Back on the air, everywhere

My instinct for self-promotion requires me to say that I will be returning to the airwaves 31 years after I started on the airwaves with Cuba City at Platteville in football tonight at 6:40 Central time here.

My open (which I write out in advance so that I don’t, uh, stumble over, uh, something I am, uh, winging) indicates that this season will be unlike any football season before, because of changes to conferences in the southwestern half of Wisconsin, and will be unlike next season, due to changes to conferences statewide.

But upon further review, last year might have pegged the weirdometer in all the sports I covered. These are the things that happened In games I broadcasted over the past year:

  • A football game had to be moved from the local university, where the local high school plays, to the local high school the following afternoon because of predicted severe weather that did not materialize. The local high school had not hosted a varsity football game since the doors opened in 1967 until that day.
  • For the second consecutive year, the local high school had a weather delay during its Homecoming game. Fortunately the game was finished that night instead of the following afternoon, which happened the previous year.
  • The local high school had a winning record, but losing conference record, and therefore missed the playoffs, while a few schools had losing records and made the playoffs. (The tiebreaker was win percentage, and 4–5 is better than 3–4, which is better than 2–3.) One of those latter teams then won two road playoff games, making it one of the top eight teams in its division.
  • I announced a state semifinal game after spending three days in Missouri, where we went (blissfully missing Election Day) to pick up our military police oldest son from basic training. The radio station sports director was taken aback when he called me the night before the game and I told him I was in East St. Louis. But we got back, and I announced the game as scheduled.
  • I then announced a state championship game, a broadcast that didn’t go very well technologically. But the team we were announcing won, so no one cared.
  • The winter sports season started out fine. Then came New Year’s Day, and like a flipped switch every team’s schedule got blown apart because of weather — heavy snow, fog, freezing rain and ice storms, and bitter cold. Games were scheduled four and five times. One game was rescheduled to a Monday after school was out, giving the varsity game a youth basketball sort of vibe. For the first time in more than 30 years of doing this I got to announce “Five minutes left in the first half, and as of now we are in a winter storm warning.”
  • One of those weather postponements forced fans from one school to drive two hours on consecutive nights for a girls’ regional final and a boys’ regional quarterfinal. The schools involved should have scheduled a doubleheader, but no one did, or the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association didn’t, or doesn’t, approve something with common sense. (The drive home the second night was enlivened by freezing fog.)
  • Our radio station group had fewer boys basketball teams that survived the regional round than announcers, so I wasn’t assigned to any sectional games. But the day I thought my winter season was over, I was assigned to an Illinois “supersectional” game at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. That put me at center court announcing a game featuring the eventual Illinois Class 1A state champion, which happens to be the alma mater of Chicago trumpet player Lee Loughnane.

    It was a great experience, even though I spent the next day at home with food poisoning.

  • I also got to announce state wrestling for the first time. It was an interesting broadcast experience because the radio station sells hundreds of live-read ads (as opposed to prerecorded ads), so I got to read a lot of ads.
  • A couple months later, I got assigned to announce postseason softball and baseball during a spring that, even by Wisconsin standards, was pretty hideous. I had no weather cancellations, but the weather in most games was bad enough for me to wear the radio stations’ logo-equipped winter jackets and broadcast from a park shelter that at least kept the rain out, but focused the wind to create a wind tunnel-like effect.
  • Before one of those games, an assistant coach from the team I was covering asked where it would be online. He told me that a friend of his in Colorado, a graduate of the home team who was the son of two graduates of the road team, wanted to listen. So I mentioned the Coloradan on the air, and he said he listened.
  • Two days later, I got to announce the previous game’s winner in an 11-inning sectional final. The coach of the opponent, which had ended my team’s season the previous season, was having back problems, so I interviewed him squatting on the dugout floor while he lay on his stomach on the dugout bench. He had told friends of his, and I had told the opposing school, where the game would be, and so my game had quite a large online audience, while the opposing school’s fans sat right behind me, and I engaged them in conversation during the broadcast. That team, which won the sectional final minutes before the game probably would have been suspended due to darkness, ended up winning state.
    (While that was happening, another school we were covering was leading 1–0 in the sixth inning, though its opponent had two runners aboard. And then the rains came, and the unpires ruled the game couldn’t continue, and so the host won, making the losing team’s fans angry that insufficient effort, they thought, was made to dry out the field. The host ended up winning state.
  • Then came baseball, which started with a sectional final trip in the rain, making me wonder if the game would actually be played. It did delay the game … about five minutes, though it rained out another game. So just before my semifinal game I got a text asking if I could announce the rained-out game the next day. So in 24 hours I announced four baseball games, happily with the right teams winning, in the final case due to the opposing team’s trotting out several pitchers, none of whom could find the strike zone.
    (The technological adventure of the second pair of games included the cellphone on which we announce the games overheating because, unlike the previous day, it was sunny and hot. Fortunately there was a concession stand with a refrigerator and freezer, and so I ran to the concession stand and got ice in a bag, on which we put the phone, covered from the sun by an equipment case, so we could get on the air.)
  • Both our teams ended up playing each other in a state semifinal, guaranteeing us two days at state. Our game fortunately ended before the next division’s games were interrupted by a seven-hour-long rain delay, part of which we spent entertaining the announcer of the late game and young TV sports people in our broadcast booth. The semifinal winner ended up losing the state title, but in such a case they got to play in, and I got to announce, the last game of the season.

Not bad for a part-time guy, methinks. Have I mentioned I am really lucky to be doing this?

One reason why high school sports is so fun to cover is that you might think you know who will win, and that team may well win, but not always. You have to expect, or at least anticipate, the unexpected in sports, and that applies to sports broadcasting too.

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