At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Behind the Microphone

I've sort of volunteered for a new endeavor this year. No, it's not something I can see becoming a new career (that would be a major jolt!). I am spending time as a PA announcer for Westminster's home football games this fall. I made my debut three weeks back when our Wildcats felled the Festus Tigers, 27-0, and I had such a blast that I signed on to do more.

It's an interesting blend of preparation, doing announcing in this manner. You don't have the pressure of always talking, like a TV or radio play-by-play announcer, or even the level of a color commentator. No one sees me (that's a relief) but they can hear me, so to be heard and not seen is the perfect outlet for my introverted self.

It takes a good bit of work ahead of time. I completed a four-page large-print script for the key moments of the game that I know will occur: pre-game comments, sportsmanship announcement, coin flip, halftime concessions plug, thank-yous for all involved at the end of the third quarter, etc. But there are things you can't prepare for and have to do by the seat of your pants. And that is the bread and butter of each play: telling the crowd the result, who had the ball for what amount of yardage, and the new down and yardage. And not just giving the information, but in a way that keeps fans engaged in the game.

This Saturday is only my second time in the press box, but even early on in this opportunity, I've come up with a few ideas about "PA announcing essentials". To wit:

(1) The focus is on the game, not on your talent: The announcer is a conduit for the fans to enjoy the game. The enduring memory of the day should be the teams' performance, not on whatever wisecracks you come up with. If your words are invasive more than helpful, you're doing it all wrong.

(2) Make the game come alive: Our former headmaster, Jim Marsh, approached me the other day and thanked me for doing the announcing. His words to me were, "You made that game come alive!" I just saw it as doing my job, but it was good to hear that some considered the game as a vivid portrayal and not a mere listing of deeds. I do recall a moment in the third period when we were on our own one-yard line; you could have put a half-smoked cigarette lengthwise between the ball and our goal line. And the first thing that came to mind were the words, "And the Wildcats begin their drive in the formidable shadow of the north end zone." That was--in my mind--a simple comment that threw an appropriate splash of color on the canvas of the game.

(3) Be objective: Your job is not to be a fan, but to shepherd people through their enjoyment of the game. I'm not in the press box to openly root for Westminster, although I do want them to win. The PA announcer--as part of shifting into the background--cannot take sides. Sportsmanship extends to the press box, as well.

(4) Assume the intelligence of the fans: Of course, you'll have some people come to a game as a social event and have little knowledge of the X's and O's of the game, but I think fans will appreciate it if you don't talk down to them. You are not there to explain the game but to enhance the fans' enjoyment of the event.

(5) Have fun: You are in all likelihood no Dick Vitale, or Keith Jackson, or Brent Musburger, or Joe or Jack Buck (for you Cardinal fans!). But if you demonstrate you enjoy what you do, it'll come out through the mike. And the fans will smell that hunt as well and enjoy the game along with you.

So if you're in the area, the next game is 2 pm CT at Westminster, as our undefeated Wildcats take on rival MICDS. Come watch as we try to push our record to 4-0!

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