Tuesday, October 4, 2011

You Can Get Anywhere From Here, Except When You Can't Say It

You can get anywhere from here.

You can get anywhere from here.

Six words.  Easy enough for a six-year-old, right?  If so, then it should be a cake walk for someone who has been talking into microphones for almost half his life.  Guess again.

It's Saturday night, October 1st.  The tension and excitement build as Savannah State University gets ready for its first football game in the gorgeously renovated T.A. Wright Stadium.  Regardless of what happens once the action begins – the Tigers would lose in a rout - the joint is jumping because the man who might as well be Mr. Savannah State, pro football hall of famer Shannon Sharpe, had just wowed the crowd with words of affection for his Alma Mater.

As he walked off the field in his gleaming, gold Hall of Fame jacket, the public address announcer read a note of congratulations to Mr. Sharpe and teed up the ever important Savannah State University slogan; "Mr. Sharpe's career is proof that, when coming from Savannah State University, you can get… here.......from anywhere."

Groans.  Catcalls.  Almost in unison, a highly annoyed throng shouted the actual university slogan, which the announcer hurriedly read; "you can get ANYWHERE from here."  Hoping for some cheers of forgiveness, the announcer received well deserved Bronx cheers and raspberries instead.

The announcer was yours truly.

Happy that I wasn't fired on the spot approximately ten minutes after beginning my first Savannah State football game, I waited nervously for the verbal barrage from the press box.  A writer seated next to me laughed and said, "Well, that was close enough."  I will withhold the writer's name because while close may count in horseshoes and hand grenades, I doubt the Tiger faithful will accept ‘close enough’ for their university moniker.  Trina Samuels, SSU's Assistant Sports Information Director was most comforting, however, as she patted my head and said, "It's okay.  They're only going to kill you."

It isn't the first mistake I have made as a public address announcer, and despite a couple hundred Savannah Sand Gnats baseball games and a season of Savannah State and Armstrong Atlantic State basketball under my belt, it won't be the last.  Sometimes my voice has frozen in mid-syllable.  Sometimes, I have misread copy, even words I have successfully navigated dozens of times.  Especially problematic are names because, no matter how hard you try, you aren't going to pronounce every name perfectly.

Many people think announcing a baseball game is difficult because of the large number of Latino players, but it actually doesn't take long to get used to the nuances of Hispanic names.  In fact, the biggest issue we had with the Sand Gnats this past season was with one of the team's Caucasian outfielders (I will use a pseudonym for the player because he was nice about the kerfuffle).

From the beginning of the season, I had pronounced this player’s surname Burgermeister (told you I'd use a pseudonym) as it was listed in the Sand Gnats' pronunciation guide.  Then, roughly half way through the season, I was informed that the player's mother was in attendance at a particular game, and she claimed we were wrong; the family name was Meisterburger.

After announcing him as Meisterburger a couple of times during that game, a Sand Gnats employee hurriedly brought me a yellow Post It note directly from the player's mother.  "It's MEISTERBRAU!” she had emphatically scribbled, so he was Meisterbrau for the rest of the evening.  Before the next game, I brought up the name in question to Toby Hyde, the Sand Gnats' Media Director and radio broadcaster, who told me the player himself had pronounced it the original way, Burgermeister, prior to the beginning of the season.  Yes, the player later claimed that his own mother had mispronounced his name and, thanks to her and her sticky note, so had I.

That episode was embarrassing, but at least some of the folks inside Historic Grayson Stadium missed it as they grabbed a hot dog or some chicken and waffles from the concession stand or played with Gnate The Gnat.  It wasn’t the same as inverting the words of a historic university slogan, a sentence my preschooler could have said a year ago, with almost six-thousand people paying attention to every single word.

So I wholeheartedly apologize to the Tiger Universe.  And to SSU interim president Cheryl Dozier, I am taking my punishment like a man.  I will write one-thousand times on my third-grader’s whiteboard:

You can get anywhere from here.

You can get anywhere from here.

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