High school sports public address announcers roll with evolving nature of job

Bill Libby announces the lineups before the start of a basketball game at Orono High School. Libby has been announcer at the games for 15 years.
Gabor Degre
Bill Libby announces the lineups before the start of a basketball game at Orono High School. Libby has been announcer at the games for 15 years. Buy Photo
Posted Dec. 23, 2013, at 4:54 p.m.

Chris Shorette has been the public address announcer at Old Town High School basketball games for the last 15 years.

And short of taking advantage of technological advances to add music before and during breaks at the games he works, little has changed in how he has approached the job.

“It’s basically common sense,” he said. “My goal is just to add a little something to the game, to make the kids feel like they’re playing somewhere bigger than just another high school gym.”

Such PA duties vary from high school to high school in Maine. Many announcers merely announce the participating teams’ lineups before the games, while others provide more detailed, game-related information throughout the contest such as naming the player scoring a basket or committing a foul.

It’s the latter information that has drawn some scrutiny from those who oversee the contests.

The National Federation of State High School Associations made an editorial change in its rulebook for the 2013-14 season stating, “the announcer shall be prohibited from making announcements while the clock is running during the course of the contest.”

In addition, Maine high school public address announcers have been offered some updated do’s and don’ts for what information should and should not be announced during a game.

“The announcer is asked, along with the athletic director, to respect the game and is encouraged to make basic informational announcements such as who commits the foul, who is attempting the free throw, which team is being granted the timeout, the type or length of the timeout and whether it’s 30 seconds or 60 seconds, or who is entering the game,” said Maine basketball commissioner Peter Webb during the Maine Principals’ Association’s annual video clinic for coaches.

“On the other hand, the announcer shall not announce the amount of time remaining in a quarter or the game, or the number of fouls on a player or a team, or the number of timeouts for a team or the number of timeouts remaining. The rationale behind that is those kinds of announcements could affect the play of players or the thinking of coaches and so forth, and additionally the announcer’s information is not official information and there could be mistakes that take place.

“So the announcer is encouraged to be part of it but to honor and respect the game and stick to the basic information,” Webb added.

Public address announcers generally have complied with the spirit of most, if not all, of those do’s and don’ts over the years.

“I can’t talk when the ball is live, with the only exception being to announce who scores,” said Gerry Jones, the public address announcer for basketball, track and field and soccer at Presque Isle High School since 2003. “I know as long as the referee has the ball, it’s a dead ball.”

But there are exceptions to those rules that follow PA practices at other levels of the sport, such as the college and professional ranks.

“I usually say how many fouls there is on someone, like his third and the team’s fourth, but it’s on the scoreboard anyway,” said Shorette, who is a track and field official. “I sit right next to the timer and scorer, so if I have a question they’re right there for me to ask them.”

Jones has opted not to announce the number of individual and team fouls.

“Coaches have assistant coaches to keep track of those things for them,” he said. “I’m not trying to influence the game.”

Most PA announcers share a greater familiarity with and affinity for their home teams, and overzealousness in that area may cause problems given the NFHS’s goal of providing an impartial atmosphere at the games.

Jones and Shorette said they make it a point to recognize the achievements by players on both teams but that it’s human nature for their primary allegiances to sneak through at times.

“I try not to be too one-sided, but I’m getting paid to announce an Old Town game so I tend to be a little more enthusiastic when I’m making a call for an Old Town player,” said Shorette. “But I’m not ignoring it when someone on the other team makes a good play, and every now and then I get a compliment from an opposing parent.”

Jones recalls being quite enthusiastic over the microphone a few years ago about the 3-point shooting accuracy of some of the Presque Isle basketball players but says he’s now less emphatic in such cases in the sought-after spirit of public address announcers treating both teams the same way.

Truth be told, though, he’d probably still prefer to be just a little more animated when the Wildcats are at their best, seeing it as part of the home-court advantage.

“As far as the feedback from the fans, they seem to like it. I’ve never had a complaint from an opposing coach that I treated a kid unfairly,” Jones said.

“I don’t want to embarrass anyone. I just want to give the players some recognition.”

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