Betty Szudlo edited her last story, wrote her final headline and made one more deadline Friday night.
Then, after 45 years at The Gazette, including the last 28 as sports editor, the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association and Medina County Sports hall of famer quietly walked into retirement.
“I can’t do deadlines anymore. I’m getting old,” the 67-year-old joked. “Seriously, though, it was time to move on. At 67, I could get all I needed (to retire) and there were people there (at The Gazette) who could take over, so I don’t feel like I left something undone.”
Albert Grindle, 31, a 2005 graduate of Highland High and lifetime Medina County resident who has been with The Gazette for 13 years, will take over for Szudlo as sports editor.
“Betty led The Gazette to unprecedented success with a special emphasis on high school sports,” he said. “We will do all we can to follow the example she set for what a local sports section should be about — the kids.”
Szudlo came to The Gazette in 1973, when she served an internship at the paper. A year later, she was hired full time and began her career covering court proceedings, local school boards and county commissioners meetings.
Not long after, the lifetime sports junkie moved to the sports department. She covered anything and everything, but paid particular attention to the burgeoning female sports scene.
“Betty was always friendly and professional,” said Sherry (Gifford) Martin, a three-sport standout at Medina High in the early 1980s. “As a female athlete ‘back in the day,’ it was inspirational to see a woman covering sports, especially during a time when it was predominantly a man’s domain.”
Szudlo took over as sports editor in 1990 and did the vast majority of her work behind the scenes, from managing the egos and personalities of staff members to scheduling and doling out assignments to editing copy to producing the sports section on an almost nightly basis.
She did it all in her unique, quiet and humble way, rarely raising her voice but always finding a way to get her point across.
“Betty was a pioneer in the industry and busted through the glass ceiling for future female sportswriters,” said Lisa (Grayson) Moore, who worked in the sports department from 1999-2007 and is now a project manager in communications at Charles Schwab. “She never asked for praise or accolades.”
Moore, who referred to Szudlo as “a mother figure,” recalled the first night she worked in the office as a 22-year-old. She had just compiled a complete high school baseball box from a coach who had called via phone, but forgot to save the file. Scared to death, she told Szudlo what had happened and her laid-back boss simply said, “Call him back.”
“I wanted desperately to crawl under my desk in embarrassment and shame for messing up,” Moore said. “Even more, I really wanted her to call him back for me because I was mortified for screwing up. She didn’t call, though, and I could tell from her mannerisms that she wouldn’t even if I asked her.
“Looking back, it’s a silly story, but it also taught me to put on my big-girl pants and be an adult. I don’t think another manager would have handled the situation, or me, as well as Betty did that evening.”
Chris Freeman, who worked in the sports department from 1991-99 and is now the editorial director at October Research, said “I owe my career to her” and “I could go on forever” when asked about Szudlo.
“My management style is what she taught me: Identify your staff’s strengths and then find a way to let them do what they want, and what they’re best at, as often as possible,” he said. “The proof is in The Gazette trophy case. She allowed writers to achieve their peak performance. She allowed designers to create award-winning sections and pages. She gave every staffer the chance to do their best every day.”
Jason Skoda, an intern at The Gazette in 1995-96 and a full-time employee from 2001-04 who has been a sportswriter in Arizona for the last 14 years, cited Szudlo’s uncanny ability to adapt and utilize her reporters’ strengths.
“She is like that high school football coach who has adjusted his offensive system every year based on the personnel,” he said. “She didn’t keep running the wing-T when she had a couple of 6-foot-3 wide receivers on the outside. Betty always used everyone to the best of their strength and fostered confidence in young reporters. … She was the most even-tempered boss I’ve ever had in my 25 years in the industry.”
Former full-time reporter Brad Bournival, who remains a regular contributor to the sports section, called Szudlo “the ultimate” boss.
“There isn’t an easier person to talk to,” he said. “If you had a concern, she listened and offered a solution. If you had an idea for a story,
99 percent of the time she was going to let you pursue it.”
Andy Call, who worked at The Gazette from 1987-89 and is now employed in the marketing department at Wright State University, recalled a time when he was spending way too much time on a minor story that wasn’t going to be of much interest to many readers.
“Betty looked up at me and said, with as much kindness as she could muster, ‘My mother knows about this event. That doesn’t mean she cares about it or wants to know more than she already knows,’ ” Call said. “In hindsight, Betty was right — and so was her mother.
“But on those rare occasions, Betty was never patronizing or demeaning. Even when she was right, she didn’t remind you of it. Betty was too good of a person for that.”
Szudlo, who lives on
75 acres in Westfield Township, plans to devote her new-found free time to photography — she specializes in taking pictures of nature and wildlife — and Golden Retrievers In Need, among other things.
She’ll also be keeping an eye on the sports department and county athletes, of course.
“It was a dream job,” Szudlo said of her 45 years at The Gazette. “When you get paid to cover sports, that’s a dream job. It’s something I had wanted to do since I was a kid, and it worked out pretty well.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.