Words by Bill Watt | Image by Blakeney Cox
I have a confession to make: I am a sports addict. Admittedly, I have no one to blame, but….my mother. She passed away at the age of eighty-four this past December. In many ways, she was larger than life and had more depth and character than anyone I have ever known. ( I will say, that my wife of twenty-six years reminds me of her in numerous ways.) Her love of sports and, specifically, any sports team affiliated with the University of Alabama was unmatched. I can still hear her shrill shrieks of banshee delight as Tennessee missed a late game-winning field goal in a driving rainstorm in Knoxville on “the third Saturday in October” in 1966. I was but ten years of age, but the memory is permanently etched in my brain. I had no choice in the matter. My addiction to sports is clearly genetic.
More often than not, because there was no Eternal Sports Network!, my exposure to the world of sports was filtered through the magic of radio. Many nights I would drift off to sleep, comforted by the staccato sounds of static and basking in the ghostly glow of a phosphorescent radio dial. Radio icons such as Cawood Ledford of Kentucky and the Tennessee Vols’ John Ward took me courtside a couple of nights a week during basketball season. It never mattered that I wasn’t a fan of Kentucky or Tennessee, I just loved to listen to them. Their styles were truly distinctive and they each had their catch phrases. Ledford loved to say, “The Cats are runnin’ tonight!”, while Ward would scream “Give it to him!” when someone scored. They were artists, painting pictures with words. They made it sound so easy. But, as I discovered later doing play-by-play announcing for Walker College basketball, it is no easy task.
Beginning in 1991, I was given the opportunity to be “the voice” of Walker basketball on WFFN/WARF. I had done some play-by-play commentary for various area high school football games, but had never done basketball before. I was excited and more than a little apprehensive at the same time. After all, Walker College basketball was a local treasure and, generally, a perennial powerhouse. Not to mention, they were coached by a living legend—Glen R. Clem.
I had met Coach Clem on numerous occasions. He was a regular visitor to WFFN/WARF because he was a close friend of Houston Pearce, the station owner. Frankly, he was intimidating. He was loud. He was hilarious. He was charming. He was huge—a grizzly in a dark blue jumpsuit. But as I came to know him, through countless pre-game and post-game interviews, whether in his office or in his living room, I got a glimpse of the man’s big heart. He had an intense passion for the game that was only matched by his love for the players he coached.
I handled play-by-play duties from 1991-1996. I have no illusions as to my ability in describing what I saw each night, but I had a blast. Home games were the best. Rebel gym was the definition of “home court advantage.” The atmosphere was nothing short of oppressive to a visiting team. No air conditioning helped in that regard. The Blue Tie Club alums were lined up courtside, the dreaded “RH” section was frenetic, the Rebel cheerleaders were turning cartwheels like tumbleweeds across the parquet floor, and, if you looked real close, you might even spot then-Alabama Coach Wimp Sanderson in the stands from time to time. Yes, I had a ringside seat to the entire three-ring circus—from the Crow’s Nest.
The Crow’s Nest was a balcony-of-sorts that was hung over the entrance to the northwest corner of the gym. It sat directly above Walker’s bench. I can still hear Clem’s booming voice beneath my feet during games bellowing “Motion!!!, (expletive deleted) Motion!!!”
Before each home game, Clem and I would record a pre-game show. And it was also where, on those occasions of a home loss, I would have to endure his blistering post-game analysis. It was from that vantage point that I witnessed the talented antics of Keith Bradley, Paris Bryant, Jeff Terry, Fred Johnigan, and so many more.
The gym, now Clem Gym, has been silent for a long time. But that is about to change. College basketball is set to return. My view of the court will be different this time. I am no longer the announcer. I am a college instructor. But you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be there this November, cheering on the Bevill Bears. My hope is that you will join me. 78