Job speaks to sports announcer

At play

May 30, 2007|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,Special to The Sun

Al Smith sat in the Hughes Stadium press box at Morgan State University with both hands around the small microphone.

His eyes scanned the track three stories below, shifting only to glance at information handed to him.

"Final call, 3,200-meter run. Final call," he intoned in his deep baritone.

Smith calls out the information that keeps so many big track and field meets rolling and is the one that so many high school athletes have heard over the years.

The Severna Park resident, 66, has been doing public address announcing for major high school sporting events, like last weekend's Maryland public high school state championship meet, and wrestling, for more than 25 years.

"I enjoy doing it, and I think I do a pretty good job," Smith said. "I see a lot of kids, and I get to know some of them. They do a lot of great things, and they don't get the publicity that they should."

Smith's job is more complex than it looks. He helps the event take place.

At a track event, he tells the athletes to report to their events - giving a first, second and final call to warn them it's time to go. He also reads results of previous events and calls out the leaders of a race as it's happening. And for good measure, he reads off the scores in each of the eight divisions (four boys and four girls) at different points throughout the competition.

"Al has a multitasking ability," his wife, Maria Smith, said. "It's a joke in our marriage that he can do about 10 things at once."

That's what he needs to do at the state meet, which took place Thursday and Friday from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Smith spent 12 hours at the Morgan State track on the final day to make sure he had everything ready to do his job.

"He's just an amazing man," said Mary Lucas, who retired last year as the MPSSAA's long-time coordinator of information and publications. "The thing that amazes me the most about him is he [does]...multitasking beyond belief."

Smith said he's always been a "sports nut" but fell in love with doing this type of work almost by accident. When Old Mill High School opened in the mid-'70s, then-athletic director Jim Dillon was looking for someone to do the public address announcing at football games. Smith was a member of the booster club and volunteered to take the job in 1975.

He's missed only four home games in 32 years. A few years later, Smith went to an Old Mill track meet, and then-coach Ron Evans asked him to help run it. Smith eventually took over doing public address work there in the late 70s and moved to the state meet shortly thereafter.

Smith also began doing similar work at wrestling competitions and began handling the public address services at those state tournaments, which he continues to this day.

What makes Smith's work more impressive is he's not paying his bills from it. Until his retirement in January 2002, Smith was an air-traffic controller for 40 years in the military and the Federal Aviation Administration. He'd sometimes swap shifts with someone to do his public-address announcing - not easy since Smith often worked the midnight-8 a.m. shift - or he'd do the voice work on just a few hours of sleep.

He's often done the public-address work either free or for nearly to nothing. But his wife understands why.

"I think that all things you do should be your passion," said Maria Smith. "He loves doing sports on the side. I think your passion is what you go out and do, and I think he has a passion for this."

He came well-equipped to the track meet at Morgan State; he brought his binoculars and a bag of his favorite butterscotch candies, along with a walkie-talkie and plenty of information.

"I try to give [people] the information."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.