Sports in our region lost a good friend earlier this week.
Jesse Isenberg, a fixture on the local sports scene for five decades, died Monday at Somerset Hospital. He was 78.
I first met Jesse in the early 1990s. A 1948 Altoona High School graduate, he had just retired after more than 30 years at the Johnstown Tribune Democrat. The Mirror seized an opportunity to bring an experienced and respected writer back to where he got started, and began utilizing Isenberg as a correspondent covering high school sports in Cambria County, the AAABA national tournament and IUP football.
In Isenberg, I found something of a kindred spirit, and I mean that with the sincerest respect to Jesse. I like to think Jesse recognized that I shared his passion for scholastic sports, and we became fast friends.
Whenever we were at the games, we would sit together. It was an odd pairing: the veteran writer and the part-timer just out of college. I'd pick his brain about the business or the personalities and how best to cover things. He'd listen to me recite all the little statistical rules with which I torment our staff until this day.
There was a humility about Jesse I admired, and a friendliness about him I welcomed.
I think the thing that stood out to me the most about Jesse was the balance that he struck. Jesse understood he wasn't the story, but he had the confidence in himself that he knew how to tell it. He was direct and didn't flinch to ask the tough questions.
Jesse could do that and not end up in a confrontational position with those he was interviewing. He had a quick wit and a very soothing personality to be around. At the same time, he was very professional. I think he found the way to get coaches to know it wasn't personal; he was just doing his job.
Most of all, they knew Jesse would be fair. In this business, that's one of the greatest attributes one can have.
Personally, Jesse was very supportive of me as I pursued my career. When you spend several years working part-time, you need that. When you get that from someone who was as successful at it as he was, it means so much more. It helped me believe that maybe I was cut out for this.
Jesse's renewed association with the Mirror lasted into the mid-1990s, by which time I had left to take my first full-time job at The Progress in Clearfield. I'd still run into him from time to time at places like the Central Cambria High School gym, where he'd always offer encouragement and reassurance. He'd tell me the Mirror was missing out by letting me get away - I'm not sure I agreed, but it was nice to hear.
Through my friendship with Jesse, I got to know his daughter, Cory. She followed him into sports writing and has become one of my closest friends in this business. My thoughts go out to her and her family.
I haven't spoken much to Jesse since he left sports writing entirely, aside from a couple of phone calls here and there. That's my loss.
Sports in our region lost a good friend this week. The area, in general, lost a good man.
Cmor can be reached at 946-7440 or firstname.lastname@example.org