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Behind the mic

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As the voice behind the mic at Marcus High School home football games, Bill Lee says he has the best seat in the house high above the field where every play from the yardage on a kick return to a referee’s hand motions can be clearly seen.

It’s a weekly gig that actually takes much more time than one might imagine – at least it does for Lee, who likes to prepare well in advance for each game.

“My week starts Monday before the game,” he said.

Lee takes the job seriously from doing homework to learn how to pronounce each student’s name properly to knowing exactly what the referee means with each hand signal – just in case the referee’s mic goes out.

Every Friday night, hours before kickoff, Lee is in the announcer’s booth taping the roster to a side window, reviewing a minute-by-minute sheet of announcements and thumbing through a notebook filled with precisely-worded announcements before, during and after the game.

“Anybody that touches the ball either side is really deserving of getting their name called,” Lee said, adding all of the students’ efforts deserve recognition from players to cheerleaders to the drill team.

It’s his attention to detail that makes the job seem so easy to listeners.

Spend some time with Lee before a big Friday night game like the recent Battle of the Axe and it becomes obvious his years in the television and film industry are what make him among the best behind the mic.

“The more preparation you do, the easier it’s going to be during the night,” he said as people popped in to his booth with updates on names, new sponsors or just to say a quick hello, knowing he’s busy preparing for the moment when the mic goes live.

“To do it right, it’s a balance – planned and unplanned announcements, calling the game and being prepared for anything that comes up,” Lee said.

On this particular night – one of the bigger nights of the season besides homecoming – Lee prepared for a tribute to veterans as part of the night’s lineup.  He was anticipating the crowd’s response.

“I love it when the stadium is full,” he said. “You see the reaction as soon as you make an announcement.”

A key part of being an announcer at the game, Lee explained, is to realize the audience is seeing the same thing you are, unlike a radio announcer who talks to a listening audience. He stays away from obvious statements and doesn’t feel the need to fill the silence with constant chatter – either about the game or about his personal life.

In his opinion, silence is indeed golden.

In his “off” time, he likes to listen to college announcers, picking up ideas as well as comparing his approach to theirs.

A Highland Village resident, Lee and his wife raised four boys who graduated from Marcus and played football – Jared, Jonathan, Jordan and Joshua. One particularly memorable year among the family’s many years of Marcus football was when his next to the oldest son played on the 1997 State Championship team. That son, Jonathan Lee, also coached sports at MHS and is currently the girls’ basketball coach at Lake Dallas. Jared works with Lee’s company, Identity Media Services, which does everything from medical videos to a Tailgate Rivals show for Fox Sports Southwest.

When the Marcus football stadium was under construction, Lee drove by it daily on his way to and from work. He thought about how cool it would be to sit above the 50-yard line during high school games and decided to call the high school principal about announcing games. As luck would have it, they needed an announcer and the rest is history.

He’s been behind the mic since the stadium’s opening night in 2010.

One key component to a successful announcer is having a spotter – someone who watches the game through binoculars to call out action on the field. Recently, one of his sons joined him as the game spotter, making his booth time more of a bonding time as well.

Lee is often asked about what it’s like to announce at football games so he prepared a list of questions and answers. Here are a few of the most common questions he hears:

What was your most exciting night? “By far the most exciting night and my first time as the stadium announcer was opening night in 2010.  The stadium holds right around 10,000 people and I’m convinced that there were at least 15,000 in attendance.  Luckily the visiting team did not bring a large crowd, so we were able to sit many of the home team fans on the visitor side.  Even with that, it was a standing room only crowd.  With the exception of a couple of small problems which nobody in the stands knew about, the night went off very well.”

What is your favorite part of the job? “Having a 50-yard line seat in a Friday Night High school Football environment, at an awesome school, talking about a game that I love,” he wrote in notes he carefully prepared for an interview. (See what we mean about preparation? – See below for the notes Lee prepared.)

His least favorite aspect is that the season only gives him five to six games a year, which makes it pass too quickly, he noted.

