On what will be my final installment (for now) on public address announcing for sports, I’d like to share additional info on guidelines and ettiquette, game mechanics, my more memorable gaffes, and some personal interactions I’ve had over the years with players, coaches, and game officials.
To begin, guidelines for the PA announcing craft can be found at NASPAA. net (Code of Conduct), the National Federation of High Schools (www.nfhs.org), and from various state high school athletics governing body. In my case, my work falls under the oversight of the Ohio High School Athletic Association (www.ohsaa.org).
Anyone starting out should research those guidelines and keep a copy for reference, as well as meet with the school’s athletic director or team’s general manager to determine what requirements they have as well. This is a great way to start, because it gives you a framework to go by, instead of just making up things as you go.
Do I ever break those rules or choose not to follow guidelines? Yes, but I do so cautiously, judiciously, and rarely. One prominent example: every guide I’ve read says the announcer should always be neutral and not over-emphasize a call for one team over another. But even if you don’t consider certain big-time arena guys who sound like they’re working a big-time wrestling match during every game, the best announcers I’ve ever heard at any level always puts a little spice or punch for the team they are associated with – certainly during team announcements, and frequently when the home team scores. But remember – a little spice goes a long, long way!
I decided early on that I was going to be known for my professionalism, enunciation, consistency during games for “my team”, whether it was at my high school or somewhere else. But I also decided I was capable of making a call just a tad punchier for the home team, just barely enough so those players (and their family members) could hear the difference. Is it a fine line? Yeah, but the good ones are capable of drawing that distinction, and I believe I’m in that camp.
I also began taking the time beforehand to go thru all the names on a roster – even if they were Dave Jones and Mary Smith – so that I was pronouncing them correctly. Some names automatically demand your attention, but there are a surprising number of names both first and last that look “traditional” or “logical”, but turn out to have more exotic pronunciations. I’ve had coaches and players tell me I’m one of the few announcers at my level who takes the time to do this, and I hope there are others at the game who notice and who might be in a position to offer me a job.
To that end, whenever I go to an away football game for my high school, I’ve made a practice of bringing spare copies of my large-print football roster, key players by position, team captains – and pronunciations!
On the plus side, by providing this I’ve made a lot of friends with the PA announcers at other schools, play-by-play radio announcers, and the local TV station crews who stop by to film highlights. And this just popped into my head: I’m going to list my VO business, website, email and phone on each copy, starting this week. More subliminal marketing!
On the downside, it’s a tad disheartening when I bring those sheets to another announcer, and I still hear them mispronounce the names of some of my team’s players. In fairness, it doesn’t happen often these days, certainly not as often as it before I started this practice.
Just as referees and umpires have to learn good “mechanics”, which includes where to position themselves on or during a play, what to look for, how to make proper signals, what to say, and what NOT to say, PA announcers need to learn good mechanics also. My first year I probably said something like “Jones ran the ball on that play, he’s #24,…….boy, he was really tackled hard by Smith and got nine yards on that play … and now it looks like second down for the team”.
After hearing myself say this for a couple of years and not really liking what heard, I started to listen to other PA folks where ever I went, especially Bob Kennedy, the Ohio State football announcer. Much of his professionalism stems from his consistency and pattern when making call. So I trained myself to say “#24 Jones the ballcarrier, tackled by #99 Smith, gain of nine yards, second down”. I even wrote my own reference page labeled “sample calls”, so that I could use a formula and just plug in names and numbers. The result was that I didn’t stress over whether the choice of words sounded repetitive and trite, and I felt better about my work because I sounded better – more consistent, and by extension, more professional.
Speed, accuracy, and timing are another part of announcing mechanics. In football, this means finishing your play results call before the quarterback is calling signals behind center again. This is harder nowadays as more schools install hurry-up offenses, but it forces you to focus and keep your words to the bare minimum. In basketball, this means simply announcing a player’s name who scores (the only embellishment being “for three” if it’s a three-point shot. For fouls, it means announcing the team, the name and number of a player committing a foul, how many fouls the player has, and possibly who the shooter is and how many shots – and doing all that before a free-throw shooter has the ball and is ready to shoot. For this you have to watch referees carefully – and react quickly. Sometimes, there’s not enough time to do it, and you just shut up. That’s all you can do, and nobody is going to mind one bit.
