From high atop X Stadium … (pt 2)

In writing about how I got started in radio in the first place and the role that high school sports has played in that, I thought a good bit about the various things I’ve seen over so many seasons.

Covering teams ranging from the state’s smallest classifications to the largest, I’ve had a chance to see a pretty wide range of communities, teams, styles, and stadiums. From traditional three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust attacks to five receiver sets to the wishbone to the Wing-T but regardless of the style, there’s always a chance that something memorable is going to happen.

While writing this, I realize that I seem to keep gravitating toward football. I suppose that’s natural since that’s the season that’s rapidly approaching as well as the simple reality that I ended up doing a lot more seasons of football than basketball. At the same time, I think it probably sells short the sport that I actually enjoyed doing the most. Yes, I realize that’s probably not going to win me any style points in the football crazy South but it’s true. I always found basketball considerably more difficult to announce, largely due to the pace, but before I reached the age where my eyesight and my synapses started to decline, push come to shove I think a great basketball game that goes down to the wire is more fun from the booth than a similar classic football game. Alas, high school basketball in most parts of Georgia simply doesn’t draw the audience of football, which makes it harder to attract advertisers, which makes it harder for stations to justify the expense and effort of programming, which meant that opportunities to broadcast those games became fewer and farther between.

So with that said, here’s a football-centric look at some of my favorite moments and memories through the years.

Best/most memorable game moment? Monroe Area beats Cedar Shoals 41-34 on Sept 29, 1995, courtesy of a 90 yd run by an unheralded freshman in the final seconds of a game that appeared headed to overtime, until a play designed to just run out the clock turned into something special. Most unexpected/amazing/remarkable/memorable play I’ve seen with the possible exception of When Sid Slid.

Biggest/most thrilling moment personally? Hands down, doing the “Live from the Alexander Memorial Coliseum …” line during the intro of a Sequoyah girls Final Four basketball tournament game. That was in the era where “The Thrillerdome” was getting its name and for a lifelong Georgia Tech fan to get to say that for real was enough to cause goosebumps.

Best player I ever watched? Over a whole career, I’d have to say that would have been Jonathan Sullivan at Griffin HS, before he went on to play at UGA and in the NFL. It was fun to see him develop through his high school years & I got to watch literally every game he played there, from a raw freshman to a highly regarded senior prospect. Best individual performance was probably by an eventual California Comm. College Hall of Famer Odell Collins running wild for Jackson County in a 40-13 rout of Pickens back in 1992. Collins would go on to Merced (CA) Jr college before playing sparingly at UGA, two NFL training camps, and a short stint in the CFL. Best HS players I ever saw period, although they were before my announcer days, probably comes down to a pair of Cartersville RB, either Robert Lavette (Ga Tech/Cowboys/Eagles) or Robert Henderson (UGA/49ers/Vikings), I remember being awestruck just watching them play.

Favorite Stadium – I’ve seen some good ones but I was always charmed by The Granite Bowl in Elberton. While some of today’s stadiums seem to be approaching at least small college size & grandeur, there was something very cool about going to a high school game & see the scoreboard that once hung in Sanford Stadium.

Favorite Places to Visit – Valdosta, no question. Lots of football crazy places in Georgia but none is more mad about it than city they simply call “Winnersville”. Wildcat or Viking, doesn’t matter, they’re fanatics of the highest order and I mean that as a compliment. No slight intended toward any of the places I’ve had as “home teams” over the years but special mention has to go here to Pike County, a place that always treated us great whenever we did a broadcast there. Nowhere did I ever feel more welcome and that’s a great feeling when you’re working all over the place.

Least Favorite Places to Visit — These are largely stadium specific, so hopefully none of the residents in these places will be too upset with me, but both were so awful that I simply can’t not mention them. Worst location had to broadcast had to be Fayette County, who had an oversized press box but never felt much inclined to share it with visiting broadcasters. Instead we were stuck on a little concrete overhang (that we eventually dubbed “The Veranda”) basically dangling over some of the loudest fans I’ve ever saw. Vuvazelas might be the most annoying noise in the history of sports but a few hundred pebbles inside a plastic milk jug shaken incessantly by full grown adults is a pretty close second, and bless their hearts, they were nothing if not persistent. To make matter worse, a scheduling quirk forced us to go there two straight years. To make matters better, we got a 21-20 win the first year & 41-14 rout the next. Amazing how trailing by several touchdowns will diminish someone’s urge to make noise.

The other notable nightmare location was the “broadcast booth” at Upson-Lee back in the 90’s (I can only hope they’ve upgrade the facilities since then). I put “booth” in quotes because that’s far too extravagant a description. Imagine a cross between the Clampett’s home in Tennessee and a deer stand. Add a leaky roof & a creak ladder for access. Even got a splinter from the plank that served as a work surface. Just awful, especially if it rained.

Names I’ll Never Forget (Or Remember) — Every year there are a few names that you see on the roster and think “I hope he doesn’t play a lot”. Inevitably, those guys are usually ballhawks that make every tackle or running backs that carry 40 times a night. I don’t think any ever game my tongue more trouble than LaGrange star Sam Olajubutu. It wasn’t his fault that I couldn’t say it, and he was a great player who would go on to be an all-SEC performer for Arkansas, but I was relieved when they came off our schedule after a couple of seasons. The other names that stood out to me were from Westside-Macon. A defensive back with the last name Clark and another DB with the last name Kent. Sounds really simple … unless you’re me & couldn’t avoid repeatedly calling both/either of them “Clark Kent”. Didn’t matter which one made the play, my brain just combined them into a mild-mannered reporter from The Daily Planet. Listeners probably thought he really was Superman, considering I combined, mangled, and morphed him into a good 15-20 tackles and multiple pass defenses every time we played them.

Oddest moment — Of all the glitches, technical difficulties, unexpected problems and other assorted mishaps I ran into on game night, none was any stranger than 11/21/98 when Griffin visited Warner Robins for a first round playoff game. Pre-game was normal, nothing out of the ordinary at the 7-3 Bears were looking to upset the 8-2 Demons with plenty of tension starting to build. Clock winds down, ref blows the whistle, kicker starts forward … and the lights went out at McConnell-Talbert Stadium. I’m talking pitch black, full stop, just gone. Some electrical problem or another, 15 minutes or so later everything is restored and the game finally starts with Griffin winning a 52-42 shootout.

So there you go, a few more memories from more nights & miles than I can really count. Hope you enjoyed ’em a least a fraction as much as I did, and I’m looking forward to more. The next memory could always come on the next play.

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