One of the questions I’m asked most frequently as a sportscaster is how I’m able to so quickly rattle off all those names during a broadcast.
Nothing special, really. Some of it is memorization. Shane Sweeney is entering his third year as Hobart quarterback. He wears number 3. I’ve called his name hundreds of times. When I see number 3 lined up under center, I don’t have to look it up, I know who it is. I will try before each broadcast to memorize a few of the key numbers for the opposing team, but a lot of it comes down to an old fashioned tool of the trade, the roster.
A roster is simply a list of players’ numbers, names, height and weight, class, etc. Every sportscaster has his own system. I generally print out a roster for each team in the biggest type I can fit onto one page (57 year old eyes need all the help they can get.) I hold those rosters in a binder just below eye level, so during the game, I can quickly glance down at the roster, see that number 75 is Johnny Jones, the 6-3, 220 pound senior linebacker and say “what a great play by Johnny Jones, the 6-3, 220 pound senior linebacker” as the listeners at home marvel at my great skill. It’s a simple system. What could go wrong? THAT is the subject of this little rant.
Number 75 makes that great play, I glance down at my roster and THERE IS NO NUMBER 75! Who is this guy? It could be that number 75 just got called up from the JV this week and the school forgot to update their roster. Maybe he’s usually number 73, but he forgot his jersey at home and had to be assigned a last minute replacement jersey. Maybe the team just bought brand new uniforms, with everyone on the roster wearing new numbers and they forgot to mention it to the radio guy. Don’t laugh, this happened to me.
The other problem we sportscasters run into is getting a useful roster in the first place. What’s the purpose of a roster? It’s so that when we look on the field and see that number 75 just made a great play, we can tell who number 75 is. Therefore, a roster should list the players by number from lowest to highest. And that’s where the problem comes in. Not everyone outside of sportscasters and PA announcers know what a roster is for. Occasionally, schools send us rosters on which the players are listed in alphabetical order. On a useful roster, number 75 is right between 74 and 76 and in a glance, I know it’s good old Johnny Jones. On an alphabetical roster, I have to scan up and down the roster multiple times to find the number I’m looking for. See the problem? Some alphabetical rosters list the players as Last Name, First Name. I swore one year if I ever got another roster like that, I would say “great play by Jones Comma Johnny. Sometimes, schools send us rosters with no numbers at all. Now, that’s really going to be a problem. Then there’s the school that shall remain nameless that sent me the roster for their girls lacrosse team a few years ago with no numbers, but with the girls’ home addresses and phone numbers. I would have killed for such a roster when I was 17.
So if you hear me say this weekend “what a great play by ummmm,” now you’ll know why.