Hoge to Speak at Lou Holtz Dinner

EAST LIVERPOOL – Tickets may be reserved now to see former NFL running back and ESPN analyst Merril Hoge’s appearance as guest speaker at the Lou Holtz/Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame induction banquet to be held Monday, June 4, 2018. He will be honored as the recipient of the 2018 Distinguished American Award.

Hoge is an analyst for a variety of ESPN programs, including NFL Live, NFL Matchup, NFL PrimeTime and SportsCenter. He also contributes insight and analysis to ESPN’s annual Super Bowl and NFL Draft coverage and appears on multiple platforms, including ESPN Radio and ESPN.com. He joined ESPN in 1996 as a game analyst and sideline reporter for ESPN2’s college football coverage and also called Arena Football League telecasts in 2007 and in the late 1990s.

An eight-year NFL veteran, Hoge spent 1987-93 with the Pittsburgh Steelers and was the team’s starting running back for six of those seasons. He set the team record for most receptions by a running back, totaling 50 in 1988 and was one of only two Steelers to rush for more than 100 yards in back-to-back playoff games. He concluded his career in 1995 with the Chicago Bears after suffering a series of concussions. At the time of his retirement, Hoge had played in 122 consecutive games, the longest streak in the NFL at that time.

He is chairman and a member of the board of the Highmark Caring Foundation, which has created four centers in Pennsylvania (downtown and suburban Pittsburgh, Erie and Harrisburg) for grieving children, adolescents and their families who have lost loved ones. The foundation is particularly meaningful to Hoge, who lost his mother when he was just 21 years old.

A survivor of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2003, Hoge received the Chairman’s Advocacy Award from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in 2004 and 2008 for his outstanding participation in driving awareness for LLS and its mission. He also is extremely active in concussion research and in the prevention and treatment of brain injuries. In January 2010, he was appointed to the NFL MTBI Committee, which initiates research and advises the NFL on best practices for concussion prevention and management. 

He was named in 2010 to the board of directors for USA Football, the sport's national governing body on youth and amateur levels, and in 2011 he participated in the NFL-USO Tour to Afghanistan with fellow ESPN analyst Matt Millen and Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, visiting troops overseas. His book, “Find a Way: Three Words That Changed My Life,” is about the philosophy that has guided him and enabled him to overcome obstacles throughout his life. 

Tickets for the induction banquet are on sale now and are only available through the Holtz Hall of Fame. The ticket price of $135 includes admission to the appetizer and dinner portion of the evening, the ceremony, a keepsake program and an event favor as well as a ticket on a prize drawing. During the evening’s activities, tickets will be drawn for cash prizes of $500, $1,000 and $2,500. Winners must be present and show identification.

In keeping with the 20-year anniversary theme of “Giving Thanks for 20 Great Years,” this year’s buffet dinner at the St. Florian Hall in Wintersville is a full Thanksgiving-style menu with roast turkey, ham, and all the seasonal side dishes.

Appetizers are at 6 p.m. Dinner is at 6:30 p.m. followed by the induction program. Doors open at 5:45 p.m. Following dinner, Class of 2018 inductees – to be announced at a later date -- will be recognized. 

“We’re hoping this year will be our biggest and best event yet,” said Director Robin Webster. “With a speaker like Merril Hoge, we expect ticket sales to be brisk. We are willing to reserve tickets now for those who plan to attend but wish to delay their purchase until closer to the event.” Reserved tickets must be paid for no later than March 4 or they will be released back into inventory.

Businesses or individuals interested in being event sponsors or advertising in the printed program may contact Rosemary Mackall, director of development, at 330-386-5443. Available ad space is limited. Event sponsors at various levels receive tickets, recognition in the program and at the banquet hall, a “thank you” gift from Coach Holtz and exclusive entry to a VIP reception the morning of the event for the unveiling of inductee displays and a photo opportunity with Holtz and Hoge.

The Hall of Fame, which opened in 1998 in the former Bank One building on E. Fifth Street, is celebrating its twentieth year as a museum for “sports, history, motivation and more.” Since its inception, nearly a million dollars has been distributed to vocational students and educators in the Upper Ohio Valley.

The idea of the Hall of Fame originally was conceived as a facility to celebrate the achievements of East Liverpool’s favorite son, legendary football coach Lou Holtz. When approached, Holtz initially declined and later relented, providing that the concept be expanded to also recognize residents and natives of the Upper Ohio Valley in all fields of endeavor who serve as inspirations for the area’s young people. Holtz also expressed his desire for the hall to help preserve the rich cultural heritage of the communities that make up the valley.

The hall is open Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is no admission fee, however donations are welcome. Area schools are encouraged to schedule class field trips, and local organizations are also welcome to call for group tours. Those interested in more information or wishing to reserve event tickets may call 330-386-5443.