A journey behind the camera | News, Sports, Jobs

It was the fall of 1957 and Bob Zajack was looking forward to playing his second season of football at McDonald High.

A year earlier, Zajack was already a strong enough player to have earned a spot on the Blue Devils varsity roster and be enrolled as a freshman. However, Zajack suffered a shoulder injury at the end of that season and the effects of the injury continued into the following year. So much so that Zajack’s second season ended abruptly.

Apparently his association with the football program had ended.

Fast forward to September 9, 2022.

Prior to McDonald’s home game against arch-rival Mineral Ridge, Zajack was recognized by McDonald’s coaches and school administrators for his life serving the program.

“Right after the injury, coach (Andy) Golubic asked me if I wanted to help film our matches,” said Zajack. “I thought to myself, why not. I didn’t expect anything to come out of it, but at the time it kept me close to the program.

“I didn’t really expect to do this after high school, but here I am.”

Indeed, nine coaches, several generations of players and 65 years after making his first trip to the press box with camera in hand, Zajack continues to be the videographer of McDonald’s football. With the exception of a handful of times over the years, Zajack has been a fixture at McDonald’s games – home and away – since Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the United States.

“I never imagined that I would do this for so long, not at all” said Zajack. “The thing is, all the coaches at McDonald’s have been nothing but class. They all treated me very well. They give me a reason to keep coming back. And I really like doing that.

“I do it for the coaches, for the team, the players and the community. Plus, I get the best seat in the house.

Needless to say, Zajack’s role as a team videographer has had its share of changes over the years. When he started filming games, Zajack worked with 16 and 8 millimeter film and cameras.

“With our first camera we really had to retain footage, we were using four rolls of film per game, one roll for each quarter.” said Zajack. “Our second camera, we had to change the film reels during halftime. We had a diaper bag which basically served as a darkroom. We placed the camera inside the bag and had to swap film reels by touch.

“At that time, we were shooting over a mile of film per season.”

The game films were then delivered to Youngstown Microfilm for processing. If Zajack was lucky, he could wait for the film to be developed and then deliver it to the coach’s house. Other times, he or a coach would schedule a time and place to pick up the film.

“Youngstown Microfilm has processed the film for many high schools and colleges in the area”, said Zajack. “They would plan a drop off point, maybe at an all-night gas station and we would pick up all of our movies.”

The early 1980s introduced VCR and VHS tapes which provided instant access to game footage. Today, films and tapes are a thing of the past, replaced by digital technology.

“The advances in videography are phenomenal”, said Zajack. “Today I give my camera to the coaches after a game, they upload the video and that’s it. We’ll go out for a party after the game, and the coaches are already sitting there watching the game that night on their phones.

While Zajack is one of McDonald’s biggest supporters who has perhaps attended more Blue Devils games than anyone else, oddly he rarely enjoys the moment as a fan. Zajack noted that the key to being a good videographer is focus and the ability to avoid distractions.

“My main focus is to track every game, pan the camera and record the detail and that doesn’t really allow you to necessarily absorb what’s going on in terms of game detail,” said Zajack. “Someone might say to me, ‘Wow, have you seen this piece’, thinking I’m filming, of course I’ve seen it. But really, I don’t get to appreciate it on the moment.

Zajack has worked at three different McDonald’s press boxes. The original AA Burkey Stadium press box was Zajack’s first “Desk.” This press box was destroyed by a tornado and then replaced. Now Zajack and the Blue Devils have moved to the newly opened new stadium at McDonald’s.

“When I started doing this, Bud Lindsey used to film the games from the roof of our school,” said Zajack.

While Zajack never had to endure the climb to the top of the school, he had his share of adventures on the road. He once filmed a melee in Brookfield from the top of a school bus. The construction scaffolding served as a press box for Leetonia. The old South Range stadium featured a ladder enclosed in a cage that led to the press box.

“Things were so tight that we had to climb that ladder, drop a rope, and then tie our gear to the rope so we could bring it with us,” Zajack called back.

The coaches also remind him of a time when he had to climb the spikes of a telephone pole to get to his destination.

“What really strikes me are some of the weather games,” said Zajack. “We faced Mogadore in a playoff game at Kent Roosevelt, and it was snowing and it was so cold I couldn’t feel my fingers.

“Playing a state semifinal game in The Horseshoe was one of the best memories, the setup was amazing.”

Zajack noted that many of the players he films today share the same last name as players of the past. In fact, Zajack remembers filming Larry Carkido, the father of current McDonald’s manager Garry Carkido. He then filmed Garry during his playing days and then filmed Garry’s sons.

“This is McDonald’s, a close-knit community where the young men and women who are raised here love to stay and raise their own families,” said Zajack.

Zajack’s own uncle, Jack, was on McDonald’s first-ever team in 1924. His father Walter played the following year. Zajack’s grandson Drew is currently a freshman playing for the varsity team.

At 81, Zajack shows no signs of slowing down. He says at the end of every season he tells McDonald’s coach Dan Williams “to take away my camera if I don’t do my job.” Williams insists the camera will remain in Zajack’s possession for as long as he wishes.

“Bob really doesn’t realize what he means to this program,” said Williams. “His work is unparalleled. I often tell him that it’s almost too good, the teams we face are better prepared for us because they have such great images of our team when we exchange films.

“We’ll watch the film of the game on Saturday morning, and Bob will come and criticize his own work. It’s a treasure. He is a real asset to our program and I always tell him that he will not retire, at least until I retire.

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