What is the oddest thing that has ever occurred to you as an announcer? “After the first few games, the school received some noise complaints from some homeowners in the area. In fact I heard the City threatened noise violation fines if we did not turn down the PA.  Well, we turned down the PA, but then we began to get flooded with complaints from the fans on the stadium ends and visitor side that they could not hear anything I was saying. Since that time, the system was tweaked and new directional speakers were installed that apparently has solved that problem,” Lee wrote.

What is the most unusual event?
“Opening night with the crowd in excess of 15,000, I was approached by a vendor in the elevator who asked me to read an unauthorized ad for his product.  In return, he would give me free products. I politely said I could not do that, but I can see why he wanted to try.  The crowd was huge and excited about opening night,” he wrote.

What makes Friday night high school football games so special? “It’s the sounds, the competing bands, the cheers,” Lee said, smiling as he checked the clock.

Time’s a ticking.

Here are Bill Lee’s carefully prepared notes for the interview:

Historical

My wife and I have lived in Highland Village since 1988 and were fortunate enough to see all four of our sons graduate from Marcus and also play football.  The most notable year was when our next to the oldest son played on the 1997 State Championship team.

How I Became Announcer

My profession of TV and Film production did play a role here, however it really happened because I drove by the stadium while under construction every day for over a year and thought about how cool it would be to have a 50 yard line seat watching high-school football, and being able to announce the game.

A call to the school principal was all it took, but there was a lot of luck in the timing.  My call came just at the right time as the announcer issue was being discussed.

When Asked What Do I like The Most and Least

The Most: Having a 50yd line seat in a Friday Night High school Football environment, at an awesome school, talking about a game that I love.

The Least: There are only 5 or 6 home games each year.  The year goes by way too quickly.

Training and Philosophy:

Since I had a several month head start before opening night in 2010, I actually took an on-line course for Athletic Public Announcer’s recommended by the UIL.  I already knew the things I did not want to do, so this was very good information of the things to do, such as safety issues, sportsmanship, and courtesy.

The one thing that I did not want to do and the thing that I don’t like about some announcers I have heard, is that they call the game like a radio announcer would.  They forget that the audience is there watching the same game as you are, unlike a radio audience.  You don’t have to tell the crowd the obvious.  I want to make sure that I let them know the things that are difficult for them to see or understand, call out the players involved in each play, give them statistics such as yards gained, and of course make the necessary promotional and information based announcements.  Other than that.  “Silence Is Golden”, at least from the announcer.  I try to let the normal sounds of the game play a big role.

Another thing that I heard some other announcers do that I knew I would not do, is to turn the booth into a social affair.  I actually heard one announcer tell the crowd what he had for dinner before the game, and the trip he and his wife were going to make soon.  Really…..?

Since that opening season in 2010, I have made it a mission to hear as many college announcers as I can.  Other than some of the “homerism” I hear from them, the college approach is closer to my technique.

Courtesy & Sportsmanship

The UIL prepares a statement that they like to read before each game which talks of sportsmanship and courtesy to others in the crowd.  In addition to this, the UIL also asks that announcers be careful not to grandstand the home team too much and not to disrespect the visiting team.

Being on the visitor’s side in many games watching my own kids, I heard my share of disrespectful announcers toward the visiting team and vowed never to do that.

Another lesson I learned by watching my kid’s games, is how important it is that the announcer reads the players, cheerleaders, drill team participants, etc. names correctly.  During the pre-planning sessions leading up to games, I reach out to everybody that I can to prepare phonetic listings of their students for me.  Spelling is not important, I just want the phonetics so I can properly pronounce the name.

Just last week, a mom of a player took the time to write her sons name down phonetically and hand delivered it to me in the press box before the game.  I let everyone know that I always welcome that, for I know how frustrating it can be to hear an announcer butcher your kid’s name.

I try to also do this each week for the visiting team by reaching out to their booster club president or a coach to go over the roster names with me so I can make my own phonetic spreadsheet.

