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Joe Vardon, a 1998 Tallmadge High School graduate, spoke Feb. 22 as part of the Spotlight on Success Series.
Vardon has written about state and national politics at the Columbus Dispatch, where he rode in presidential motorcades and traveled the world with Ohio Governor John Kasich. He also spent five years at the Toledo Blade, where he wrote about everything from red bras flying out of car windows to University of Michigan football. Vardon currently covers the Cavs for cleveland.com and the Plain Dealer. This is his third season on the job, which means that, yes, he's had a front-row seat for the last two NBA Finals.
First, Vardon asked students to raise their hands if they thought it was okay to fail.
He told them it was important to know that "to be successful, it is okay to fail."
Joe then spoke about the people he has had the opportunity to meet, including celebrities and politicians such as former President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Ohio Governor John Kasich, and athletes such as LeBron James. He also spoke about the places he has visited all over the world.
Vardon said if someone had said to him at the age of 15 or 16, which is the age of most of the sophomores, that he would be doing what he's doing he would have said 'no way.'
Joe then went on to tell his story about his time as the quarterback when he was in high school. Joe said that statistically he was "probably the worst quarterback in Tallmadge history." He jokingly said that he could possibly blame it on Superintendent Jeff Ferguson, who was standing in the back of the auditorium listening. He said Coach Ferguson, as he knew him, could be blamed because Ferguson left as coach after Joe's sophomore season. Joe went on to talk about his stats and told his story about his senior year and how his best friend, who was also the quarterback, got hurt. Joe found out that he was going to play the entire game that Friday night, which was the Homecoming game. Or so Joe thought he would play the entire game. Third quarter he was removed from the field, and his injured best friend was put in the game, who then went on to lead the team to a win, injuries and all. Joe was not happy with his stats and progress in football. However, he learned so much by continuing, trying, and pressing on. He learned hard work, discipline, and the importance of teamwork. He learned that being there for his best friend was important.
"You must always push ahead, especially when you are afraid, and especially when you think you should give up," said Vardon.
Another failure came while playing baseball. Vardon said his sophomore year he was the losing pitcher in the 1996 Baseball State Championship game. He said his path could've been quite different had he decided to be defeated by this loss. But he continued to push forward and try. He went on to play four years of college baseball at the College of Wooster, where he graduated in 2002.
Joe then shared his story about a friend that decided to get into politics and convinced Joe to leave his job as a reporter and lead his campaign. Subsequently, his friend had a bad experience that made him a YouTube sensation "for all the wrong reasons." Joe said he often thought to himself, "I walked away from my job to do this?" It was long hours, very stressful and they were "losing badly," ultimately finishing in fifth place in the political race.
Because of this failure, Joe said he learned more about politics and his return to reporting began as a political reporter for the Columbus Dispatch.
Joe's experiences in life -- the ups, the downs, the failures -- made him continue to push forward. From campaigning he learned about politics and gained a job. The years in sports taught him about the game and landed him a job as a sports writer.
Vardon ended his presentation by telling the kids to try.
"Try everything. Do everything that you possibly can. Try your best. Never be afraid to try," he encouraged.
"I was really intrigued by Mr. Vardon's presentation," said sophomore Dylan Theisen. "He has taken a similar career path to the one that I hope to pursue, and hearing his message and stories inspired me to further my pursuit of this dream at any costs and taught me about the road to becoming a sports writer."
"It is always a great feeling to see our alumni give back to us by speaking to our students," said Superintendent Jeff Ferguson. "Joe's message about learning from failure and taking risks was so powerful. Many of our students see the success but not the hard work and hard knocks behind it. I am very thankful to Joe for that message."
"It was great for our students to see and hear Joe; he emphasized the ups and downs of life, and how every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow from," said social studies teacher Jon Shomo. "Very few people maximize their opportunities as much as Joe has. Personally, it was great to get to share a few minutes with him."
Speakers are being booked for the 2017-18 school year. Alumni are asked to contact Joni Giles, Arene Staszak or Julie Headrick if they would like to share their career success story.