The byline said Harold Zeigler, but everybody called him Zig.
More than an acquaintance, but not bosom buddy, Zig was one of many sources I looked to as I learned (am still learning) this craft.
I was aware of Zig long before I became a colleague as I read his work in the daily New Era.
When Zig joined the New Era Staff in the early 70s, after a stint as a part-timer for the Intell, local sports was nothing like it is today.
There were five high school sports that got the lion’s share of coverage in the newspaper: football in the fall, basketball and wrestling in the winter, baseball and track & field in the spring.
And the schools that got the lion’s share of the coverage were McCaskey in the Central Penn League, Lancaster Catholic in the Tri-County League, and whichever county school was prevailing in its field.
There were no girls sports, period. And other boys’ sports, like soccer, were recognized only at playoff time. Deep in playoff time.
Because of this, the sports staffs need only be three-man groups, compared to today’s deep bench of writers.
Al Benshoff, Steve Summers and Mac Rutherford were the Intell. Bill Carroll, Dennis Fisher and Ziggy were the New Era.
Sadly, all except Rutherford have passed from us now.
Much has been said of how Zig loved golf, and hockey. Truth be told, Zig loved covering sports. All sports.
And, for a Hempfield guy, Zig knew more about McCaskey sports history than many Red Tornado grads.
He developed an affinity for soccer while doing his undergrad at Elizabethtown College and was a source I trusted and tapped.
More than sports Zig loved his family, his wife Sue and daughter Kristin.
Every morning when he arrived at work Zig would unlock his desk, open a drawer, pull out two framed photographs and place them on his desk. The photos of Sue and Kristin grounded him in the daily maelstrom of writing on deadline.
Mention has been made of Zig’s sense of humor, how it leaned to the sarcastic. One Saturday morning, as he created a file in preparation for writing up the football game he’d covered, he declared, “This will be a Pulitzer-winning effort. In fact, I think that’s what I’ll name it: Pulitzer!”
We all laughed, knowing that, while it would likely not be considered for a Pulitzer Prize, it would be a concise recap of what had transpired and the reader would know as much, if not more than, the fan who had sat through the game.
Later in his career, Zig and I would double cover contests. I would write the game story, Zig would write the sidebar, or human interest angle.
One trip to State College, to cover Manheim Township in the state baseball semifinals, still remains a fond memory.
For the greater part of his adult life Zig’s health was an issue. Crohn’s Disease did a number on him and, with several of my brothers-in-law also hit by Crohn’s, I was always interested in Zig’s battle against this debilitating disease.
While surgery appeared to have beaten back Zig’s Crohn’s as he entered his 50s, perhaps there was no escape.
After retirement Zig kept active umpiring softball games in the spring. Covering a Columbia-Donegal game in Mt. Joy, I never recognized Zig, who was umping the bases.
He had an unusual play at third – and got the call right – and, days later, asked me what I thought of the play.
It was only then, seeing how gaunt he was, that I realized it had been him calling the play. And how his health had declined.
Had not seen Zig in the year since then. Earlier this summer, talking with Jim Hersh, he asked, “Did you hear Zig has ALS?” My heart sank. I hoped against hope it somehow might not be true.
While surfing the Harrisburg Patriot’s website for some girls soccer info I stumbled across Tim Leone’s remembrance of Zig, who had passed two days earlier.
Far too soon, and, at 62, far too young.
There are no words to express how I will miss him. However, I’m heartened to think that Zig and Summers are sitting up in that celestial Bears’ Den, sharing stories and, perhaps, a beer.