PROFile of the Week: Rowan Professor Phil Anastasia looks back on career in sports journalism

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Phil Anastasia’s childhood dream was to be a teacher and a coach. He achieved the former by becoming a professor at his alma mater, Rowan University, but he found a different path to the sidelines of games by becoming a journalist.

His older brother, George, preceded him as a Philadelphia journalist. While George Anastasia created a name for himself by following the organized crime beat, Phil covered local sports.

“I liked the idea of writing for games and athletes,” he said. “I always liked reading and writing.”

In 1979, Anastasia was an English student at Glassboro State College. He had a part-time phone-answering job at The Courier-Post, but he began covering the occasional home game on weekends.

After Anastasia’s graduation in December of 1980, The Courier-Post implemented the Sunday paper and expanded staffing in every department, including the sports department. By March, Anastasia had landed his first full-time journalist job covering high school and college sports.

“[Covering] college basketball was a learning experience, trying to cover doubleheaders while learning to write really quickly under deadline pressures,” Anastasia, a former college basketball player himself, said. “This really accelerated my understanding of this business.”

Anastasia worked under famed sports editor Bob Kenney, whom he described as a “task master.”

“It was something I needed as a young reporter,” Anastasia said.

In 1983, Anastasia became the Philadelphia Eagles beat writer. Although, he still covered college basketball because the Eagles often did not make the playoffs and their season would end in December.

He started racking up a portfolio of stories on memorable games, including one on the Villanova Wildcats winning the team’s first ever National Championship in Lexington, Kentucky in 1985.

“It was pretty remarkable because I covered that team all year long and there was no inkling during the course of the season that the team was capable of that,” Anastasia said. “They lost that season to National Champion runner-up, Georgetown, but they were able to win the tournament.”

On New Year’s Eve of 1988, the Philadelphia Eagles played the Chicago Bears in the eerie Fog Bowl, wherein a dense fog cut down visibility on the field.

“It almost looked like it was a fire with all that smoke,” Anastasia said. The referees brought all the reporters to the sideline for the second half of the game.

“Something they would never do today,” he said.

In 1992, Anastasia became a general columnist for The Courier-Post. He covered all the major Philly professional teams: the Eagles, Sixers, Flyers and Phillies. While covering and traveling with the pro teams, Anastasia still covered high school football games and wrote a column every Friday night.

“If you want to be a general columnist, you have to write with authority. You have to know what you’re writing about,” Anastasia said on covering several subjects.

Anastasia’s most difficult story to write was on the death of Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Jerome Brown in 1992.

“It was a very memorable story but it was a tough story because it was a young life snuffed out,” Anastasia said. “You write so much about these guys and they seem so full of life that the story really struck me.”

One of Anastasia’s favorite memories is covering the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. He spent nearly a month in Atlanta, writing two to three stories a day and focusing on 10 South Jersey athletes, including gold medal-winning Carl Lewis.

“I would go to an event in the morning, event in the afternoon and an event at night,” Anastasia said. “I’m glad I did it; it was pretty memorable. Going through it, though, I was ready to put that torch out myself by the end of it. It was hard.”

In 2002, Anastasia became The Courier-Post’s sports editor, and his section covered the Eagles’ journey to the Super Bowl three years later. The Philadelphia Inquirer created a section just for the event. The paper sent six staff, including Anastasia, to Jacksonville, Florida, where the Super Bowl was held.

After all those years as a reporter in the field, Anastasia felt like a “fish out of water” as an editor at a desk. He missed writing.

Six years later, Anastasia left The Courier Post for The Inquirer. The Inquirer had just changed hands, and their anti-nepotism rule also changed. Phil Anastasia was finally able to work in the same company as his brother, George.

“The Philadelphia Inquirer was the paper I always wanted to write for,” Anastasia said.

The Inquirer was looking to strengthen their presence in South Jersey, so Anastasia began covering local high school sports, just as he did at the beginning of his career.

“I covered the pro stuff for years and I like the innocence of high school sports, the kids are fun to deal with,” Anastasia said. “They appreciate the coverage and I just feel like people in general are reminded of when they were younger. It feels a bit nostalgic for a lot of people to follow their old high school to see how it’s doing.”

In addition to his sports column, Anastasia has been teaching magazine article writing and sports journalism at Rowan since 2004.

“He’s really knowledgeable about the sports journalism field, and loves what he does,” said Lauren Sweeney, a senior public relations and advertising major who took Anastasia’s class. “You can see it in the way he talks about his work.”

“I always said at the end of my career, which I think I’m approaching, I would go back and do high school sports,” Anastasia said. “I’m 57 now and I’d like to make it to 62, do four or five more years if possible. I’ve been in the business for 36 years, so 40 would be a nice round number. I just want to continue to do good work if possible and, for lack of a better term, finish strong.”

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