Some PA announcer wisdom

I have been announcing sporting events for, well, more years than I care to admit. I started while I was still in my 20s. And, I like to think I have learned a thing or two because, as the TV ad goes, I have seen a thing or two.

So, as another basketball season has come to a close, by virtue of some of the compliments I have received over the years, I feel I may have earned the right to share some of my acquired wisdom.

Most of the spectators who have given me kind words, especially recently, have focused on the fact that I come across as an impartial observer of the game. I take that as the ultimate compliment.

I believe that my announ­cing is not the reason people attend ballgames. Fans want to watch the event, and I do not want to take attention from the performances of the student athletes.

I do not enjoy listening to announcers of college games stretch a player’s name for what seems like two trips up and down the basketball court just because he or she was lucky enough to connect on a 3-point shot.

I try to put myself into the position of supporters of the visiting squads. How would I want to be treated? I hear from plenty of Hills­boro Trojan fans with beefs (or is it beeves) against announcers from other schools. The obvious “homer” jobs are annoying at best and downright rude at worst. It is not the announcer’s job to be a cheerleader for the host team. I know I would not look good in those short dresses.

Second, obviously one-sided public addressing is against Kansas State High School Activities Associa­tion rules. As announcers, we are directed to keep the commentary to a minimum, confining our speech as much as possible to dead-ball situations.

That, of course, is not always possible if one is going to name the scorer or, in a football situation, the ballcarrier, while action is continuous.

I try to trim my talk to the bare essentials, however. There was a time when I didn’t concern myself so much with the timing of my speaking, but I now do my best to stay silent while a free throw is being attempted, for example.

I am most nervous during starting lineups, when I sense that everyone from both sides is paying attention to everything I say. While not a big deal at football games where I am hidden at the top of the stadium, my mistakes really stand out at the basketball courtside where all can behold them.

And, I have made more than my share of errors through the years. Though I am thankful for the quality equipment HHS has provided for me, my microphone control will sometimes appear to take on a personality of its own and decide not to cooperate.

I push the button to turn off the mic, but it somehow stays on. There is nearly continuous conversation going on at the scorers’ table, and some of that commentary can accidently find its way onto the airwaves.

My biggest annual challenge is the Trojan Classic basketball tournament, which in the old days covered contests on five out of six days. Saturday’s lineup featured games starting at 11 a.m. and wrapping up as late as 10 p.m. Fortunately, the interest and adrenalin levels rise as the day wends its way toward the championships.

I recall one year when a team from up north decided to switch to brand-new jerseys in the middle of the week. I had to deal with all the number changes in the 15-minute period between contests. It was an announcer’s nightmare. I was so caught up in sorting out one team’s details, I forgot to mark down the starters for the opposing team.

As I was about to push the button to commence the opening for the game, I realized what I was missing. I turned to the person keeping the book and said I needed the starters “stat.” He started reading their names, and I just told him to give me the numbers. Though it was likely only 30 seconds, the dead air felt like an eternity to me.

There have also been times when I have announced the starters in the wrong order or given the wrong name. When the gym goes silent, I turn pale. If a team has players who share numbers on the junior varsity and varsity squads, I need to make sure I have the right kid starting.

This brings me to the most important piece of advice I can give aspiring announcers who want to rise to the top. Three words: preparation, preparation, preparation. I never assume I know how to pronounce a player’s name or even a coach’s name.

“Weiner” is pronounced differently than “Wiener,” for example. I don’t think I would pick up on how “Ringering” or “Kukuk” are pronounced on my own.

In addition, depending upon the town of origin, “Pfeifer” can be pronounced with a solid “P” or with an “F” sound. And, don’t get me started on players from Sunrise Christian Academy.

Though it can sometimes be a pain to track down proper name pronunciations before a game, I have saved myself untold embarrassment and innumerable corrections from moms in the stands by simply doing my homework.

I am constantly amazed at how many announcers fail to prepare properly. A true professional will take the time to get “Knoll” and “Potucek” right. Our credibility suffers a blow with each incorrect pronunciation.

My ultimate goal is to remain unnoticed during a contest. As an amateur drummer, I know it is a compliment when the lead singer of a group tells me he didn’t even notice what I was doing. Yet, I know I am still contributing in a positive way. That, as I see it, is the role of a sports public address announcer.

Bob Woelk teaches English and journalism at Hillsboro High School.

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