Monday, December 10, 2012

No. 542 – Take a Pebble

Performer: Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Songwriter: Greg Lake
Original Release: Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Year: 1971
Definitive Version: Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends … Ladies and Gentlemen, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1974

In the late fall of my sophomore year at Wabash, I spotted a notice on the college bulletin board in Center Hall that changed the course of my college career if not my life. It was a notice that WNDY was looking for someone to call Wabash basketball games.

The sports director, Mike Ricci, who was the voice of Wabash football, was a senior and wanted to concentrate on grad school or didn’t want the responsibility any more—I don’t know—and he was looking for someone to take over. I thought I could do that. I loved sports and felt I was as knowledgeable as the guys on TV. It sounded like a blast.

I met Mike at the Sigma Chi house one night to tell him of my interest, and he said to come to the next home game and I’d work with him as a color guy for a half and then take over the second half. After that, he’d be my color guy as needed until I learned to set everything up and could take the reins.

In the meantime, he said, would you be interested in calling a high-school football game? He had another guy assigned to call the final regular-season game of the year between Crawfordsville and Brownsburg. I would be the color man.

I can’t remember the other guy’s name now, but I’m pretty sure he was a senior. The game was at Brownsburg, and it was about as miserable a night as you could imagine. The game was played in a nonstop deluge; God only knows how much it rained that night.

We were in a tiny press box, and even though we were under a roof, that was a mere technicality, because we had rain slickers on the entire game. We covered the equipment with plastic but by the second half, all my roster sheets and notes were completely soaked and unusable.

It was just as well, because by then I had taken over play-by-play duty. The other guy either was nervous, not quick enough on the draw or had trouble spotting numbers, but he struggled to call the plays as they were happening, and I had to help him correct things after the play was blown dead.

At halftime, I was going to suggest making the switch, but before I had the chance, he asked whether I would be willing to take over. Ah, my big break. I was on my way to being the next Bob Costas.

The play call went more smoothly, but in all honesty, I don’t know that I was much better. Fortunately, no tape exists of the game, but if it had, you would have heard that I was incredulous near the end of the game that neither team was really trying much on an offense, seemingly playing for the tie. Finally, someone told me that they played overtime in Indiana High School football.

What a maroon! I never had heard of such a thing unless it was a playoff game, so I just assumed the rules were the same as they had been in Ohio. Huh boy. A little pregame research goes a long way …

But one thing you never would have heard, however, was the score. I’ll never forget getting home after that long night and finding Mike at my house studying with Jim and another guy and having him say, hey, you did great except you never said the score.

Well, there was no score to say. It was a 0-0 game until overtime. (I think Crawfordsville won on a touchdown, but I don’t remember.) But, of course, he was right.

The game had been a debacle, but Mike still wanted to give up the job of calling Wabash basketball, and I was his man. The first game I worked was a home game against Millikin, and it went smoothly, so after that game, I became the voice of Wabash basketball … with my eye on being the No. 1 guy for football the next year. Things were looking up.

By the way, I never again made the mistake of not calling the score. I made it a point to announce the score every so often “in case you’re just joining us now …,” whether I needed to or not.

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