Photo: Bobby Cooper will be entering his 38th year as the voice of Gadsden State athletics. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The “Voice of the Cardinals” is warming up for yet another season of junior college athletics.
When the 2018 Gadsden State volleyball team kicks off its home opener on Sept. 5 against Wallace State-Hanceville, Bobby Cooper will begin his 38th year as the public-address announcer for the college.
Starting with the 1980-81 men’s basketball team and picking up the school’s baseball, women’s basketball, volleyball and softball squads along the way, the Emma Sansom High graduate has been an institution in and around Beck Field House.
“It keeps me in the game and helps me stir up the crowd and maybe helps to pick up the [Gadsden State] team in certain situations,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun when you can work a crowd like that.”
In between the action, Cooper is known for his shout-outs to local high school coaches and athletes who are in attendance.
“I try to embarrass the coaches a little bit and keep then on their toes,” he said with a laugh. “A lot of public address announcers at other junior colleges read off the starting lineups and then leave. I try to do a little bit more than that.”
Although he freely admits to being a ‘homer’ during GSCC games, Cooper pointed out that it is never at the expense of the visiting team.
“I never say derogatory things about the other teams. It’s disrespectful and there’s no place for it. Also, I’ve probably known the [visiting] coach for years.”
The only time Cooper missed working a home game in any sport was during the 2010-11 season, when he was diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer. Amazingly, it wasn’t his vocal cords that kept Cooper away from the microphone.
“My voice really wasn’t affected; it was that I had no strength after the chemo treatments. Ralph [Muskett] had to finish the basketball season and then did the baseball season for me. But I was ready to go when volleyball started.”
The door opened at Gadsden State for Cooper in 1980, when then Gadsden State public address announcer Ronny Johnson, asked Cooper to fill in for him when the Cardinal men’s basketball team had a Wednesday game in order that Johnson could attend church service. Cooper agreed, and the following season Cooper took over as the full-time public-address announcer while Johnson helped out periodically..
Cooper keeps his style simple when working a game, regardless of what sport.
“It’s more important about what not to say rather that what to say. You definitely learn by experience. Since I’ve been doing this, whenever I’m watching a game on TV, I always try to block the play-by-play man and color man out and pick up on what the public-address announcer is saying in the background. Over the years, I’ve picked up certain things and added them to my announcing.”
Cooper played football, basketball and baseball at Emma Sansom. He played basketball at Gadsden State for the 1968-69 season under Riley Whitaker, who went on to serve as GSCC athletic director for more than 25 years. The pre-Beck Field House Cardinals, who qualified for the NJCAA Tournament the following year, did not win a game that season while playing their home contests at the Litchfield Middle School gym. One opposing player Cooper faced was Jeff State’s Hal Davidson, who later became men’s basketball coach at Gadsden State.
“He was really good,” said Cooper. “A left-handed point guard who was as quick as a hiccup.”
Cooper, who umpired high school and college baseball for more than 30 years, admitted that the first junior college volleyball match he saw in person was his initial appeaance as public-address announcer for the GSCC volleyball team.
“I’ve probably been doing volleyball for 15 years, and it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I was a high school volleyball official for six years, so I knew what the signals from the referee meant and why a point was awarded to or taken away from a team.”
Cooper, clock operator Ralph Muskett and shot clock operator Rita Jones have been working the school’s home basketball games for the past nine years.
“Rita sits between us, and she has to put up with all of our messing around,” said Cooper. “But we work really well together and have a lot of fun. Ralph and I went to school together and officiated together for a long time, so we know one another very well,” said Cooper. “We started calling high school ball and youth in the spring of 1972. Without a doubt, he’s the best friend I have in the world.”
Like many in the community, Cooper was disappointed when Gadsden State discontinued its baseball program following the 2012 season.
“If I had to pick one sport to announce, and that’s hard to do, I’d pick baseball,” he said. “I just love being at the ball park. There’s nothing like it, unless it’s 90 degrees out and the air conditioning in the Gadsden State press box is broken during a doubleheader.”
Cooper spoke fondly on longtime GSCC men’s basketball coach Stan Cook, a Gadsden resident who is a member of the Alabama Community College Conference Hall of Fame.
“I used to keep the (scoring) book for him on road games when I started announcing games,” said Cooper. “He’s one of the best, if not the best, coaches I’ve ever been around and one of the men I’ve ever been around.”
Cooper doesn’t envision stepping away from the Beck Field House press table any time soon.
“I didn’t go to Auburn, I didn’t go to Alabama [and] I didn’t go to Jacksonville State,” he said. “Gadsden State is my school, and their sports programs are my sports programs. I’m proud to be a part of the school for so many years, and I want it be successful in every endeavor, even outside of sports.”