By Lynell Morgan
In the smash-mouth game of football, every team is looking for an edge over their opponent. Sports – even at the high school level – has become so much more than the actual game being played. Teams are utilizing the latest in high-tech equipment, new training techniques and, psychologically, trying different ways to get into their opponent’s head, ways to mentally beat them before the game has even begun.
Perhaps one of the best ways to get the team psyched up for a game is to get the fans into the game. Travel up to Elgin Field for a home Wolfpack football game and you’ll experience “the psych” first hand.
You’ll find cheerleaders, the student “section”, the dance team waiting for their half-time performance. Throughout the game, you’ll get the play action calling courtesy of the announcer’s booth, located in the crow’s nest. Thanks to a much-improved sound system installed approximately two years ago, on a crisp fall night, you can sit outside your home almost anywhere in Elgin’s city limits and listen to the game from your front yard.
Two Elgin men man the microphone for the Wolfpack home games. Nights that find Elgin Public School (EPS) listed as the host school, Mike Schmitt makes the calls as they happen on the field. When it’s Pope John XXIII Central Catholic’s (PJCC) turn to host, Brent Kallhoff controls the microphone. As to be expected, when there are two different men, there will be two styles being used.
Schmitt has long been a familiar face and voice to football fans, making football play calls in Elgin for nearly twenty years.
“Dave Sullivan was the announcer (for EHS games) from 1991 to 1997. He replaced Kenny Krause and I’m not sure how long he (Kenny) did it,” Schmitt said on Monday. “I replaced (Dave) Sullivan.” Schmitt first sat down behind the announcer’s mic in the fall of 1998.
In looking back over those years, Schmitt says no particular game stands out, just the overall experiences.
“You get into all the games,” he says about the emotions while calling games. “I remember some heart-breaking losses but there have also been some great wins.”
Spanning from the Elgin Eagles to the current team of the Wolfpack, Schmitt has found the experience personally rewarding. “You get to know the kids, you get involved,” he explained. “I think this co-op is a great thing. We are so fortunate to be able to do this. Some teams have to travel a long ways,” Schmitt said.
Kallhoff had been previously announcing at wrestling tournaments so when Mark Dwyer decided to step aside from announcing in 2011, PJCC Athletic Director Julie Burenheide approached Kallhoff about doing the football games.
Kallhoff starts his pre-game routine by checking up on the opponent. “I’ll look up and see if they are a running team or a passing team. That way I’ll know if I have to talk a little bit more about the running backs or the receivers. I also like to know who their best player is, that way I can pay attention to who’s going to be making the most tackles. Sometimes there is not a lot of information out there.”
Ask any parent out there and perhaps the most irritating thing at ball games is mispronunciations of a name… throughout a game. Both Schmitt and Kallhoff work to get unfamiliar names said correctly.
“Before the game, while the players are out warming up I’ll go out and talk to one of the coaches,” Kallhoff said when it comes to difficult names. “To me, that’s probably the most (important) – to announce those kids’ names right so the parents feel a sense of pride. That’s what they’re out there for. That’s what high school football is about. This is the only chance that most of these kids will ever get to hear their names over a loudspeaker doing something amazing. Doing something that, probably, most of us would never be able to do.”
With an occasional exception, the support “staff” in the announcers booth remains the same with both announcers. Ed Parks spots offensive plays (who is running, catching), Dave Jochum and Bob Moser spot defense (who is tackling), Ray Payne runs the score clock and Ron Bode spots ball placement, yardage (+/-) and downs.
In “the old days”, the school band would provide some music at the ball field. College teams are fortunate enough to mix it up between their marching bands and recorded music. High schools, in particular small high schools, have had to adapt to the lack of live music. If the Wolfpack team and fans want music, it is available through a simple music app on Kallhoff’s cell phone.
“This year, I sat down with Kyle (his senior son) and he told me what I could use and what I couldn’t use,” Kallhoff chuckled. “Most of the music that I play, I’ve heard at some college games. I just go through and find music I like that I think will help get them pumped up, get them excited to play.” There is music for warmups, coming out onto the field, kickoffs, defense and more. “I try to create as much of a game day atmosphere as we can at this level, but I don’t try to make it into a rock concert-like atmosphere” he said. “I try to make it a fun and pleasant atmosphere for the fans and the student athletes.”
Since a cell phone is the source of music, it’s important to remember to put that phone in airplane mode before going live.
“Normally, by the end of the game when I take it out of airplane mode, I get about fifteen text messages. Critiques – on how I’m doing, on the music selections, why my son fumbled…..”
The evening for announcing starts early, with the clock beginning ninety minutes before kickoff. Shortly following the end of the game, there may be a little bit of music if its a victory, fans and teammates will gather on the field and then the lights are dimmed, announcing the end of another week on the gridiron.
By Lynell Morgan