Over the years Fayette County has been blessed with some fine writers who chronicled the exploits of the athletes and teams.
The "Big 3‰ were former Uniontown Herald Standard sports editor Tod Trent, former Brownsville Telegraph sports editor Bob Petriello and the late Jim Kriek who was the sports editor of the Connellsville Courier for many years and later worked for the Herald Standard.
Kriek graduated in 1945 from Franklin High School, then served three years in the U.S. Air Force and graduated from Grove City College. Mr. Kriek's first newspaper position was with The Courier in Chatham, N.Y., as sports editor, features and news writer.
"I was at my first sports-writing job in Chatham, NY, when I called the Connellsville Courier, where I had applied for a job as sports editor of the paper,‰ Kriek recalled in Jim O‚Brien‚s book "Hometown Heroes‰. "One of the executives at the Courier asked me, ŒWhat do you know about Connellsville?‚ I mentioned John Lujack to him. He told me the town had also turned out John Woodruff, an Olympic gold medalist, and a major league player named Gene Hasson, who had come up for a cup of coffee.‰
Kriek got the job with Courier in March 1961, and became a fixture on the local sports scene.
Kriek, Trent and Petriello were the best friends that Fayette County athletes had and chronicled some of the greatest moments in Fayette County sports history.
"The three of us we got along like brothers,‰ Petriello said. "One helped the other. We shared a lot a lot of information. It wasn‚t cut throat ˆ we really got along.‰
Kriek was sports editor of the Courier until June 1979. He then joined the sports staff of the Uniontown Herald-Standard as sports writer-columnist. He retired from full-time newspaper work in 1991, than later rejoined the Herald-Standard as sports writer on assignment and columnist. He also wrote the twice-weekly "Out of the Past" columns on sports history.
"Jim and I worked for competing newspapers at the time he first came to the Courier,‰ Trent stated. "We just sort of hit it off. We traveled together at tournament time a lot of times covering Fayette County teams. Then later on Jim came to work for our paper the Herald Standard. He had his niche, particularly with wrestling; I turned all of the wrestling over to Jim when he came to the Herald Standard. Wrestling and baseball, he loved both of those sports and he was very knowledgeable about them and all of the coaches knew him.
"I used to kid him, We were supposed to work a 37 and a half hour week and I used to tease Jim and say Œyou know it‚s time to get out of here Jim, you‚ve put in your time. He would say I‚ve got these thoughts and I‚ve got to put them down on paper before I leave.‚ It was hard to get him out of the office. It was really a labor of love.‰
Over the years Kriek developed his likes and dislikes as a sports writer. He disliked basketball, tolerated football and liked wrestling. Baseball was by far his favorite sport. He had a great rapport with most of the coaches and players, but he was really close with a few, such as Tom Sankovich, the Connellsville baseball coach; Ken Misiak, the Geibel boys' basketball coach; and Bob Bailor, the major league baseball player.
"I had a terrific relationship with Jim,‰ Sankovich offered. "I met him when I was first coaching at Dunbar in 1963. Then he followed all baseball teams at Connellsville for all those years. When he was with the Courier he was at every game. When he was with the Uniontown paper occasionally he would miss a game, but he would try to cover all of our big games and he was at all the playoff games.
"He was the type of reporter that let the story tell itself and he never bad mouthed any kids or coaches. He loved baseball and he made no bones about it, baseball was his favorite sport. He would call me up in January and say X amount of days until the first game. He did a lot for our team and he was good with the kids. He treated me right and I think he treated the whole county right. He was a great writer and he wasn‚t only a great sportswriter, he wrote in other areas too.‰
Despite not being a basketball fan, Kriek was very close with longtime Geibel Head Basketball Coach Ken Misiak.
"He was a very good writer and he was fair,‰ Misiak opined. "He wrote it the way he saw it and he didn‚t pull any punches. He was one of the fairest writers around. Jim was a real nice guy, he would come around and ask you if you needed anything and was always helpful. He started when I started down at Immaculate Conception and he said that he and I wanted to go out together. He had a very good sense of humor and he followed me all the way up to Hershey when we went and he was as proud and crying like I was.‰
Kriek was a first rate sports historian and two of his favorite subjects were Connellsville Olympic gold medalist John Woodruff and Connellsville Heisman Trophy winner John Lujack.
"It‚s a proud town,‰ Kriek said in "Hometown Heroes‰. "I went to Philadelphia when Lujack was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, and I asked him about all the honors that had come his way.
"He said all his honors were great ones, as far as he was concerned, and he didn‚t take any of them lightly. He said, "The greatest honor I ever had was when I was called up on stage at Connellsville High School to get my sweater and letter. Don‚t misunderstand me, but those other awards were given to me by people who didn‚t know me except athletically. Nothing compares with being honored in your hometown, where they really know all about you warts and all.‰
I guess Lujack‚s sentiments would apply to Kriek as well, he was born in Franklin, PA, but he was Connellsville and Fayette County all the way.
Kriek passed away on November 12, 2006 at the age of 78. He is survived by his wife Joan and three sons Dennis, George and Howard and a daughter Barbara.
Over the years Kriek was the recipient of 38 awards, including two in national competition and four in state (PNPA) writing. In 1992, he was named "Citizen of the Year" by the Connellsville Chamber of Commerce. It was a slam dunk that he would join the other two members of the "Big 3‰, Trent and Petriello in the Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Southwestern Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1997.