Throughout her 35-year career as a sports writer at The Tribune-Democrat, Cory Isenberg covered events ranging from auto racing to hockey and everything in between. But high school sports and spotlighting local athletes was her true passion.
Isenberg died Wednesday night at age 64 after a lengthy battle with cancer, a disease she previously had beaten twice during the past two decades.
“I feel like she broke some ground for women in sports writing,” said Forest Hills High School girls basketball coach Carol Cecere. “She just broke through at an early time for this area.
“She let young girls know and let me know there were women that were representing the sports world.”
A graduate of Ferndale Area High School and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Isenberg joined The Tribune-Democrat sports department as an assistant in May 1986. Her father, the late Jesse Isenberg, was a sports writer at the newspaper from 1958 to 1991, and Cory’s interest in covering sports grew as she tagged along when Jesse covered games during her youth.
“Cory was literally born to be a sports writer, and she cared deeply about the schools, the teams and the young athletes who filled her stories and columns,” Tribune-Democrat Editor Chip Minemyer said. “Few people have the level of passion for their jobs that Cory brought to the coverage of local sports – whether it was a state track meet in Shippensburg or a AAABA Tournament game in Lilly.
“As a woman covering sports, she was a courageous pioneer. As a professional, she was a respected, fair journalist whose work reflected and enhanced the places she visited and people she met. and she loved the games, the teams and especially the kids with whom she interacted. Her passing is a huge loss for our news family – and for the local sports community.”
Isenberg advanced up the ranks on what then was an eight-person staff. She was the only woman in the department. Isenberg eventually was named a sports writer and one of her first major events to cover was the Bishop Guilfoyle girls basketball team’s state championship win over Delone Catholic at Hersheypark Arena in March 1991.
“The one thing with Cory, we used to push her and push her to go to the front office and demand that you want to be a sports writer,” said retired sports writer John James, who worked at The Tribune-Democrat from 1966-91. “I think it was a situation where she really fit in, and with our guys, that was not the easiest thing back in those days. If someone had thin skin, they were not going to do well. We never had to make any adjustment.
“She used to go with her dad to games,” James added. “She would cover games when she was just in high school. She was well-prepared when she started.”
Isenberg covered high school sports and documented historic playoff runs in football, basketball, baseball, softball, tennis, soccer and hockey.
She especially enjoyed covering track and field and cross country.
Isenberg was the newspaper’s auto racing beat writer for several years, covering area tracks.
She developed the popular Spotlight Athletes of the Week feature that appears Mondays in the Sports section.
“I had a great relationship with Cory,” Berlin Brothersvalley football coach Doug Paul said. “Thoughts and prayers go out to her family during this time. I always enjoyed Cory coming to do interviews. You learn to trust people real quick. She was one I learned I could trust. You built up enough of a relationship with her that we had off-the-record talks and you knew you could trust her.”
Isenberg was part of the Tribune-Democrat team that covered Berlin Brothersvalley’s football run to the PIAA semifinal round in 2015.
“She was so passionate in covering games and making sure the area and the athletes were recognized,” Paul said. “She did a great job. She was the ultimate professional. I always enjoyed whenever she would call and say, ‘Hey, I’m coming down to Berlin.’ Just a fantastic lady, a fantastic sports writer.”
Isenberg also was a talented vocalist.
She performed with her sisters Lori, Cindy and Lindy. When their father was inducted into the AAABA Hall of Fame in 2003, the Isenberg Sisters sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the banquet at Sunnehanna Country Club.
Area baseball, football or basketball fans often had an opportunity to hear Cory sing on occasions when the scheduled national anthem singer didn’t show up.
“I remember when I first started coaching and I met her,” said Cecere, who began coaching in 1996-97. “She would be there covering a game and step out of the stands and sing the national anthem. She never thought twice about it. She was very community-minded.
“She would tell me that she would go with her dad and got started in sports,” Cecere added. “That’s how she had her interest. I truly think she fell in love with sports writing and she continued to do that.”
Conemaugh Valley High School girls softball coach Paula McCleester developed a relationship with Isenberg over the years, especially during the Blue Jays’ memorable run to a state runner-up finish in 2015.
As Conemaugh Valley’s athletic director, McCleester worked with the newspaper staff on scheduling items and interview requests involving off-field developments.
“Cory was always just so pleasant to both teams prior to the game, and after the game she always would ask for comments and highlights from the winning team and the losing team,” McCleester said. “She always had nice things to say about the players.
“When you saw her at the games, you knew you had a good article. She had the student-athletes’ best interests in her heart.”
Central Cambria cross country coach and Athletic Director Randy Wilson knew Isenberg well. Wilson has led the Red Devils girls cross country squad to five state championships.
“When I think of great times, Cory was always there,” Wilson said of the interviews that followed those gold-medal performances. “She was very knowledgeable.
“She always asked good questions. You were in a good mood when you saw her, but she always put you in a better mood.
“You’re always happy when you win something. But when you talk to Cory, you felt better.”
Wilson’s athletes also appreciated those interviews.
“My kids loved her because Cory was Cory,” Wilson said. “They’d be like, ‘We love that lady.’ They loved to be interviewed by her. She was a breath of fresh air.”
Moskal & Kennedy Funeral Home in Johnstown will handle the arrangements, the family said.
Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.