Any time news broke or the scanner lit up with something intriguing, it wouldn't take long for the night desk at the Observer-Reporter to get a phone call.
On the other end of the phone was Tom Sypula. He needed no introduction, just the words, "We got action."
Sypula covered spot news for various television stations, events as wide ranging as traffic accidents to Steelers training camp. He provided the O-R with countless tips, photographs and assistance. His passion and energy for his job was limitless.
The Observer-Reporter, like so many others, lost a good friend Sunday morning when Sypula died of an apparent heart attack while on assignment. He was 60.
I got to know Tom not long after I started at the O-R. I knew him as the videographer for Wash High football and quickly recognized his passion for his family, his loyalty to his friends on the Prexies coaching staff and his love of high school sports. He didn't care that I was a young guy, only a couple years out of college with little ties to the area where I was employed. He talked to me like I'd been around for decades.
I always admired that about Tom.
Keeping count of how many times Sypula wondered down from the taping platform during halftime, whether at Wash High or Canon-McMillan, and started up a conversation that lasted the duration of the break is impossible. It happened every game. Tom was engaging, but he listened as well as he conversed. He valued an opinion, whether it meshed with his or not. That's rare.
He loved talking about his family. He loved talking high school football. He loved talking about his close friend Guy Montecalvo and the positive impact his friends made on the lives of student-athletes. As mentioned early, he was passionate and loyal.
Sadly, Tom lost his son Tommy Sypula on Nov. 19.
That was the subject of my last conversation with Tom.
A couple weeks ago, a player on the Burgettstown High School boys basketball team was injured during a game against Fort Cherry. The player was life-flighted and, naturally, Sypula was ready for action. Thanks to my connections, I was actually able to assist him with information - 99 times out of 100 it worked the other way. While on the phone with Tom, he made a point to thank me for a piece I posted on this blog shortly after his son's death.
It's the last time I got to speak with him but will be a conversation I won't soon forget.