John Leuzzi: Collegiate Journalist of the Year

photo credit: John Leuzzi

It was Saturday, June 25. I had just gotten into my car and queued up my country music for the 30 minute drive up to the ballpark for that day’s road game. Traffic was all clear, and I was on time to catch the 2:30 team bus.

However, as I was getting ready to put the car into drive a text notification popped up onto my dashboard. It said it came from Aimee Galaszewski, so I opened up my phone and read her text “Are you free this morning for a quick call?”

As I read that text, three thoughts came to mind but only two made sense and seemed realistic at that moment. However, there was something about this third feeling that sat too comfortably with me for a reason I did not know.

So I responded back to say “I am free now” thinking she either wants to catch up or tell me about someone who expressed interest about joining the sports desk at the Marquette Wire to her.

Man was I wrong and am I so glad I was.

Remember that third thought? Well, that hunch feeling I had inside my stomach was feeling more and more realistic as I sat on this phone call in complete silence waiting for Aimee to add this “someone” to the call.

That “someone” ended up being Mark Zoromski, a dear friend, mentor and former director of student media. Then came a sentence that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

“John, this is Mark. I am on the side of the road somewhere in Wisconsin as I am driving to my high school reunion right now, but Aimee and I wanted to get on a call to tell you that the Wisconsin Newspaper Association has awarded you top honors in being named the Collegiate Journalist of the Year in Wisconsin.”

Holy cow. I remember being completely speechless as those words were spoken to me and my first words being on the lines of “shut up. Wow, really?” I know it sounds a little dramatic and staged right but that is okay, it felt like a scene coming out of a movie.

As I have said countless times since that day, that phone call is one of the more special and life-changing phone calls that I have ever had. It is not because I found out the news — sure that is a factor into it — but rather because of who the two people were on the other end of the call. That is what made it surreal and special for me. More about these two individuals later.

So I hope you will allow me to indulge myself for a little bit longer as I reflect on how I got to this moment, after all I just left you all on a cliffhanger so I guess there is no other option.

I can vividly remember joining the Marquette Wire back in 2019, heading into my first year at Marquette and being tossed into the women’s soccer beat. Let me tell you, it was a frightening feeling as I did not know a single thing about the team or how to write a proper game recap or feature article as well as being the only first-year on the desk. And on top of that, right before the first week of school I found out Aimee was leaving the beat as she was promoted to another position on the desk so I was a one-person band for the entire season.

But little did I know the trust and confidence that then Executive Sports Editor John Steppe had in me on the beat and being a part of the desk was the missing piece to the puzzle as I tried to find my path as a journalist. This then led me to a beat that I adored for two full seasons, which I still do from afar, in Marquette women’s basketball.

In my time on the women’s basketball beat, I have been to tell some of my favorite feature stories as well as coming to learn the impact “good journalism” has and the reward that comes after filing an article. I am thankful to the coaches and athletes at Marquette for trusting me in telling their stories.

For those of you who may not know, sophomore year was a challenging year for me. Aside from going to school in a global pandemic, I was close to leaving the Wire at the end of the fall semester. But, two separate conversations with Aimee and Mark would soon change all that.

Again, little did I know, hearing that reassurance of confidence from these two individuals that I was supposed to be at the Wire, could one day be the Executive Sports Editor and had people, who I didn’t think knew of me, at the Wire who also saw those things was life-changing for me.

So to quote my Philadelphia 76ers, I decided to Trust the Process with the Wire and stayed on for the spring semester. Many highlights came out from that spring semester but one overshadowed the others, a moment that altered my career as an inspiring sports journalist forever.

I highlight and spend time talking about this moment of my career as a student journalist because being that person to break a monumental sports story like this one showed me the impact journalists can have and the importance of the media, especially student media.

In March of that year, rumors were circulating social media that Shaka Smart was leaving Texas to become the next Marquette men’s basketball head coach. But these rumors weren’t enough for the Wire to confirm this new hire, so without any hesitation I grabbed my coat and backpack in the newsroom and stationed myself on the public sidewalk outside of the Al McGuire Center. I pulled out my iPhone and did what I was taught to do in the classroom during a situation like this, keep my camera rolling and ask questions to any prominent figure that walked by.

And so, by putting the lessons from the classroom and the Wire newsroom into action, I was able to get confirmation from both Marquette University President Michael Lovell and former Marquette men’s basketball player Theo John to break the news that Shaka Smart was indeed coming to Marquette before Marquette Athletics released any type of statement.

I highlight and spend time talking about this moment of my career as a student journalist because being that person to break a monumental sports story like this one showed me the impact journalists can have and the importance of the media, especially student media.

It also reassured me that joining the Wire and choosing the Diederich College of Communication were two of the best decisions that I could have made. The Wire has truly led me to some of the best opportunities that there are out there for college journalists and I don’t know where I would be without it! AND, it has also led me to finding some of my closest and best friends which is bigger than an award like this.

photo credit: John Leuzzi

I want to thank Aimee for nominating me, you truly are one of a kind and I am so glad our paths have crossed. I wouldn’t be where I am today at the Wire if it wasn’t for your guidance and push. And to Mark, words are endless for the impact you have made on me both in and out of the classroom.

I’m incredibly humbled, blessed and thankful to receive this year’s WNA Collegiate Journalist of the Year Award. However, an accolade of this sort is not just about me or for me. It is a culmination of the endless amount of mentorship, guidance and support from mentors, colleagues and most importantly my friends and family, especially my parents,….so for that THANK YOU!