Sunday, September 10, 2006

The First Broadcast (Sports)

Well, I got it out of my system. There are always butterflies before the first football broadcast of the season. This was not the normal first game though. Normally, it’s a regular season game. This time, it was a scrimmage. Only a scrimmage.

Not so fast. This was Greenwich versus Brunswick, public school powerhouse versus private school machine. Town pride on the line. WGCH discussed doing this game last year, but do to a breakdown in communication, we wound up missing the game. Believe me, I caught heck for that, but it was an honest mistake.

I have to stop right here. Before I began my blog, I promised myself that I would adhere to a few rules. One would be to try to not use profanity (so far…so good!!). So I’m really f****** proud of myself, because I never f****** say f*** ever (OK, that’s a reference to “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”). Among my other rules is to be very careful about using people’s names and not revealing too much information. But one of the most important rules? The Career Suicide Factor. That means to avoid negative things about jobs, coworkers, etc. For obvious reasons, that is not a smart way to go. So perhaps you can read between the lines, but I’m going to try to be really careful.

With that said, we continue. I am not generally in favor of covering scrimmages because they don’t make for good radio. Why? This is not the pros – there is no media director, no SID (Sports Information Director) at high schools. I’m lucky to get very basic information. Believe me when I say, we’ve come a long way, even since I started calling games in 1998. The internet has definitely improved things. Still, coaches have not completely put together rosters by this time in the scrimmage season and the uniforms might not be the real thing. Some players might not be wearing numbers, and numbers are extremely important to a broadcaster. What’s the old saying? You can’t tell the players without a scorecard.

But an assignment is an assignment, and though I’ll voice my opinions and concerns, I’m a pretty good egg in that I’ll do as told. Over the years I’ve learned to not sweat every thing as much as I used to. That’s a good thing. For Saturday was crazy.

Coach Sean Brennan is starting his fourth season at The Brunswick School in Greenwich, CT. An all-boys private school, Brennan took a somewhat dormant team and turned them into a monster. At his first game with Wick in 2003, Brennan, outfitted in khakis, watched the Bruins get smacked by the Kent School, 40-13. The next week, Brennan, now wearing shorts, coached the B’s to a 41-0 over against Hackley. The Bruins have won every game since. And oh by the way, Brennan has worn shorts to every game since that loss. That would be 29 straight over three years, with three straight New England Prep School Athletic Council Championships. That would also include games as late as November 20th.

Last year, I had the privilege of calling Wick’s NEPSAC title game against Belmont Hill in Hartford on November 19th. It was a sunny, but very chilly day. I’m not sure my doctor would have been thrilled that I called that game, as I had just had surgery a week before. To be honest, I should have had somebody ride with me because I remember being very weak, and our press box was open and cold. The Bruins won and there was Coach Brennan, walking the sideline in shorts. That is sports superstition right there, my friends.

Coach Brennan is one of the really good guys in sports. He couldn’t be more accommodating. Even though he has a game to coach, he comes to say hello every time Ricky and I are in attendance. He also makes sure that we have everything that we need. This time, he didn’t have one thing that we needed – a numerical roster. After apologizing profusely, he produced a depth chart for us, with some numbers handwritten on it. We smiled and said thanks, but I realized there was another problem. The roster had last names only. So we decided we’d work around it by using a 2005 roster (thankfully, I’m fanatical about my archives).

Greenwich-Brunswick has become a familiar show – in hockey, where they played for the Town Crown up until this past season; in baseball, where they tried it once and the Cardinals destroyed the Bruins. That ended that. The Town Crown is also played for in lacrosse, where the games have gotten close, but the Cards aren’t quite up to the level yet. Talks of a hoop showdown have never come to be. By the way, there really isn’t a “Town Crown”, it’s just a made up name that my hockey broadcast partner, John Spang and I use. It has stuck, including T-shirts that were made in 2004.

In Connecticut and New York (north of New York City) football, the general rule is that the public schools rule. That’s been the case in Greenwich. At one time, Greenwich-Brunswick in football was unthinkable. I asked a former Brunswick coach about that and he told me that the Cardinals would beat the Bruins. Badly. But Coach Brennan and his counterpart, Greenwich’s Rich Albonizio, thought differently. They tried is last year, and it was successful in that Brennan got to show his team what it took to be a powerhouse – to aspire to that level of play. Coach Albonizio (or Coach Al) was successful in A) winning and B) continuing to teach the Cardinals to respect all opponents. The B’s gave the Cardinals all they could handle, but the Cards were too tough.

Back to 2006 – a hazy, sunny, hot day at Brunswick’s Cosby Field. We at WGCH are so fortunate to broadcast from some amazing locations. Greenwich High’s Cardinal Stadium has become a palace. It was always nice, but got nicer with the introduction of lights to the addition of field turf. I was not a fan of synthetic turf, but this Forever Green stuff that’s being put down today is incredible. Cosby Field is much of the same – a beautiful facility, with less seating than Cardinal Stadium, but nice vantage points. There isn’t a booth (or press box) at Cosby (or The Cos’) but if it rains, then we have the option of using their classroom building behind the north end zone, where we can use a multi-purpose room that looks out on the end zone.

