Haverford — Winter 2013
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Ford Games
Charles Curtis

The Day-to-Day of Play-by-Play

Owen Newkirk ’02 has found thrills, challenges and a livelihood in sports broadcasting.

During his senior year, Owen Newkirk ’02 found both his literal and his metaphorical calling at a Haverford women’s basketball game. The team was facing a 25-point deficit in what would eventually be a home court blowout, but Newkirk, who was behind the microphone for the campus radio station, recalls a feeling of exhilaration. “I was having a blast calling the game for WHRC,” he says, “and I thought, ‘There might be something to this.’ I do remember that moment, the epiphany I had. I made the connection—if I’m having this much fun, even though it isn’t that competitive, I might be interested doing it professionally.”

That kicked off what would eventually become a successful career in broadcasting. Newkirk is currently the play-by-play voice and director of media relations for the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League, the minor league affiliate of the NHL’s Dallas Stars. The road to the Stars wound through a number of other places—many of them in upstate New York—before reaching Cedar Park, Texas. It wasn’t an easy journey, and it couldn’t have taken place without Newkirk’s ingenuity, perseverance and luck.

After graduating from Haverford with a degree in astronomy, he landed a broadcasting internship with the Berkshire Black Bears, an independent baseball team in Pittsfield, Mass., where the first of a few twists of fate helped him move up the ladder immediately. On his second day with the Black Bears, the general manager informed him that the team’s regular broadcaster had suddenly left for another job. Newkirk was asked to take over right away.

“It was the most fun I’ve had in any job I’ve been in,” he says. “We played Wiffle ball in the concourse at [Pittsfield’s] Wahconah Park and football under the lights one night. We cleaned up garbage, pulled out the tarp when it rained. It was a great first learning experience.”

Newkirk, who grew up in Blue Hill, Maine, spent his childhood listening to hockey broadcasters like Mike Emrick and Gary Thorne, as well as Joe Carr, who was a play-by-play man for the University of Maine. At Haverford, Newkirk played on the College’s hockey club team, so when baseball season ended in Pittsfield, he decided to focus on getting a job in hockey for the winter. He applied for a post in New York with the Elmira Jackals, then a team in the United Hockey League, but lacked broadcasting experience in the sport. The Jackals liked his demo tape from the time he spent with the Black Bears, but wondered if he had any hockey samples. So he fired up his PlayStation 2, stuck in an NHL video game, cranked up the volume on his television and recorded himself calling a simulated contest between the Boston Bruins and the New Jersey Devils. He got the job, thanks to another instance in which fortune intervened: “I later found out they [had] hired somebody else, but the guy didn’t show up, didn’t call and they didn’t know where he was,” Newkirk says. “That’s two jobs in a row in which I caught a break.”

After four years in Elmira, Newkirk moved on to the Albany River Rats and then to a team called the Adirondack Phantoms in Glens Falls, N.Y. But he moved back to Elmira with his wife, Nicole, and their son Leyton, who is now 3 years old (their second son, Dexter, turned one in February) after finding out he wouldn’t be hired back in 2010. “Finding that out was devastating, not only because we loved everything about being in Glens Falls, but particularly because it was so late in the off-season,” Newkirk says. It was September, and he had no chance of finding another hockey broadcasting job. “For the first time since I started working in broadcasting, I had no idea what I was going to do,” he says.

To support his family, Newkirk worked in construction for two months and later got a job at a car dealership to make ends meet. But he knew he needed to stay active in the profession, so he volunteered to broadcast with the Binghamton Senators, working along-side the team’s announcer, Grady Whittenburg, and adjusting to the role of color analyst instead of doing play-by-play.

“It’s a hard thing to … step back from being the play-by-play guy—[who is] probably talking 60 to 70 percent of the broadcast—and let someone else take the lead,” says Whittenburg. “And then being able to interject succinctly, but have salient points.” Newkirk rose to the challenge. “He made my job even easier,” Whittenburg says.

Newkirk was rewarded for the gratis work he did and landed the job with the Texas Stars. Required to uproot his family from Elmira, he gives ample credit to his wife, a stay-at-home mother at the moment. “Nicole has been unbelievably supportive,” he says. “Without her help, I wouldn’t be able to do this job and have a family. It did take some convincing, because we were really spoiled being close to [Nicole’s] family.”

