Matt DiSanto, a PSU junior majoring in journalism, is the winner of the Rick Starr Award for 2021. Matt, who is managing editor of OnwardState.com, a PSU student-run news blog that is the most-followed student media outlet in the country, directs a staff of 60 students who cover all aspects of the Penn State experience. This summer he will be interning at a State College radio station. His passion is covering Penn State’s women’s volleyball team.
Matt estimates he’s written nearly 1,000 stories during his Penn State career. “Much like Rick, my favorite stories have been those that focus less on the game and more on its players and fans,” he wrote in a letter of appreciation to all who contributed to the Rick Starr Award.
“One of my favorite articles examined Penn State outside hitter Jonni Parker and her drive to support the hearing-impaired community. Parker is about 50% deaf and has worn hearing aids in both ears since age 4. Last season, she led a campaign to have Penn State host a ‘Silent Set’ that encouraged fans to use American Sign Language to cheer and support the International Week of the Deaf. The event was a smashing success. And, fittingly, Parker played a phenomenal game and credited Penn State fans’ support as her catalyst. It was a truly special evening.”
Other articles have focused on Russ Rose, who has coached the volleyball team for the past 42 seasons. Matt talked with Rose about his long history with the team and its seven national titles, and talked with the players about the impact Rose had on them as players and human beings.
Matt says his passion for sports began by rooting for the Phillies and Eagles alongside his father and brother, who would travel from their Collegeville, Pa., home and take the train to Philadelphia to catch a game. “It began by simply wanting to tell stories that show people that sports are about so much more than home runs or touchdowns,” he said, showing that he is truly channeling Rick’s spirit.
The scholarship, he adds, will help make it easier for him to finish his last semester. And he relayed a memory that foreshadowed the impact that Rick would have on this life:
“Although I did not know Rick myself, his legacy and the example he set for students speaks louder than words,” Matt wrote. “When I was a junior in high school, I told my English and journalism teacher that I was closing in on choosing to attend Penn State. Right away, he opened one of his desk drawers and pulled out an old newspaper clipping he’d collected as a Penn State fan. Lo and behold, it was Rick’s famous coverage of John Cappelletti’s Heisman Trophy acceptance speech. Reading that article inspired me back then, and sharing that memory with my teacher was truly a special moment.
“And although I didn’t know it then, it’s wild to think how Rick’s impact on my Penn State journey has come full circle. His work played a role in bringing me to Happy Valley. But through this award, I’m one step closer to making sure I can stay.”
When he’s not writing or helping his staff of other student writers, Matt describes himself as a “huge Philadelphia sports fan, fantasy football aficionado, and washed-up drummer” who enjoys Seinfeld, video games (especially Halo) and margherita pizza.
He is grateful for the support of the Rick Starr Award donors: “Thank you so incredibly much for kindly supporting me and countless other Bellisario students. I cannot think of a better way to honor someone like Rick Starr.”
Visit these links to read some of Matt’s work: