A colleague who will be missed

Most of the things I write are geared to my audience. This is one of those things I wrote strictly for myself just as a way to get my thoughts down.
For the past week or so, my sports-writing colleague Joey Fosko of the Paducah Sun and his family have been on my mind.
Fosko, which is what most people called him, died just past midnight on June 17, two minutes into his 46th birthday. A massive heart attack was the cause. He had just finished a two-mile walk with his girlfriend, who posted the news of his death on Facebook several hours later.
I was on vacation in Michigan and that shocking post was at the top of my news feed when I woke up Monday morning. I couldn’t believe it. Just two weeks earlier, I had seen Joey at the state baseball tournament in Lexington. We visited during Henderson County’s first-round and quarterfinal wins. He was there covering his alma mater Lone Oak, the First Region representative. But as was often Fosko’s practice, he stuck around for most of the other games in the tournament. He loved high school sports of all kinds and loved watching games he wasn’t covering. It also gave him the opportunity to visit with other members of the sports writing fraternity. On these nights, he, Mike Marsee of the Danville Advocate-Messenger and I occupied the suite set aside for members of the press. We talked about Cajun food, ugly baseball uniforms and lots of other important matters.
On Friday, just a couple of days before his death, Fosko called. He was wanting information on Henderson County football for the season preview he was writing for The Cats’ Pause. Joey was always gathering information and it made me feel good that he called seeking it from me because that meant he respected my work and my knowledge of this area. The feeling was certainly mutual.
We talked about my upcoming vacation, which including a trip to the Tigers-Orioles game on Monday night. “At least you’ll get to see the best hitter in baseball,” he said. Then he told me a story involving Miguel Cabrera and Paducah native Gene Roof, who is a long-time coach in the Tigers’ organization. When Cabrera crushed the first pitch he saw in Monday’s game for a home run, I immediately thought of Joey. He would have appreciated that.
Fosko and I had a lot in common. We were born the same year, just a little more than a month apart, and started in the newspaper business around the same time. We both had jobs that we loved.
I don’t have any idea the first time I met Joey, but he probably would know. He never forgot anything.
Joey and I became good friends when I became sports editor at the Mayfield Messenger in 1990. Because I covered Mayfield and Graves County, two of the First Region’s more successful athletic programs, Joey and I were often covering the same games for competing newspapers. During those years, we made a couple of trips to the boys Sweet 16 together. I remember one in particular when I was sick from my annual spring sinus infection. Joey had to cover the girls regional championship game on Tuesday night and the boys Sweet 16 started the next day in Lexington. On the verge of slipping into a coma, I stretched out on the wooden bleachers at Murray State’s Racer Arena after the game while he pounded out his story in his hunt-and-peck typing style for Wednesday’s edition. Joey then drove to Lexington while I sniffled. We must have rolled into town around 3 or 4 a.m. but made it to the noon games at Rupp Arena the next day. We both loved the Sweet 16 and Joey usually stayed for the entire tournament even after the First Region team he covered was long gone.
I’ve never admitted this but I was a little jealous of Joey in those early days. You see Fosko had the job I had always wanted. I grew up reading the Paducah Sun. That’s the newspaper my family and my friends from my native Lyon County read. The Sun covered athletics at Murray State, my alma mater. When I decided I wanted a newspaper career, the Paducah Sun was one of the places I wanted to end up. The Gleaner was another, but that’s a story for another time.
But the more I got to know Joey that jealousy disappeared, mainly because he was so likable. I don’t know anybody who knew him who didn’t like him even though there were some who may not have liked what he wrote. (He wasn’t a fan of UK basketball or St. Louis Cardinals baseball so that explains a lot.)
But more than being likeable, Fosko was a fantastic reporter. He loved his job and he worked extremely hard at it. I always thought Joey was working all of the time, not because he had to but because he wanted to. The Paducah Sun and its readers were fortunate to have him because Joey could have worked anywhere, but he loved Paducah and all of Western Kentucky.
The Sun’s readers will miss Fosko for sure, but so will his fellow sports journalists.
With the newly-consolidated McCracken County High School set to become Henderson County’s chief rival in the Class 6-A First District in football, he and I were looking forward to covering football games together again, just like the old days. We both wondered how the addition of McCracken County would change the landscape of 6-A football in Western Kentucky, which has been dominated by Henderson County. In our final conversation, Fosko told me he was picking Henderson County to win the district again for his Cats’ Pause preview. I’m not sure how his readers in McCracken County would have liked that but that wouldn’t have bothered Fosko.
An effort was started on Facebook to name the press box at McCracken County High’s new stadium after Joey Fosko. That’s a very deserving memorial to a great writer and a great person. But I have a feeling Joey would be against it. He hardly ever covered a game from the press box. He liked being on the sidelines. Fosko’s reach certainly went beyond McCracken County so something more regional would be more appropriate.
The best way I know to honor my friend is to keep doing what I’ve been doing for the past 24 years and doing it the best I know how. That Henderson County at McCracken County football game on Oct. 25 won’t feel right without him.
One thing I did learn about Joey after his death is that he was an advocate of organ donation. It’s also another thing we have in common. In recent years, Joey successfully beat cancer after having a tumor removed from his tongue. Because of the large doses of chemotherapy he received, his organs were unable to be used for transplants, with one exception — his eyes. It’s incredible that the eyes that have witnessed innumerable sporting events all over Western Kentucky are seeing still today. I wonder if the fortunate recipient will suddenly want to watch countless hours of high school sports and witness the agony that is Chicago Cubs’ baseball. I wouldn’t be surprised.

4 thoughts on “A colleague who will be missed

  1. Good stuff Kevin; thanks for the column. Getting to do exactly what one wants to do for a living is an incredible blessing. There aren’t too many of us who get to experience that.

  2. Great article! It is amazing the impact Joey had on people across the state. Thanks for sharing. Now, let’s get Joey in the KHSAA Hall of Fame!

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