Familiar voices of Western Pa. high school football do their homework

October 18, 2018

Their voices are as much a part of high school football as the players and coaches.

They are the stadium public address announcers.

Some are enthusiastic. Some are businesslike.

All fill a vital role.

At the stadium of your choice, it’s up to the public address announcers to tell you who had the ball and who made the tackle, then set up the next play.

Some voices have been part of the scene for a long time.

At Mt. Pleasant, Phil Porterfield has been the public address announcer for Vikings games since 1973 -- his junior year of high school.

He’s been at it so long, his tenure goes back to the days of Mt. Pleasant football at Hurst Stadium.

“They would have students do the P.A. when I started,” said Porterfield, 60. “I thought it was something I wanted to do. I was interested in broadcasting; I wanted to be a ‘platter-pushin’ disc jockey’ for a while.”

Pat Sullivan has been announcing Riverview football games for 25 years at one of the WPIAL’s most scenic venues, Oakmont’s Riverside Park on the banks of the Allegheny River.

“Welcome to the WPIAL’s most beautiful venue,” Sullivan says when greeting the fans in a businesslike tone. “While you prepare to cheer on that certain someone, please seek out our American flag as the Riverview band plays our national anthem.”

Kiski Area’s Denny Rupert, 72, greets fans with a fully enthusiastic “Welco-o-o-o-o-me, to Western Pennsylvania high scho-o-o-o-o-l football!”

Hempfield’s Roger Downs had been announcing Little League, Teener league and middle school sports for about 20 years and was sought out when the Spartans Stadium announcing job became vacant.

“Assistant Athletic Director Jason Ross approached me when there was an opening and asked if I’d be interested, and I told him ‘sure,’” Downs recalled. “People had told me I should be doing commercials with my voice.”

Now in his 12th year, Downs remained in the press box after his retirement as a teacher and middle school guidance counselor.

“People might not know P.A. announcers actually do their homework,” Downs said. “I’ll get a roster typed up earlier in the week. If there’s a name that looks difficult to pronounce, I’ll go down on the field before the game and ask a coach or the player, himself, how to say his name.”

Just like Sullivan would prepare for an English class when he was a teacher, he organizes various announcements in a three-ring binder.

“For homecoming, I prepare the bios three days in advance,” said Sullivan, 74. “I feel the kid’s got a name, you should be able to pronounce it correctly.”

With more than 120 WPIAL schools, sometimes the nicknames can be confusing.

“I was calling Trinity the ‘Hilltoppers’ several years back,” Rupert said. “Someone came up at halftime and told me they were the ‘Hillers.’”

Rupert’s venue has changed this year from announcing at ancient Davis Field in downtown Vandergrift to Kiski Area’s new Richard Dilts Stadium on the high school campus in Allegheny Township.

“I had mixed emotions,” Rupert said about the move. “When I was a kid, I went to Davis Field to watch the Vandergrift (High School) Lancers. The place had tradition -- (New York Yankees legend) Whitey Ford pitched there. But it was time for a new beginning, a new story. Some of the kids have said that.”

As part of the game atmosphere, it can get exciting, too, for the field announcer when the team is doing well.

At Mt. Pleasant during the 1980s, the Vikings won WPIAL titles twice and were in the playoff hunt at other times during the decade.

“That stadium would be packed with five or six thousand people,” Porterfield recalled. “Those ’83 and ’86 championship teams were great under coach Bill Elder, who was highly-respected.”

When the game is over and everyone has headed for the exits and a winner has been determined, there’s one measurement to determine if an announcer has had a good game.

Said Pat Sullivan: “You don’t have any angry grandmothers waiting for you at the bottom of the steps because you mispronounced her favorite player’s name.”