STRUTHERS, Ohio (WKBN) – Many who go to Youngstown State football games are diehards. Of those, two stand out as some of the Penguins’ most loyal fans.
The fan base at YSU games has changed since the last national championship season of 1997. One thing that hasn’t changed is fans’ enthusiasm for the football program.
The Struther’s Belleria is owned by a group of rabid YSU fans, including Bob Camardo. Inside the restaurant, you’ll find YSU memorabilia prominently displayed on shelves over the bar.
“I’ve gone to pretty much every home game since I was in college,” Camardo said.
Still, he called his buddy, Elmer Berstling, YSU’s number one fan.
Berstling’s missed only one YSU football game, home or away, in 22 years. From 1992 to 2014, the only game he missed was when his mother-in-law died.
“It just grew and grew into what it is today,” Berstling said.
He and his wife, Ro, run a tailgate party at every home game, where you can also find Camardo.
Berstling remembers going to games at Rayen and tailgating out of his trunk outside Fitch Stadium. That’s how long he’s been a fan.
In fact, many of his pictures show large groups of people having fun at YSU football games.
“A lot of the people we mingle with now we met on the road, at road games,” Berstling said. “You become very close with them and when you get home, you’re just as close. You invite them to tailgate or they invite you to their tailgate, it grows.”
He and Camardo have been to all the national championship games.
Berstling said he’ll always remember the title game in 1991.
“We ended up jumping over the wall or the railing after the game, and running all over the field.”
Camardo said this year’s team reminds him of ’91.
“It was a team that was floundering at mid-season, especially offensively, and then somehow found themselves at the end of the year, got in the playoffs and went on a run.”
Another thing Camardo remembers about the ’91 game is being given a commemorative key chain right afterward.
“Twenty-five years later, it’s the same key chain that I use,” he said. “It’s got the YSU logo on the front and on the back. It says, ‘National Champs 1991 NCAA 1-AA,’ so they screwed that up.”
Both men will be at this year’s game, but aren’t sure how it will compare to championship games of the past. It’s been 17 years since the last one.
“They kind of screwed up the ticket situation at YSU and people are kind of going on their own and sitting in different areas and stuff, so I don’t know how that’s going to play out.”
Even though Camardo isn’t sure if the team has the same fan base it had years ago, he’s sure everyone will have a good time.
“I know I will. I know Elmer will, too.”
YSU’s showdown with James Madison for the FCS National Championship can be seen on ESPN2 at noon on Saturday. Also be sure to check WKBN.com for in-game updates and postgame coverage, and watch WKBN First News at 6 for complete live coverage from Frisco.