Steve’s preoccupation with sports was raising everyone’s stress levels. His teachers, parents and even his friends were whining about this obsession, and he didn’t know how to handle it.
Enter the cavalry, disguised as Tom Reynolds, the local television sports director. Offering to mentor Steve further in sports media, he invited him to sit in with his team as they called the high school football playoff.
Steve was so eager to learn that he arrived an hour before game time, only to learn from Tom that he should have come earlier.
“Amateurs practise to get it right,” he counselled. “We practise till we can’t get it wrong!”
He quickly immersed himself in the adrenalin that infused the commentary team—with throat lozenges and drinks on hand—as they checked past-playoff highlights, player profiles and statistics, team histories and coaches’ comments; until all was ready for instant cueing if needed.
Tom noticed Steve’s sudden querying glance at some silent blooper footage on a monitor, and whispered, “Our call will be accurate and interesting, but we need to remember it’s still only a game.”
A tap on the back door cut across the final sound checks, and a wizened, elderly figure happily stepped inside.
He must be happy to have somehow muscled in past the security guards, thought Steve, until he saw everyone’s welcoming smiles. More puzzlement for him, but again Tom’s voice was cupped into his ear.
“Old 'Silver Tonsils' himself! Steve, you’ve probably never heard of this old guy, but he is a legend. His name is Grant Sewell, and years ago his radio commentary brought even the dullest games to life. Listeners could not only visualise the action as he called it; he helped them almost smell the players’ sweat and liniment!”
Silver Tonsils was obviously in his element, though the equipment surrounding him was a whole new ball game compared to what he’d known. But Steve’s jaw dropped to hear their professionalism suddenly collapse into a casserole of complaints.
“Over-regulation and political correctness is strangling us,” moaned a headphone-clad technician.
“It was easier for you, Grant. You could ad-lib and quip your way through any game, but now we have to use so many sanitized clichés that the freshness has gone,” griped Aaron, Tom’s 2IC.
A murmur of agreement responded to Tom’s lament, “Worst of all, we aren’t allowed to pray in schools anymore.”
With a smile that multiplied his facial wrinkle-count, old Silver Tonsils slowly shook his head in reply, “I’ve been around long enough to know that whenever people slam doors, God always opens a window...
"I’d like to show you how, if you’ll let me open the proceedings, for my union card is still current.”
Tom’s expression concealed some apprehension, but a refusal would downgrade his guest’s esteem. He quietly nodded. “Okay.”
With five minutes to kick-off, and with players, coaches and officials lined up for the national anthem, Tom’s mike came alive.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a treat for you today,” he began. “Not only an athletic contest between the finest young men in our region, but before our national anthem I’d like to welcome a national legend: Grant Sewell—revered among all sports callers as Silver Tonsils!”
“Thank you, Tom,” his guest purred happily. “It’s a privilege to be here with you. But since I retired, prayer is no longer allowed in schools.
“That’s sad, but if it was still allowed, I reckon we’d thank God for a beautiful day; for these wonderful facilities; for the teams and their coaches; and for all the work they have put in together to reach this playoff.
“You’d also probably hear me pray that today will showcase the best in sport, and that any players with the potential and the character will step towards professional careers.
“I reckon "I'd pray that the game would be hard but fair, with no injuries, and that afterwards we could go home inspired by what we have seen, and rejoicing in our freedom.
“Yet while we can’t pray in schools, we know that God is with us, and we can say amen to that.”
The whole commentary team smiled to hear the crowd’s enthusiastic “Aaaa-men!”
That day Steve learned another valuable lesson—about the difference between whining and winning.
And the national anthem reverberated around the stands with greater passion than ever before.
Author’s note. This story is based on an actual event from the late 1980s.