“Montclair State stood out from all the state schools in New Jersey for its academic reputation while providing me with the perfect foundation for my career,” says Henry “Hank” Gola ’76. After graduating from Montclair State in 1976 as a history major, he pursued a career in sports journalism. His latest of three books, City of Champions, has just been released. It’s a gripping account of his hometown Garfield High School’s 1939 national championship football team set against the backdrop of pre-World War II America.
Gola, who previously penned two other books, Hard Nose and Tiger Woods, recently completed a successful 42-year career in the newspaper industry. He began his career at the Daily Record and The Herald-News where he covered professional soccer. During his time at The Herald-News and while he was completing his final semester, he was a beat writer for the NASL Cosmos and had the opportunity to travel the country with world-class athletes such as Pele and Franz Beckenbauer. “At that time, the Cosmos were drawing sell-out crowds and grabbing headlines away from the Yankees and Mets. I suddenly found myself, as a young reporter, competing against the New York papers,” says Gola. He later went on to cover professional golf and football for the New York Daily News and New York Post.
In addition to releasing books and pursuing a successful career as a sports journalist, Gola has collected a number of writing awards from the Golf Writers Association of America. Most recently, he was named the 2018 recipient of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association’s Lincoln Werden Award, one of the nation’s top prizes in golf journalism, joining such notable names as Jim Nantz, Dan Jenkins, Dave Anderson and Jack Whitaker.
As an undergrad who commuted from Garfield, Gola was the sports editor of The Montclarion and provided several play-by-play of football games for WMSC, Montclair State’s radio station. Perhaps, one of his most memorable moments as a student comes from being part of the student newspaper. When he first walked into the office to join the newspaper, he was known as Henry. However, former colleague, Carol Sakowitz LeDonne ’77, immediately gave him the name “Hank” because she noted, “Hank was a better name for a sportswriter.” Ever since then, he was known as Hank.
Aside from being part of the newspaper, Gola further pursued his passion of journalism by working part-time job at The Herald-News where he covered high school sports. Through The Montclarion and The Herald-News, he was able to apply professional techniques which led him directly into his field. Gola originally pictured himself as the play-by-play man for his favorite major league team, the Baltimore Orioles. However, it was his childhood ambition to work in sports media. “Once I realized I had an aptitude for writing – and that I enjoyed it – a newspaper career became the natural path,” he says.
He recalls two professors that influenced both his academic and professional career. American history professor, Dr. Joel Schwartz, inspired him when it came to research. “I thought of Dr. Schwartz often as I spent the three and a half years researching City of Champions – combing through microfilm and archives” he says. Although he did not become a historian, Gola indeed recorded history through his entire career as a journalist. Francis Greico, former Montclarion advisor, provided him with journalism courses and workshops that impacted his passion for the field. “The window of his office was plastered with articles from his former students and I was proud when my byline joined theirs” he says.
Gola has fond memories of his time at Montclair State. As a student and Montclarion sports editor, he was able to witness the then top-ranked wrestling team compete in the Division lll National Championship Tournament at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. Although they placed second, Montclair State went on to win the championship the year later. However, the moment that he remembers the most is becoming engaged to his wife Lillian Gola ’76, an accounting major, while attending Montclair State.
After a successful career, Gola hopes his experience can help inspire current journalism students at Montclair State. He offers the following piece of advice: “Be prepared. Understand that you will be entering a competitive environment beyond the classroom. Stand out as an individual but be willing to be mentored. Try to learn something each day and welcome challenges as building blocks.”