Special to #SpanningtheNeed (Part 2 of 3)
“I can recall Ray and Gary speaking to a guy named Nelson, a diehard Atlanta Falcons fan as to who his team needed to draft if he expected to win. There were Saints fans, Eagles, Redskins, Dolphins, Cowboys, Colts, Jets, Chargers, Vikings, Lions, Bears, Falcons, Bronco’s, Raiders, Chiefs, 49ers, Rams, Giants, Bengals and of course Browns and Steelers fans and you quickly realized Youngstown was a melting pot of NFL fans from all over the nation. It was better than any Draft Show on television and quite frankly, more accurate because Chuck, Ray, and of course, Gary, made sure of it.
“Chuck had us attend all of Gary’s games when he played for Woodrow Wilson and you quickly realized that every fall Friday was Redmen Gameday. We saw Gary’s entire senior year, which included a 7-0 win over the Mike Zordich-led, City Series champion Chaney Cowboys. Gary not only starred at his defensive line position that game but also joined the Redmen backfield as the blocking back who paved the way for the game-winning touchdown.
“We remained close and one day it was Chuck who called me saying that he had an idea. The four of us met at a restaurant where Chuck unveiled his plans for a monthly sports newspaper. After debating the name, we all agreed that it would be called ‘The Valley’s Playbook and the four of us would have an equal share in the paper. The first issue would be a “Football Kick-off” preview like no other ever seen in the Mahoning Valley. Every high school team in the Mahoning Valley would be featured and receive a one-page preview, along with YSU, Ohio State, the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers. Each month we would meet to decide what stories we should pursue for the upcoming edition with Chuck usually having a list of assignments. Publishing day was always the longest day of the month and we would meet at a house that Ray had rented, beginning at 4 p.m. and usually putting the edition to sleep before dropping it off at the printer at nearly 4 a.m.
“The four of us would go home and get what sleep we could, go to work and then meet at the office at 4:00 p.m. the next day to distribute the publication to area retail locations and radio-TV outlets. Ray was always the idea guy, Chuck kept us all in line and Gary was the ‘ice breaker,’ so to speak. When Ray had a new idea that Chuck was not in favor of, the room would get completely quiet, Chuck would give Ray his ‘no way’ facial expression that the three of us witnessed many, many times. It was Gary who would always say something to lighten the moment as he was the mediator of the group. When Ray presented his idea of a Playbook Swimsuit issue, Chuck just looked at him, no one said a word then Gary spoke up and said, ‘Well guys, you have to admit that it will be different’ and that edition turned out being one of our more popular publications – I must point out that Ray’s ideas usually turned out being good ideas.
“Throughout the years and following the Playbook, we always kept in touch. I remember talking to Ray and Gary while I was with the Detroit Pistons about Ray being on the CBS Great Race. We wanted Ray to wear a Valley Playbook T-shirt (another Ray idea) on the show. But Chuck passed away, unexpectedly, of a heart attack and it shook us all, to say the least. It was a dreaded feeling of the loss of a brother. I had taken every class at YSU with Chuck, joined him at the student newspaper, The Jambar, as one of his writers when he was sports editor and been business partners with him in the Playbook. As Ray, Gary and I stood next to Chuck’s casket at the funeral home, we vowed to stay close. When Gary was diagnosed with cancer, we were all confident that he would beat it. When Ray suffered a heart attack, Gary and I sat in his hospital room while he slept. We turned the lights out so the nurse thought we had left because neither of us wanted to leave his room. We did not want to lose another brother.
During Gary’s ‘Birthday Bash’ last September, which included many celebrity coaches and athletes from the Mahoning Valley, Gary and I took a walk. He was told by his doctors that he had six months to live so we talked and reminisced about Ray’s idea to resurrect the Playbook. I told him it would be impossible to do without him. Gary said he was working out and did not feel sick and would not give up hope. A couple months later he said he was trying new, experimental drugs and there were signs of improvement when the cancer seemingly slowed down. He continued to work, posting photos of Ohio State and area high school sports on Facebook like there was no cancer hindering him. In his final week on this earth, he was doing what he loved – working, writing about the Buckeyes and local athletes. He continued to do what he always did since the day I met him – moving forward like he always did with a sense of purpose.
“We lost a brother but Heaven gained an angel. He never liked pity because he was always grateful for everything in his life. His friends and family meant everything to him and he was a winner in every sense in the word. He figured out life, lived it to the fullest and to paraphrase the popular Frank Sinatra song, ‘He did it his way.’ “We should all be so lucky!”
Over the years, Gary also became involved on OSU’s The Buckeye Sports Bulletin, which led to a position at Bucknuts, the largest Ohio State sports website in the nation and a post that he held for 18 ½ years.
He was a renowned sports columnist and photographer for OSU football and proudly wore his press pass when roaming the sidelines of Buckeyes football games, a stint that lasted some 22 years.
He also developed a successful freelance photography business and was considered an area sports historian and expert, traveling many miles to document event and players with his camera in tow. He detailed his cancer battle and, in the process, built quite a following while doing so.
“I had the privilege to know and work with Gary for over 30-plus years and his passion for Mahoning Valley and Ohio sports was shared with thousands through his photography and writing talents,” added Rick Love, current YSU associate athletic director for marketing. “I remember sharing conversations with him on the sidelines of Stambaugh Stadium during numerous football games and courtside at both YSU and Youngstown Pride basketball games. There was never a bigger fan of Mahoning Valley sports – from Little League all the way to area athletes that made it to the professional level. Certainly, his time was too short on this earth, but he did touch many fans through his life’s work and my thoughts go out to his family and friends as we remember such a special man.”
Jamie Hall, YSU assistant sports information director, echoed Love’s sentiments. “Gary always showed great passion for our Mahoning Valley sports teams and loved to publicize our athletes. He did so with professionalism and grace,” Hall stated.
Dana Balash, sports director at WFMJ-TV, Channel 21 and the Dean of area sportscasters, called Housteau a welcome presence at area games and events.