PUNXSUTAWNEY â€” Sports reporter Zak Lantz is vacating his spot in the bleachers to fill another seat â€” editor-in-chief of The Punxsutawney Spirit.
"As a Punxsy native, I grew up reading The Spirit, especially the sports pages, and I really do consider it quite an honor to be named editor," Lantz said. "It's still a little bit surreal, actually. I've told my family members who have asked me if I'm excited that I really am, but I still feel a bit shocked it's happened and fallen together as it has. Now that we're getting things rolling, though, I'm confident it'll be a smooth transition."
Starting today, Lantz is replacing Tom Chapin, who is leaving The Spirit for a position at his hometown newspaper in Greenville.
"It has been an adventure working for The Punxsutawney Spirit over the past decade," Chapin said. "I am grateful to our readers, advertisers and friends for supporting our product over the years. I wish Zak only the best as he takes on this new challenge and leads The Spirit's editorial staff into the future."
The challenge is one that Lantz is eager to accept. Though he admits that sports may be his first love, he is no stranger to writing, having self-published a book, "In a Cracked Mirror: Reflection on Brokenness," shortly after his beloved grandfather, Sonny Getch, passed away in 2010.
Lantz describes the book as "a memoir about learning to live with the fact that we and those we love are broken in all senses, physically, emotionally and spiritually, and how to find joy despite our imperfections."
A 2000 graduate of Punxsutawney Area High School, Lantz graduated from Clarion University in 2005 with a bachelor's in mathematics education and completed his master's in religious studies with a concentration in interfaith dialogue in 2009 from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
Despite living in Pittsburgh for three years, Lantz maintained strong ties to his family and his hometown. When his grandfather fell ill, he moved back to the Punxsutawney area and began searching for employment.
"The book was sort of a doorway into realizing how much I enjoyed the writing end of things, and actually made me pursue a career in writing," Lantz said. "Little did I know when I started the search that I'd find an ad for The Punxsutawney Spirit sports writer."
Lantz began work with The Spirit in the summer of 2011, becoming a familiar face at all local athletic events, from Punxsy Chucks football games to Rossiter Miners baseball games and Little League tournaments â€” and every sort of sports outing in between. Always with his camera in hand, he never hesitated to snap a photo, whether it was a winning slide into home plate or a smiling child cheering on the sidelines.
"While I'm certain that I'll miss the sports end of things, I'm also really looking forward to the new challenge that lies ahead," Lantz said. "I'll always be a sports fan, and now it will actually be a part of my job to proofread the pages instead of write the stories. So, I'll still be tied to the sports culture here in Punxsutawney, and I'll always be a fan of the red and the white."
Under his new position, Lantz will discontinue his popular weekly sports
column, "The Zak Zone," and will now be writing an as-yet-untitled editorial column that will appear every Monday on the Viewpoints page of The Spirit.
His first editorial column will appear in the Aug. 6 edition. It's yet another change to which he is looking forward.
"Change is always a little bit scary, and for myself, and for the rest of the staff, I know it'll be a bit of a transition," Lantz said. "But we're going to make it through this. Just as those who have gone before me, my aim as editor will be to put out the best product we can possibly publish. Given the experience of some members on staff and the fresh perspective coming from others, I'm fully confident in the abilities of the current editorial staff to pull together and really make a push toward making that aim a reality."
Spirit Publisher Tracy Smith is excited that Lantz is taking over the editorial helm of the 126-year-old Punxsutawney Spirit and is confident in his creativity and his dedication to producing a quality newspaper.
"Zak is an excellent writer," she said. "He already has a wonderful rapport with the community from his sports writing. He's an asset to The Spirit, and the entire staff is here to support him."
While Lantz may have never envisioned himself as editor of The Spirit, he now cannot imagine working anywhere but his hometown newspaper.
"If you had told me a few years ago when I moved back home that one day I would be the editor of The Spirit, I would have said you were absolutely crazy," he said. "I mean, I had never even considered a career in journalism, but some folks at the paper decided to take a chance on a small-town guy, and I found a niche that I loved. From the photography to the writing to the computer design, I discovered that I really loved every aspect of the job."
As for that empty seat in the bleachers? Well, don't expect it to stay empty for long. In his downtime, Lantz will undoubtedly be cheering for Punxsutawney athletic teams, his hometown pride evident in every shout of encouragement â€” and, now, on every page of The Spirit.