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A symbol of Youngstown: Blue-collar roots, values define Stoops

By Jake Trotter Published: August 19, 2008

/> On plaques, there's a running list of Ron Stoops Award winners, given every year to the Mooney football and baseball players who best represent Ron Sr.'s morals, character and leadership.

"My dad was a very ordinary guy,” Ron Jr. said. "He was very typical of the males and people in this town. Extremely hard-working, very humble, very family-oriented. Faith was very important. Truly, his life was religion, family, work.”

Discipline was one of the main characteristics Ron Sr. instilled in his children.

"Ronnie was tough on his kids; I thought I was tough on my kids, but wow, oh my gosh,” Bucci said. "He was tough on the field and at home. Ronnie was what you call a tough, taskmaster. Very, very demanding.”

Longtime Mooney teacher Paul Gregory, now the school's alumni director, recalled having coffee with Ron Sr. one morning in the teacher's lounge.

"Ron asked, ‘How's Mark doing in class?' ” Gregory said. "I told him he had missed a couple of homework assignments. Next thing I know, Ronnie was out of his chair and down the hall and has Mark outside the door. I was sitting there, embarrassed.”

Playing for Ron Sr. especially wasn't easy. Especially if your last name was "Stoops.” Ron Jr. was the first to learn this when he entered high school in the early 1970s.

"He never wanted anyone thinking his kids were playing just because he was the coach,” Bucci said. "He wasn't going to play his son because maybe out of 10 passes he might drop one. Or maybe he wasn't as tough as Ron wanted him to be. He wasn't going to play him until I insisted. That was Ron, he wanted perfection out of his kids.”

Perhaps that expectation of toughness from his father explains why many call Bob one of the toughest players ever to pass through Mooney.

"He was never the most talented guy, but he competed his tail off,” Bo Pelini said. "That's the makeup of a lot of guys from Youngstown.”

Bob was a two-way standout at receiver and safety, earning All-Steel Valley honors twice.

"He wasn't big, but very, very competitive,” Bucci said. "When I think of Bobby, I think of someone who wants to knock your head off your shoulders. As a defensive back, he would pray for someone to come across the middle to try and catch a pass.”

In 1976 and 1977, Bob helped lead the Cardinals to back-to-back Steel Valley Conference titles. But he wasn't alone on those teams.

Offensive lineman Ed Muransky went on to play for the Los Angeles Raiders. Bruising fullback Jackie Loew now trains middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, also a Youngstown native.

Despite his high school accolades, Bob, not blessed with imposing strength or blazing speed, had few college recruiters interested in him.

But he caught a break.

Bob Commings had recently made the jump from coach at legendary Massillon High School to coach at the University of Iowa. Commings had also attended East, the same high school that Ron Sr. and Bucci did, and was friends with both coaches.

"Commings took a chance on Bobby, based on the fact that he was from Youngstown, that he was a tough kid, even if he wasn't a superior athlete,” Bucci said.

Even though Commings was summarily replaced by Hayden Fry, Bob didn't disappoint, eventually becoming a team captain and earning All-Big Ten honors. That cleared the way for his younger brothers, Mike and Mark, to later earn football scholarships to Iowa.

"When he got on campus, he'd be sitting back there again waiting, he didn't care how big you were,” Bucci said. "That's why he was a reflection of Youngstown.”

Remembering Youngstown
On Nov. 1, two kids from Youngstown's south side will be slugging it out as head coaches of two of college football's most storied programs.

Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Bob Stoops and Bo Pelini.

Said Bo, "I guarantee it won't be as competitive as some of those backyard basketball games were back in Youngstown.”

Said Bob, "All of Youngstown will probably be here. All the Oklahoma people will be left fighting for tickets.”

But the one man who would have enjoyed that game most won't be in attendance.

On Oct. 7, 1988, Ron Sr. was still defensive coordinator at Mooney, while Ron Jr. was an assistant coach on the other sideline of rival Boardman.

As time expired, Mooney scored a game-tying touchdown but missed the extra point that would've won the game.

"When it hit him was when we missed the extra point,” Bucci said. "After that, Ronnie went to the benches and laid down. We came back to win in triple overtime. That was the last smile we ever got out of him.”

On the way to the hospital, Ron Sr. died of a massive heart attack at age 54.

"He was a great man, somebody I think about a lot,” Bo said. "He touched a lot of people's lives. Bottom line is, I really hope I'm able to touch as many lives as he was able to and have that kind of impact on kids.”

Today, Youngstown is not what it once was. The population has dwindled to fewer than 80,000 as the steel jobs have long since split town. Not far from Detroit Avenue is a gravesite representing the town's past and its inevitable future — rubble in a field where the steel mills used to be.

Smokestacks no longer dot the skyline, but that hasn't prevented Mooney from undergoing a football resurgence. Under coach P.J. Fecko, the Cardinals won state titles in 2004 and 2006 and finished runner-up in 2005 and 2007.

Many of those who have gone on to bigger things haven't forgotten Youngstown. Every summer, the Stoopses, the Pelinis, even Ray Mancini, come back to town to participate in the Bocce Social, which raises money for kids to attend Mooney, a private school.

Dee Stoops also still lives in town, not far from where the Buccis do.

Even though he's a multi-millionaire now and perhaps the most famous face in Oklahoma, Bob is just another guy in Youngstown.

"There's no rock stars in Youngstown,” he said. "I'm treated like everybody else. If you start getting a big head, just go home. Everyone straightens you out.”

Recently, Bob arranged and paid for the Superdome's old artificial turf, which was damaged because of Hurricane Katrina, to be transported via multiple 18-wheelers to Mooney to serve as the school's new practice field.

The New Orleans Saints logos at midfield and in the end zones are still there.

"Some people wanted to get rid of those and replace them with Mooney symbols,” Bucci said. "I said, ‘Hey, leave that, that's the greatest thing in the world.

"We've already got Mooney

Ron Stoops, center, coached both sons Bob, left, and Mike at Cardinal Mooney High School. Photo provided

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