Newkirk’s career is a combination of passions. At heart, he explains, he’s an entertainer and performer with a “colossal” interest in the world of sports as an athlete and fan. Though hockey isn’t the only sport he loves, its “speed of play and energy level” make it a great game for him to narrate. But even if he works his way up to broadcasting in the NHL, Newkirk has his eyes set on another goal: a job as a sportscaster on a broader national stage, calling multiple sports like Al Michaels, who has been the voice for Super Bowls, World Series and—perhaps most famously— the “Miracle on Ice” Olympic hockey game between the U.S. and Soviet Union in 1980. That dream, says Newkirk, “comes back to the liberal arts education of a place like Haverford, where you get a chance to dabble in everything.”

athletics news

Five Haverford alums were named to the Middle Atlantic Conference All-Century CROSS COUNTRYteam. The all-century teams, broken into eras, honored Tamara Lave ’90 and Jennifer Maranzano ’94 on the 1912-1992 women’s team; and Mike Sheely ’83, Seamus McElligott ’91 and Matt Leighninger ’92 on the 1975-1992 men’s team.

Lave and Maranzano (who was a 2008 inductee into Haverford’s Thomas Glasser ’82 Hall of Achievement) were both twotime All-Americans in cross country and two-time MAC individual cross country champions. Sheely was a two-time all- American and three-time MAC champion and represented the United States at the 1979 World Cross Country Championship in Limerick, Ireland. McElligott, the 1990 MAC champion and NCAA individual title winner, was a three-time Division III All-American and went on to represent the U.S. at the World Cross Country Championships of 1996 in Cape Town, South Africa. Leighninger wore the 1989 individual MAC crown and was on the first three conference championship teams that kicked off a string of 19 consecutive league titles by Haverford teams. ?

In January, the SOFTBALL team hosted a successful instructional clinic for girls, ages 7 to 12. Members of the Haverford team and coaching staff instructed 35 participants on the fundamentals of the game during the inaugural event, held at Alumni Field House. The clinic, part of the softball team’s community service project for the 2013 season, raised $975 for the American Cancer Society’s StrikeOut Cancer initiative to support those living with cancer and their families. mnThe Fords will also host a StrikeOut Cancer doubleheader to heighten awareness in the spring.

The National Association of Division III Athletic Administrators (NADIIIAA) recognized Haverford College as one of the winners of this year’s community service awards at the annual NCAA Convention in Grapevine, Texas, on Jan.

16. Athletics Director Wendy Smith ’87 accepted the trophy as well as a $1,000 check for the general scholarship fund at Haverford College. The award celebrates the difference student-athletes can make on their campuses and in their local communities particularly through community service projects. Haverford’s honor was earned through the WOMEN’S BASKETBALL team’s work on the annual Hoops from the Heart Martin Luther King basketball clinics.

The MEN’S SOCCER program celebrated its 2012 championship season at the annual team banquet in January. Head coach Shane Rineer’s squad defeated Swarthmore College to capture the Fords’ first Centennial Conference championship in November—the program’s first conference title since 1988. The team also went on to play in the NCAA Division III tournament, which was the first time the Fords have advanced to nationals since 1980, when Stanley “Skip” Jarocki ’69 coached soccer at Haverford. A highlight of the team banquet was the keynote speech given by former head coach David M. Felsen ’66, who pushed two of his teams (1976, 1977) into the NCAA Division-III tournament.

Haverford BASKETBALL saw a trio of noteworthy achievements within the 2012–2013 season. In the womens’ program, Dominique Meeks ’13 (left) and Nina Voith ’14 became the fourth and fifth players, respectively, to crack the 1,000- point plateau. At press time, Meeks, a Richmond, Va., native, had pushed her career total to 1,115 points; and Voith, a Philadelphian, had achieved 1,000 points. They trail only Katie Crowley ’06 who set the program record with 1,291 career points. On the men’s team, Brett Cohen ’14 (below), who hails from Rockville Centre, N.Y., had registered 531 rebounds by early February, with two games remaining in the season. Cohen is among the leaders within the Centennial Conference in rebounding.

Men’s basketball also saw Cam Baker ’13 move up to sixth place on the program’s all-time scoring list, with 1,374 points. Baker, from Columbus, Ohio, had scored his 1,000th career point in the previous season’s finale at Swarthmore College.

Keep up with your favorite Haverford team at haverfordathletics.com. For more about alumni athletic events and game schedules click on the site’s “alumni” tab.