Small traps seem set with each visiting team’s roster. The one-too-many syllables. The consonant that hints it might be silent. Jim Larson does his best to eliminate the surprises.
As teams warm up on Dr. Frank B. Matteson Memorial Field, Larson approaches a guest coach, list of players in hand, pointing to a tricky name. The visitor almost always takes time to explain the pronunciation.
Young athletes, having worked to be on this field during autumn Friday nights, deserve to have their names not mangled.
Larson know this and takes it seriously, his preparation meticulous.
“If I do happen to mispronounce a name, somebody out there will tell me,” he said, pointing to the stands. “I won’t mispronounce for very long.”
Thirty years ago, Larson stepped into the press box as the Worth County Tigers football public address announcer. He had worked on game nights before as part of the sideline “chain gang,” and he liked that chore just fine.
The former announcer had been transferred to a job away from Grant City, so the school administrator probably felt good finding a willing replacement. It has helped since that the district had the position nailed down for three decades.
An Iowan by birth, Larson grew up not 25 miles away in Mount Ayr. As a teenager, he began working for Hy-Vee, and he works for the company to this day. He transferred to the Grant City store in 1978.
In a town of about 1,000 people then (roughly 850 now), it became incumbent to throw oneself into community life. Schools always serve as a center of gravity in small towns. Later, Larson would serve a dozen years on the board of education.
The proposal to be an announcer stood outside the man’s experience but not apart from his interest.
“I always wanted to be in radio, or something like that. I never went to school for it,” Larson said. “This was the next best thing, I guess.”
His learning curve in the booth flattened a bit because of his years as a good listener. Larson paid attention when watching games on television. He took note of announcements when going to out-of-town stadiums.
The announcer also benefited by having long-serving spotters at hand, one watching action of the offense and the other monitoring the defense. His voice carries their observations.
A pregame routine also helps. When getting off work on Friday afternoon, the announcer prepares a script for what he will say beginning about 12 minutes before kickoff: the teams’ records, the starting lineups, various other notes about the night’s matchup.
Once he has consulted with the coaches, he climbs the dozen wooden steps to the “crow’s nest” above the stands, a loft of metal exterior built 20 or so years ago and a vast improvement over the previous structure.
In that one, a ladder provided the access and then entry through a plywood trapdoor. When a door on the north side opened, Larson recalled, “The wind would whip through, and you’d have to hang on to your papers.”
(That said, the announcer likes to keep the windows of the booth open, even when the weather gets chilly, the better to hear himself as the crowd does.)
A fan of the home team, Larson takes pains to play it straight on game night, no suggestion of preference spilling into the headset.
“I don’t favor one team over the other,” he said. “You have to be as impartial as you can.”
Larson gets no money for his work, just soft drinks and snacks on game night. But you hear no complaints.
“I told them, as long as they want me to, I’ll do it,” he said.
“I mean, it’s home. It’s what I like to do. I’ve always liked football. That’s just it. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t do it.”