Penguin Club Boosts Athletics at YSU

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Members of the Penguin Club at Youngstown State University Penguin Club are among the most loyal and fervent boosters of the athletics programs, says the new president of the club board of trustees.

“Penguin Club members are generally in for the long haul,” remarks Scott Schulick, who began his term in July as president of the board and has been a member two decades.

“They’ve been supportive of our student athletes and our teams regardless of our wins and losses,” he continues. “There’s no question that when we succeed in many of our sports, there’s a little bit more enthusiasm and we do see an increase in membership during those years. But I’d say our tried-and-true Penguin Club members are with us in the good times and in bad.”

The Penguin Club, founded in 1974, is the sole booster club for the 14 athletics programs at YSU.

“Some places have several booster groups, all with different directors, that don’t always understand the NCAA rules,” says Ron Strollo, the Penguin Club executive director. “We have one club and I’m the executive director of that club. By having my hands on it, I can ensure that what we’re doing is compliant with the NCAA and all the other conferences and leagues we belong to.”

Membership in the club is around 600, reports the associate director, Jim Morrison. People join because they have an interest in either YSU or community athletes and “want to be a part of our program,” he says.

The club generates $500,000 to $700,000 annually, and most of the money goes to funding scholarships. According to Strollo, there are nearly 100 endowed scholarships through the YSU Foundation. Memberships start at $75 and go up to $5,000 annually.

“Some people look at it as though it’s a football club, but it’s not,” he says. “Although a lot of the revenue is generated by football and basketball, it’s distributed [among] all of our sports and student-athletes.”

Funds also go toward purchasing equipment for sports that don’t generate the revenue that football and men’s basketball do, or funding special projects. “So the Penguin Club has filled many roles through its history,” Schulick says.

All YSU athletics programs rely on “external sources” to get by, Strollo says. “The funding that comes through the non-mandatory transfer from the university is not enough to fund the athletic programs,” he points out.

“I can assure you that our student-athletes wouldn’t have the same type of experiences [without the Penguin Club],” Strollo says. “If you go down to the academic advising area, there are 30 computers that were all purchased by the club. Championship rings, banquets and even tutors are things our student-athletes wouldn’t have.”

The influence of the Mahoning Valley business community has been visible during its 40-year history, says Schulick, vice president/investments for Stifel, Nicholas & Co. Inc. in Canfield. Several local companies belong to the club and area business leaders have been leaders within the organization, including on the board of directors.

Given the funding challenges athletics programs face, the Penguin Club is “needed now more than ever,” asserts Ed Reese, CEO of EDM Management in Boardman and a member a quarter century. A past president of the organization, he still serves on its board.

Born and reared in the Mahoning Valley, Reese, a former Mahoning County commissioner, says the area has been “very good” to him and his family. One way he tries to give back is through the university “and one of the easiest ways to do that is through the Penguin Club,” he remarks.

Athletics is “an important part of our background” in the Mahoning Valley and he calls athletes “ambassadors [to the community]. It’s important that we’re well represented” – not just in football but in other sports, Reese says,

Ted Schmidt, PNC Bank regional president for the Youngstown market, recently joined the board of the Penguin Club, although he has long supported it. As a “proud YSU alum and a longtime supporter of YSU athletics,” joining the board should allow him to be more involved in providing support to the student-athletes, he says.

Most of those student-athletes will pursue careers other than sports and hopefully they will find “productive careers here in the Valley,” he continues. “It’s important that local businesses support local student athletes to educate them and support the success of our community in the long run,” he says.

Schulick acknowledges there has been “a lot of interest” in the club resulting from Jim Tressel, who led YSU football teams to four national titles, rejoining the university as president and the subsequent hiring of former Nebraska Cornhuskers coach and Valley native Bo Pelini.

“What you want to keep in mind too is athletics is the front door in many ways of any institution,” he continues. That position might “ruffle a few feathers,” he acknowledges, but even for even at the strongest academic institutions, athletics often play a key part.

“In fact, a lot of people come to campus for the first time when they attend an athletic event so it’s an opportunity for the university to always put its best foot forward,” he remarks.

Pictured: Scott Schulick, president of the Penguin Club board of trustees, has been a member 20 years.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.