I have seen a seen and heard a number of announcers with unbelievable great voices – much, much better than mine – but who have less than desirable mechanics when it comes to basketball and football. The good news is great mechanics can be learned by anyone, with a little practice. A well-organized announcer’s chart is also essential. For football, I make up roster sheets with very large print so I can locate names and numbers quickly, and I’ll have separate large Post-It note with the key players like the quarterback and running backs. For basketball, I’ve developed a spreadsheet that has the players for one team on one side of the page and the other on the other side. I have boxes to make tally marks for personal fouls, team fouls, and timeouts. Not only does that help get a maximum amount of information out in a few seconds, but sometimes a coach or official will ask you for that information when you’re closer to them than the official scorer. Being able to do this and save them a few seconds goes a long way to fostering sportsmanship and goodwill.
Track and field – believe it or not, the announcer plays an important role in this sport as well. Letting folks know what events are coming up, and of course everyone wants to hear race results, places, and times. It is time consuming, and there are constant race starts with starter commands on the track where you can’t talk – unless it’s a race or relay where the staggering is greater, and the starting official wants you to do the start commands over the air. I work 4 or 5 invitational meets in a year, and by the end of the day, I’ve said “On your mark – Set… ” at twenty or thirty different times. Again, an organizational chart with the event order and what time I said “final call, 400 meter relay” is very helpful, along with notes and color-codes that tell me when I have to do start commands and relay zone checks.
Did I ever make a mistake? Ha ha – let me count the ways. The thing is, when a PA announcer blows it, everyone in the house knows it. Sometimes, you just say “correction, that was 84 McGillicuddy” and move one. Sometimes you just sit there with the mic dangling in your hand, asking yourself “Why in the world did I say THAT?” Here are just a few of my better ones:
-my very first game, I learned early on that the field commander’s first name of “Mariah” was NOT pronounced the same as “Maria”. Coincidentally, I got to know her parents rather quickly that evening ……….
-first year of high school football, a tough kid named Measler made a really nice tackle, and I called it. The clock operator put his head down and couldn’t speak. Apparently I’d pronounced his name “Measly”…….
– same sport, local news anchor Colleen Marshall was covering the game for NBC4, and was doing a live remote in front of the home bleachers. I thought it would be nice to acknowledge her presence over the speakers, so I boomed out ” We welcome Colleen … Fitzpatrick……..”
-Two years ago, I had a play with #19 touching a punt to down it on the 41-yard line. An unfortunate brain cramp made it come out, “The 19 year-old was touched at the 41 year …” . I tried twice more, and it didn’t get any better, so I just shut up for a while until I could re-group. Some of the fans were still laughing about it a year later …….
-In basketball, at first I never paid too much attention where a player’s foot was, so one time I gave a rather lusty call for a home player making a 3-point shot, without waiting first to check. The closest ref came running past me yelling “Two! Two points! Or just don’t say anything at all!” ……..
-at another basketball game, one reserve player named Monty White came in. Of course, I said “Monty Hall” without thinking. While I’m doing a slow burn and trying to look cool, I can clearly see the difference in the fans’ reactions. The ones my age are pointing at me and shaking from laughing. The younger ones are all looking at each other, saying, “Who’s Monty Hall?” ………..
But these embarrassing moments have been far overshadowed by others that I treasure in my heart. I’ve watched both my wife and my son fill in for me when I lost my voice. I’ve had a former Ohio State football announcer, Ron Althoff, come up and compliment my work (I had to tell him that he was one of my role models). Sometimes coaches or officials will come up and just shoot the breeze or share a joke. I’ve certainly been treated more graciously by fans than I thought I deserved.
My favorite moment came a few years back at a college basketball game. One young man on the visiting team had a particularly challenging name, but I learned the correct pronunciation ahead of time, and nailed it when I announced him into the game, and again when he scored. Later in the game, he came back to the table to check in, and knelt down beside me to wait for a stoppage. He turned to me and said, “Thank you”. I said, “For what?”. He said, “For saying my name right. Nobody ever does.” Then he patted my clipboard and re-entered the game.
Sometimes that’s what it’s all about. Sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves that even on our worst day, our voice matters to someone.