Most Exciting Night

By far the most exciting night and my first time as the stadium announcer was opening night in 2010.  The stadium holds right around 10,000 people and I’m convinced that there were at least 15,000 in attendance.  Luckily the visiting team did not bring a large crowd, so we were able to sit many of the home team fans on the visitor side.  Even with that, it was a standing room only crowd.  With the exception of a couple of small problems which nobody in the stands knew about, the night went off very well.

Most Odd Event

After the first few games, the school received some noise complaints from some homeowners in the area. In fact I heard the City threatened noise violation fines if we did not turn down the PA.  Well, we turned down the PA, but then we began to get flooded with complaints from the fans on the stadium ends and visitor side that they could not hear anything I was saying.

Since that time, the system was tweaked and new directional speakers were installed that apparently has solved that problem.

Most Unusual Event

Opening night with the crowd in excess of 15,000, I was approached by a vendor in the elevator who asked me to read an unauthorized ad for his product.  In return, he would give me free products.

I politely said I could not do that, but I can see why he wanted to try.  The crowd was huge and excited about opening night.

Nightly Procedures

High School football in Texas is a big business.  Moving thousands of people in and out in an orderly process, providing the proper communications to them, and doing so within a very tight schedule is a real credit to everyone involved with stadium operations.

Barring any last minute changes which there often are, the announcing night normally starts about 35 minutes prior to kick-off.  Below is a normal game night run-down:

6:55    Welcome and UIL Statement
7:00    Welcome and Introduction of VIP’s
7:06    Student Council Gift Exchange
7:10    Cheerleaders Introduction
7:12    Visitor School Song
7:15    Home Team School Song
7:18    Introduce Starting Line-Up
7:20    Introduce Captains / Coin Toss
7:23    Teams Run-Out
7:25    Introduction of Color Guard
7:28    National Anthem
7:30    Kick-Off

From this point on, we say “It’s Show Time”

Our staff in the past consisted of myself and a spotter.  My long time friend Tim Nesbitt was my spotter from day one until last year.  He officially retired from the booth as his last child graduated Marcus.  This year, I have made it more of a family affair as I have two of sons alternating home games as my spotter.  The spotter plays a huge role as they stay glued to the binoculars for almost the entire game reading players numbers involved in each play.  This year we have our first “intern” who is a Marcus Freshman and desires to go into Sports Broadcasting.

Another responsibility that we have is to be able to translate and communicate the referee calls to the crowd.  As most people have noticed, referee microphones often do not work properly.  Not only do we have to stay up on all of the referee’s hand signals, but as was the case this year, we had a quick lesson from one of the officials before the first game on new rules that came into effect this year.

In addition to the standard play calling of the game, there usually is anywhere from 35 to 50 commercials spots that are read during a game.  Some are read twice a game, and others are read each quarter.

The second floor of the Press box houses all of the scouts and reporters.  At least once a quarter, a runner provides us with area sports scores that are relevant to the audience.  A few years ago when the Rangers were in the playoffs in September, it was a great feeling to announce a good Ranger score and see the crowd erupt.

And we are always ready to announce anything else from a cell phone found, to an illegally parked car, to reminding people not to sit in the aisles.  By far my favorite non-football announcement is when we get to congratulate a service man or woman who has just returned from active duty.  From where I sit, seeing the crowd stand and applaud is an awesome site to see.

Emergencies

I take all aspects of announcing very seriously, especially during emergency situations.  In the case of an emergency such as weather or something else, it is our responsibility to instruct the crowd what to do and where to go.  This is another area of the Public Announcing course that came in handy.

We are equipped with weather radars as well as lightning detector alarms so we are able to make announcements early when warranted.

Summary

In summary, announcing for High School Football is flat out awesome.  Even though it is a lot of work and coordination, I look forward to each season and for every Friday night home game.  I feel very fortunate to live in this area and have this opportunity at the high school which all of my sons attended and graduated from.  Marcus High School is a very special place.  From their staff, to the administrators, to their students, to the Booster Clubs, Marcus is a class act, and I’m very proud to have an association with them.

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