Most Texas football fans endure all kinds of weather and conditions. Everything from the blazing heat of South Texas, the humidity of the Gulf Coast, blowing sand in West Texas, ice and snow of the panhandle and mosquitoes of East Texas. All right, I guess the mosquitoes can go with all of the above. As a fan trying to enjoy the game under less than desirable conditions, have you ever looked back at those guys in the press box? Cool when you are hot, warm when you are cold, dry when you are wet and they all seem to be smiling, except maybe the press box coaches for the team that is down by 2 touchdowns. I understand that not all press boxes are climate controlled and some of them look like they may double as deer blinds during deer season but they at least enjoy some comforts that the average fan does not enjoy.
This season (2006) I had the opportunity to get a coveted "Press Box Pass". Charlie Chitwood of Chitwood Sports Media invited me to join him and his color commentator Ned Fratangelo in the broadcast booth at Ornelas Stadium. Charlie and Ned broadcast the East Texas Baptist University football games on Marshal station KMHT and simultaneously on the Internet.
I arrived at the ETBU athletic office about three hours before the game. Three hours was a little early but I didn't want to miss anything. Sharon Hall, the athletic administrative assistant greeted me. It did not take long to figure out that she runs everything at Ornelas Stadium on game day.
She said, "You must be Texas Bob",
"Yes ma'am," I replied.
"I have your press box pass, Charlie's not here yet but I'll go ahead and take you up to the press box I'm headed up there anyway."
This stadium is relatively new facility built when ETBU restarted their football program in 2000. Concrete construction built in the side of a hill it seats about 2500 fans. One of the high lights of this stadium is the immaculately maintained grass playing surface. Atop the stands is a modern up to date press box.
The press box is divided into several rooms with a hall running behind all of them. First is a room for the working press reporters. It has a television monitor tuned to ESPN hanging on the wall and a working area for 3 to 6 reporters. Off this room is a broadcast booth for the visiting team. The next room down the hall is for the visiting team coaches. The next room, home team broadcast booth. This also where the roof access is for the film crews. The next room is the public address announcer, then after that the home team coaches. All the rooms have a computer monitor that shows the game statistics as the statistician enters them during the game. I never figure out which room he was in but the statistics came fast and accurate during the entire game. The other thing I noticed immediately, free food! Lots of snack foods, chips, etc. but the main course, chilidogs with cheese and onions.
Today's game: ETBU Tigers vs. the Sul Ross Lobos. Since I was early, I was the only one in the press box for a while. There was a lot of activity around the stadium. Just beyond the south end zone ETBU students were setting up a stand the selling tee shirts and other fan gear. I was going to buy a ETBU tee shirt to commemorate the day but I guess everybody at ETBU who wears a XXX shirt is already on the football team and already has a tee shirt.
First person I meet was Jerry Satilla he was the broadcaster for the Alpine, Texas radio station KVLF. For him this is a real road game, about 600 miles.
II had looked around met a few folks had a chilidog, looked over the tee shirts took a few pictures of the facility and decide sit down in the broadcast booth and wait for a while. It wasn't long before Charlie and Ned came in the door.
I had never actually met Charlie before. We had exchanged a few emails and I think we may have talked on the phone once so after a few introductions Charlie had to go and get his pre-game chilidog. I met Ned for the first time. He happens to also be the mayor of Jefferson, Texas. Every color commentator has his signature line. Ned's is "Move those chains boys!"
Charlie came back and started setting up for the broadcast. I was surprised at how little equipment it actually takes. There was what I would call a mixer box. It connected out to a telephone jack. Connected into the box were two headsets and microphones. An additional microphone was hung out the window to collect the crowd noise. A radio broadcast of a football game without crowd noise is like listening to a chess match, very dull. Charlie also has a very clever device that broadcast to fans in the stadium via, "Smart Bug" a special radio. That way where ever the game is played, the fans that travel with the team get to listen to the home team broadcasters.
All the wires hooked up, the crowd microphone out the window and Ned starts moving the chairs out of the way.
I said to Ned, "It looks like you guy do this standing up."
"Yes we do, we hoot, holler and high five each other all during the game."
One thing I learned about Charlie and Ned is that they are not your unbiased network commentators; they are ETBU football fans who happen to be broadcasting the game. They know the coaches and the players.
The pace of the game from a broadcasters point of view goes pretty fast. Every timeout, every pause in the game, every quarter is a chance to run a commercial spot or two and give Charlie and Ned a chance to catch their breath.
I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Charlie at half time. It was fun. We had talked football, football history and football stadiums. Now how could that be anything but fun?
I can't say enough about the hospitality of the ETBU athletic department staff. Also the hospitality of Charlie Chitwood and Ned Fratangelo, the best broadcast team in Marion County.