We’ll have two interns in 2006 – Nick Angotto and Zach Fisher. Nick is a former Cardinal, who graduated in 2006 and is trying to start his broadcasting career. He’ll work with us while he goes to college up the road at Norwalk Community College. We’ll use him on the sidelines for his inside knowledge of the game and the Cardinal program. Zach also brings us an inside edge, as he is a senior at GHS. Zach will be our statistician, and he was able to procure a Greenwich roster for us – with names, numbers, the usual drill. So for the most part, we were ready to go.

One thing about radio – equipment gets beaten up. That’s a normal given, but I set everything up and hoped for the best as usual. What can’t be controlled is cellular telephone service. The phone that the station uses wasn’t getting a good signal, but I rolled the dice and started the broadcast with it. We were no more than a minute into the pregame when the phone died. I tried again – no good. Sean Kilkelly knew what to do in the studio. He ran through some commercials, and then went to an interview from earlier in the week that caused some stirring. The rumor was that the Bruins start quarterback, Kevin Decker, was talking “smack” about the Cardinals. Not true of course – Decker is too smart of a player, and Brennan is too smart of a coach. The rumor quickly died. So did our phone.

At the field, I reverted to plan B – my cell phone. My service from Verizon was strong enough, so that would work, right? Well almost. To put our headset microphones into a cell phone signal to broadcast the radio, we use a special kind of mixer that allows for an interface between the two. The technology has changed a bit, so our old mixer that works fine with the older Motorola phone (despite some loud horrible pre-game feedback), doesn’t work as well with my LG. Sean (in the studio) and the listeners could hear us just fine; at least once I fixed a “flushing” sound that Sean was hearing. We couldn’t hear each other. So Ricky, Zach and I made sure to stand close and keep one ear of our headphones off, so at least one of our ears could be exposed. Then there’s Nick – walking on the field with a cordless microphone. We couldn’t hear him either, but we worked around that. For the first half, we devised a plan where Nick (wearing a radio – he could hear us!) would take it from me, say what he had to say, then send it back to me, by waving at me. I cracked later on that “that was some of the finest analysis I’ve ever heard.”

For the second half, I took out a small walkman radio and when I went to Nick, I put the headphone to my ear. Now we were in business. I suppose there were other things that went on, but you get the idea. Radio “scholars and experts” say that you should never talk about your hardships – the listener doesn’t care. Generally, I’ll agree with that however, I disagree when it’s a smaller station with a very intimate listenership. These people like the one-to-one that we try to give them. We mention some of the little things that go on, usually with a disclaimer that this is “inside radio info.” So long as we don’t sound whiny and dwell on the problems, I think it makes us look human, and very down to earth. Which we are. God knows we’re nothing special.

So how did the game turn out, you say? Just fine – I suppose all is right with the world in that the public school still has not lost to the private school. But I’ll say this – an injury made a huge difference. The aforementioned Kevin Decker, who had already looked very sharp with two touchdown passes, left the game with an injured wrist. Wick led 17-6 at the time and the Cardinals took advantage, picking off Decker’s replacements four times, en route to a 35-24 Greenwich win. I talked with Coach Brennan and he told me two pertinent things – 1) he was proud of his team’s effort, despite the second quarter (when Greenwich scored 22 unanswered points) and 2) he felt Decker would be day-to-day. A friend of mine, who is a high school football nut, called me today and confirmed that Decker might be OK by Friday night, when the Bruins host Hamden Hall at The Cos. I hope so. The Bruins go as Decker goes. I can’t root for anyone too openly, but I can tell you that I like Decker a lot. He’s a top-notch young man, who even went out his way to say hello to Ricky and I at a basketball game last year. That’s quality.

Don’t think that this was a kissy-face love note to the Bruins. I have plenty of great things to say about Greenwich, which has been my “home” for nearly a decade. We’ll talk more about both of these teams as the season goes along. This was really more about the broadcast, and how proud I was of my new team. The new guys (Nick and Zach) performed like they were vets, even with our technical problems. That’s a huge plus, and something that every broadcaster must have. Ricky was Ricky – despite total exhaustion, he provided solid analysis, and kept me laughing both on and off the air. And me? It wasn’t my best stuff but I’ll take it. I lost track of the yardage at times, messed up the score on occasion, missed names, probably mispronounced a few as well, and probably didn’t give enough details. That’s OK, I guess. I still think we’re better than a lot of what you’ll find out there, and we’ll only get better. We’re back Friday night from The Cos, with Brunswick and Hamden Hall at 6:00 (probably 5:50 for our pregame show). Then we go to Stamford on Saturday for our first Greenwich broadcast, against the Westhill Vikings. The pregame show starts at 1:20.

Tomorrow, I’m going to share some 9/11 memories.

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