State basketball at Williams Arena in March is an amazing time. Thanks to the Minneota Vikings girls’ basketball team I’ve been lucky enough to experience broadcasting state basketball in the cities for many years. Last year we were at Target Center in downtown Minneapolis, this year we were back at Williams Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota. I much prefer Williams Arena over Target Center for state basketball.
Thursday morning, I parked my car across the street from Williams Arena. I was really excited to be back at this historic venue. It was two hours before game time so there weren’t many people around at the time. As I was approaching the media door I noticed something unusual standing there. It was a full grown turkey! That’s right a turkey walking around on the sidewalk right next to me. Now I have been chased by turkeys before and it’s not fun. At first I stopped walking and stood still hoping he didn’t see me. I asked myself, why is there a turkey walking around in a densely populated urban area? It was so out of place. When I opened the door, I told the security lady working behind the media table that there was a big turkey outside! She was in a wheelchair and quickly wheeled herself over to the door and shouted out “Hey Tommy Turkey is back!” I guess he is pretty popular on campus.
I got my media pass and met up with Anthony Rohlik from Marshall Radio and the two of us walked down to the gym floor and were looking for our spot to broadcast from at courtside. As we walked along press row, we noticed reserved signs for photo journalists only. Then a Minnesota High School League official asked if we were radio and we said yes. He pointed up to the upper deck in the corner showing us where the radio guys go! Anthony and I looked at each other in disbelief. So we made our way up to the upper deck and found our spot for broadcasting. At first I was really upset and so was Anthony and the Mt. Iron Buhl radio guy. We were so far away from the court and a terrible place to broadcast from. It was going to be really different than broadcasting from the RA Facility in Marshall where you are right on the floor next to the teams. After I set up my equipment and calmed down a bit, it wasn’t so bad after all, by Saturday’s championship game I was okay with it.
Unfortunately for me, I had caught a bad cold earlier in the week and it wasn’t getting any better. For someone who is in radio and you use your voice all the time a head cold is the worst thing that can happen. I was really worried about doing the play by play because I was coughing all the time and I was losing my voice. It is really frustrating to broadcast a basketball game when your nose is running and you’re coughing. I had cough drops with me and lots of bottles of water. I went into the men’s room and grabbed a few paper towels to blow my nose. I did a little trick that seemed to work, while doing the play by play of the Minneota game on Thursday every time I felt a cough coming on, I would turn down my mic and quick cough and then quickly turn my mic back up. That way nobody could hear me cough and it worked well. I toughed it out Thursday, knowing Friday I would have Morgan Kockelman with me commentating and she could do most of the talking and give me a break. The problems of a radio guy.
After Minneota upset the #1 seed Mt. Iron Buhl Thursday, they played the undefeated Hayfield Vikings Friday. Morgan joined me and we had a great broadcast with another great win for Minneota handing Hayfield their first loss of the season. In the postgame show I was not expecting coaches and players to come up to the upper deck for interviews which Coach Johnston and Panka and Kockelman did. I had Morgan interview her dad Dale Kockelman in the postgame show. When the interview started Dale needed some time to catch his breath from running up the stairs to the upper deck. That was funny. I am so thankful for all the Minneota coaches and players they always have given me time on the radio over the years. I’m also thankful for Morgan for helping me through the semifinal game while I had a cold. Before the game started, I told her that I thought I was getting laryngitis so if I couldn’t continue the play by play she would have to do it. The look on her face was awesome. She wasn’t prepared for that, but thank goodness my voice lasted the whole game and Morgan was relieved. Being a former player she does such a good job on the radio. I enjoy working with her.
Whenever I am in the cities to cover state dance or state basketball and football I always stay at my daughter Brianna’s home. She lives in Minneapolis, about 15 minutes from Williams Arena. She loves having dad come stay with her. This past weekend her husband Seth was in Michigan with his dad attending the National Wrestling Championships. They both are Penn State graduates and Nittany Lion fans. So it was father and daughter bonding time. We also had some grandchildren with us as the Montevideo girls’ basketball team was also playing at state. Brandon and Katie were going to the Thunder Hawk games and sometimes Brianna was watching Eli and Gretta. Brianna lives one block from a Red Cow restaurant and one of my favorite bakeries, Wvollet Bakery. We always have a meal at Red Cow and every morning I go to the bakery to get a roll and coffee. That is my routine while staying with her. She also was worried about dad’s bad cold so she made hot tea for me every evening and doctored me up.
Saturday ended with Minneota playing in the state championship game against a very good Hancock Owl team. Hancock won 54 to 43. As I was leaving Williams Arena and walking to my car I thought about how blessed I am to be able to do this. To be able to broadcast high school sports down at state! To be surrounded by amazing people. I actually said out loud, “Thank you God, for allowing me to experience this and thank you for blessing my life”