Lessons learned as HHS ?voice?

I have been announcing basketball games at Hills?boro High School for more than a decade now. That includes at least 10 Trojan Classic tournaments, probably more, but I am too lazy just now to do the math.

I know I am not the greatest PA guy in the world, maybe not even in the county, but I do pride myself on doing the best job I can for the young men and women who take the court.

I have received a fair share of compliments over the years, and I attribute those to several factors: our activity directors have always put together great tournaments; God has blessed me with a strong speaking voice; and I ascribe to the less-is-more school of public address announcing.

That is not to say I have not had my share of embarrassing and frustrating moments. I can count on making at least one major booboo per tournament, and this year was no exception. Though it was not totally my fault. Those fans who were at the Wamego vs. Hesston girls? contest may still be scratching their heads, wondering what happened as I began to deliver the starting lineups. Well, here is the inside story.

Wamego?s girls had ordered new uniforms before the season, according to their coaches. But only the home whites had arrived, and they came too late for the numbers to be correctly listed in the tournament program.

I have no idea why the Red Raiders did not keep their old numbers, but nearly all their numbers changed. This is a nightmare for an announcer, the kind of thing that will keep me awake at night.

(A similar situation occurred at last Friday night?s boys? game, you may have noticed. Nearly all the Lyons numbers were incorrect in the program.)

I spent nearly all of my 15-minute prep time between games straightening out Wamego?s numbers, so I wasn?t even thinking about marking Hesston?s starters.

When it came time to do the honors, I looked at my program, and my heart nearly stopped. With as much calm as I could muster, I asked Len Coryea, our man on the scorebook, to give me the Swather starters. In his confusion, he tried to hand me the book, so I hollered, ?I don?t need the book; just give me the numbers. Now.?

I don?t know how long the dead air was, but as soon as I marked down the starters? numbers, I rolled right into my spiel. I tried to be cool, but my face felt like it was on fire. I made it through the rest of the game, but later that same evening, I failed to notice that the high school group Spirit-N-Celebration was going to sing the national anthem. I somehow was blissfully unaware of the SNC members on the court and announced that the high school band would be playing ?The Star Spangled Banner.? It is usually the case that when one mistake is made in announcing, others will follow.

A good announcer, and there are some quality ones in the area, will always check how to announce players? names before the game starts. This is not rocket science, and I don?t understand how some PA people fail to do this. Even if I think I know how a name is pronounced, I run over it with a team representative before the lineups are announced. I certainly don?t want to pronounce the name ?Weiner? as ?wiener? when it is actually ?whiner.?

The starting lineups are my most stressful time. I am fully aware that this is the only moment during the game when I have everyone?s complete attention, and I need to be accurate. I used to lose track of which players I had already introduced at times until I went to a system of physically checking off each name as I read it.

There is nothing more frightening than dead silence followed by laughter. It usually means I messed something up. For the rest of the contest, I am mostly spontaneous background noise. The pressure is off, and I can have fun.

I try not to be too much of a cheerleader. I believe people who announce high school games need to remain mostly objective, though I allow myself to enhance home players? names during the starting lineups and when a Trojan makes a three-point shot.

I also like to credit home players for assists. I would provide this service for visiting players as well if my learning disability would allow me to remember two numbers at the same time.

I also try to keep from intruding on the games as much as possible. The event is not about me. People did not pay their money to listen to me talk. I get plenty of opportunities to do that on a daily basis. Remember the words of Ben Franklin (paraphrased): ?It is better to keep quiet and have people think you a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.?

So, in brief, my top 10 pieces of advice for aspiring sports public address announcers:

10. Never assume anything. If you are not 100-percent sure, ask. Even if you are, ask.

9. Know the rules of the game you are announcing.

8. Ignore the crowd. I usually sit in front of the visitors. They can be obnoxious at times.

7. Know when the microphone is on and when it is off. Enough said.

6. Remember that you are working for the school. This can come in handy when people ask you to wish somebody a happy birthday. You can say you will do it if the AD OKs it. He won?t.

5. Build a strong, cooperative relationship with the rest of the table workers. Help them when you can because you never know when you will need them to bail you out. Thanks again, Len.

4. Keep calm in all situations. While some may say an announcer is not essential to the game, I tend to disagree. We can provide valuable information in an emergency, and we can go a long way toward diffusing any potential for conflict to escalate.

3. Write things down. It is a real source of comfort to be able to read information rather than to adlib it.

2. Have a routine that you follow each night.

1. Check everything. Double check everything. Then, check it one more time.