Dana O'Neil Shines at ESPN

Recently we had the opportunity to interview “partial Bucks County native” Dana O’Neil.  Dana currently covers NCAA college basketball for ESPN.  A Penn State grad, Dana stayed close to home during college and beyond, working for The Trentonian, Bucks County Courier Times, and the Philadelphia Daily News.  Her success started right here in our area.  She was kind enough to tell us a bit about herself and what it was like growing up Bucks.  Check out what Dana has to offer on sports, journalism, and her favorite local hang outs!

BH: Are you originally from Bucks County? What town did you grow up in?

DO: I grew up literally across the river, in Stockton N.J. I Went to elementary school in Doylestown, so I think that qualifies me as at least a partial Bucks native.

BH: Where did you attend high school?

DO: South Hunterdon Regional in Lambertville.

BH: You currently cover college hoops for ESPN.  Have you always been a big basketball fan?

DO: Actually growing up I was more of a college football and baseball fan, but I’ve always been a sports fan. My father is a diehard Yankees fan and I inherited that passion. I used to tag along to his beer league softball games and wound up doing the scorebook for years. I discovered a real passion for basketball, actually, once I got my first job at The Trentonian. I was fortunate enough to cover the area colleges and not only loved the college game, but liked the fact that, with less athletes on a team, you really got to know the players better. By the time I moved on in my career I was hooked on basketball.

BH: Did you play any sports in high school? Are you still involved with any local sports?

DO: I was a field hockey player in high school. South Hunterdon traditionally has an excellent team, so I was fortunate enough to win a state title and have a lot of fun. I also kept statistics for both the football and baseball teams. As for local sports, I’m involved indirectly. My daughter swims for the Pennsbury Aquatics Club and my son is beginning a burgeoning baseball career with the PAA T-Ball. He’s ready for some flag football in the fall and hopefully some Lower Bucks Lacrosse in the future. My athleticism is limited to running.

BH: How much involvement in reporting did you have before your time at Bucks County Courier?

DO: Quite a bit. I graduated college in 1990 and was lucky enough to get a job right away. Before I arrived at the Courier, I had worked at three other newspapers as well as at Rider University, handling publications.

BH: What was your experience at Bucks County Courier Times like?

DO: It was terrific. I had left the newspaper business to try something different at Rider and while I liked the job, I missed the excitement and adrenaline of a newspaper. Gary Silvers, the Courier’s sports editor at the time, had worked with me in Jacksonville, Florida and called to ask if I’d be interested in a job there. They wanted someone to do takeouts and long features in sports. I think I really found my groove with them, writing in-depth profile, trend and issue pieces. As we know Philadelphia-area sports is rarely without drama, so I was never bored.

BH: Who influenced you to pursue sports journalism?

DO: Indirectly, I suppose, my father and my high school English teacher. My dad was such a sports nut and he taught me to really appreciate games. I watched everything even as a little kid and like him am very competitive so sports was a great outlet for me. Mix in my high school English teacher, a man by the name of Al Rossi, who gave me a passion for writing and for thinking creatively and writing with a flair and I found a career.

BH: Was this something you have always wanted to do?

DO: No, it wasn’t. I went to Penn State completely unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. My resident advisor my freshman year was on the college newspaper and suggested that some of us take the test to see if we liked it. I never had a journalism class and took the test completely clueless about newspaper writing, libel, etc. When I was accepted, they asked what department I’d like to work for and I was such a huge Penn State football fan, I thought sports would be fun so that’s what I asked for. I had zero grand plans, other than maybe getting to meet Joe Paterno one day. By the end of my freshman year, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

BH: What was your best experience while covering college hoops for ESPN?

DO: Wow, there are so many. I get to go the NCAA Tournament and the Final Four every year, which is a lot of fun and a lot of excitement, but I really enjoy doing stories on the athletes I get to meet. So many have impressed me with their determination, skill and decency. One player at Clemson started a foundation for kids with cancer when he was just a kid – he delivers bags of things to entertain them during their long hospital stays – and continues to do it today; another grew up feeling different because he was a big, tall kid and he’s since befriended a middle-school student who has struggled with the same thing – the horrific stigma of being different – and has really changed that kid’s life and confidence; I did a story on the only 4-year university for Native Americans and talked to their basketball team about the struggle of life on the reservation and the terror with leaving. I could go on and on. It’s an amazing job and I’m so fortunate to meet the people I’ve met. It’s not the stars. It’s the stories.

BH: What are some of your favorite spots to go in Bucks?

DO: Locally my husband and I like to take the kids to the Continental Tavern and Yardley Ice House! Both are huge hits. Nothing, however is better than Dilly’s. I grew up across the river from Centre Bridge so to me, there’s no better soft serve ice cream than Dilly’s. Since I grew up so close to New Hope, I like to go there for nights out with friends or my husband. We enjoy sitting outside at Logan Inn or the Landing.

There are too many places to eat, too many places to go – my son, a little history buff, loves Washington Crossing Park, and my daughter loves riding her bike on the towpath – we’re never bored.

You can check out some of Dana ONeil’s work at ESPN. She has also covered NBA, MLB, and NFL.

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