated early and spent the spring with Ohio State. He’s the player most fans are excited to see on the field for the Buckeyes.

“If he continues to do what he did this spring, he’ll have an opportunity,” Day said. “We have a great history of defensive ends coming through Ohio State. We’re hoping that he can be the next. He has to earn his way up. 

“For our young guys, they understand they’re not going to get handed anything.”

Tressel understood that when he took over the OSU program in January 2001. He stood in front of a Buckeyes’ men’s basketball crowd saying they’ll be proud of their young people in the classroom, community and in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Mich., on the football field.

Before Tressel, OSU was 2-10-1 against rival Michigan with previous Buckeyes coach John Cooper. In the two decades since Tressel’s arrival, the Wolverines have won just twice.

“I thought I was going to wave and get to work,” he said. “They handed me the microphone. I wanted the people to know we knew what was important to them. You set the bar high, and the University of Michigan is setting the bar high. I wanted our team to know. I wanted our fans to know. I just wanted the world to know that we were going to take that bar.”

OSU trails 58-51-6 all-time in the rivalry.

“I hope I live long enough for that day when we’re over .500 [winning percentage]. Then I can go to sleep happy,” Tressel said.

There were times, Tressel recalled, when he was in flux, especially when the Buckeyes trailed late in the 2002 national championship season at Purdue, facing a fourth-and-short. Then-quarterback Craig Krenzel was under center and was going to throw a quick crossing route to tight end Ben Hartsock. He was covered, while receiver Chris Gamble ran the wrong route. The two running backs had to stay in the backfield to block the Purdue defenders. Michael Jenkins was open, streaking down the field and eventually catching the winning touchdown.

“When I saw it go, I thought that’s going to land in the stands,” Tressel said. “We were 7-5 last year. Now we’re going to lose this one. It might be a short career – all while the ball is in the air.

“We caught the ball, and the rest is history.”

Day has learned from OSU’s history and how to treat those in the Columbus area and throughout the state — looking how predecessors like Tressel did before him.

“There’s a lot that goes with it, but it’s an honor,” Day said. “There’s a lot of people that have come before and there’s a lot of people that are going to come after. It’s our job to continue that great tradition, and keep the people of Ohio proud of their program.”

Pictured: United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley President Bob Hannon (center) welcomed Ohio State Buckeyes head football coach Ryan Day and Jim Tressel, the president of Youngstown State and former coach at both Ohio State and YSU.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.