College football fans listen for Brent Musberger, Chicago Cub fans loved Harry Caray, and Al Michaels is synonymous with making the Super Bowl really super. In the sports world, the fans often look for the “Voice” that will bring their event to life…..providing the commentary, knowledge, and passion that the athletes, coaches, and spectators know makes that game, match or race so much more than ordinary.
In Arizona, we too have the “Voice”. You know when you approach the stadium and can hear Ron Smith on the microphone calling the race, you are in for another insightful and energetic evening of Arizona Track and Field. The track athletes and fans know that with Ron announcing the meet, the event will now include the season’s latest marks on the competitors, stats and stories from great races of the past, and an enthusiasm that encourages the crowd to stand up and get involved when they are about to witness something special. He’s never afraid to ad lib or add a little extra. The “Voice” doesn’t just announce the meet, he makes the meet better.
Milesplit recently sat down with Ron to find out more about how he became involved in announcing Arizona Track and Field and Cross Country meets, why he loves the sport, and what he does in his preparation to make him so good at what he does.
Milesplit: Were you raised in Arizona?
Ron Smith: I moved here when I was 12. I went to Paradise Valley High School, then NAU. I was a PE teacher for 30 years at Shea Middle School and a coach at Shea Middle School and at Shadow Mountain High School. I retired from teaching at the end of the 2006 school year, but I still coach the boys cross country team. I had to step up to the plate this year to be the full time sprint coach for the boys and girls, but between coaching and announcing I feel like I am spreading myself a little too thin.
These days, I'm not sure it would feel like a big-time event if we didn't hear Ron when we arrived. His knowledge, enthusiasm, and passion for the sport are unsurpassed. Ron's induction into the Arizona Track & Field Hall of Fame a couple of years ago was well-deserved, as he is truly THE voice of Arizona track & field. I just wish I had hair like his.
~John Prather ~ Meet Director, Scottsdale Distance Classic ~ Head Coach Saguaro High School
Milesplit: Did you run in High School?
Ron Smith: Interestingly, no. I was a centerfielder for the Paradise Valley High School baseball team but I knew I was fast or faster than the average high school center fielder. I would often run with my track buddies after baseball practice, and loved it, but it wasn’t until I went to NAU and “walked on” to their track team that I realized that this is where I was supposed to be. I think I only made one travel trip my whole career, but I got to run in a whole lot of home meets.
Milesplit: What events did you run?
Ron Smith: I was a sprinter wannabe, running the 100/200 meters, but I probably should have been a 400/800 runner. I kind of missed my calling.
But, I did know I wanted to be a teacher, and being a part of the NAU track team made me realize I wanted to specifically be a PE teacher and track coach, so I began working towards this degree. I needed to find a quiet place to study, and did so in the basement of the NAU library. I was supposed to be doing homework, but eventually found the row of track and field coaching books and my mind continually wandered away from studying and towards reading and consuming all those track and field books. I knew there was something special about track and field.
(Photo left: Ron Smith announcing the Sun Angel Classic Invitational at Arizona State University)
Milesplit: When and how did you start announcing?
Ron Smith: In addition to my teaching degree, I got a minor in Speech and Communication because I always thought about sports broadcasting. Growing up, my grandmother and other relatives always would say that there was something about my voice on the phone (or a microphone) that just sounded different.
The Glendale invitational use to be the big show in town and had to be moved to Shadow Mountain around 1991 while the Glendale Stadium was being renovated. They needed an announcer and Clyde Votz, the big decathlon/heptathlon guy in town who was part of the Coaches Associattion, asked me to do it as they knew I was announcing my sister’s softball games at Shadow Mountain.
There was a huge crowd, and people came to the booth to see who was announcing. They said they had not heard an announcer that took it as serious or did it the way I did it that night. I was just trying to make it fan friendly and fun, and really be supportive of the athletes. Clyde was handing out my name and number after that meet, and it just went from there.
He is an awesome individual to work with. His knowledge, insight and voice makes a track meet something enjoyable to attend.
~ Dave Shapiro ~ Meet Director Chandler Rotary, Head Coach Chandler High School
Milesplit: So what do you do to prepare for a meet?
Ron Smith: Oh my gosh! That is a biggie! I have a leather bag I carry with me that has last year’s state meet results. I like to know who the returning athletes are, and sometimes I give credit to the previous year’s winner and let the fans know where they are now. I have a notebook with the all time Arizona marks and NCAA qualifying times. With a big meet, like the Chandler Rotary, I print the heat sheets and start making notes. I might spend and hour here and then a couple more later and then I have to push it away because it starts getting all jumbled up. So the next day I will do 2-4 hours more although the high school meets don’t take as long as college meets.
But, I can walk in to a meet like Chandler Rotary and my brain and memory just locks in and I remember. I do make sure I know the stats for all divisions though, because if I drop the ball on 2A when Valley Christian shows up, then Al Nelson (a good friend and ally) is going to let me know!
For the State cross country meet I look up all the region champions from the week prior. So my homework for the state meet begins the morning after all the regional meets are over. I start looking to see who the winning team was and maybe the first, second and third place winners. I create my cheat sheets as soon as the bib numbers come up from the AIA or from Scott Kerr. I extract all those bib numbers from the whole state meet list and move them over to my cheat sheet, race by race. That way when the kids come to the finish line, if I don’t know them by face, I can look them up on my sheet. I am so dependent on bib numbers to know who they are.
The Nike NXN Southwest Regional cross country meet is one where I spend hours researching the state meets results from Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming and of course Arizona. I work closely with whoever the timer is too so they can tell me who is coming in at about 100 meters. Jeff Guy motivated me to buy 4 two way radios so that at events like the State Meet and the Nike Meet, I can find out what is going on. At the Cross Country State Meet, I can have someone radio me bib numbers at the 1 and 2 mile marks. The shot put and discus are way out there at Desert Vista but someone will usually take a walkie talkie out there and let me know what is happening.
In my opinion, Ron Smith's presence at an Invitational is a "maker or breaker" for meet management! No disrespect intended to any other announcers that I've heard in our state, but nobody can compare to Ron. He mixes his track knowledge, up to date statistics, respect for the sport and enthusiasm in just the right amount.
Growing up in Iowa I experienced the master of Track and Field announcing with the late, great Jim Duncan (The voice of the Drake Relays) Ron Smith is the closest announcer I've heard, anywhere, that makes me understand, respect and love track and field the way Jim Duncan did in my first 10 (of 35 consecutive) years of track and field teams.
~Dave Van Sickle Head Coach Xavier College Prep
(Ron Smith (in red) watching the athletes during the T-Shirt exchange at the Nike XC SW Regionals)
Milesplit: When you look back, is there a meet or a race that really sticks out for you?
Ron Smith: I’ve always enjoyed Xavier going after the 4x8 relay. They have since nailed that race a couple of times, but several years ago the team with Anna Masanelli broke a long standing record, and I always admired Dave Van Sickle because that was a big one for him. That was the first time I got to announce an all time state record, and when I saw Dave’s face I thought there was nowhere else I would rather be.
But, this last year at the State Meet at Desert Vista, all three relay records went down in the same night. The Desert Vista boys broke the Arizona State Records in the 4x400 and 4x800 and the Chandler boys broke the 4x100 record. To be the announcer on a night like that it was “Oh My Gosh!” That meant a lot to me.
Jim Walmsley breaking 9:18 was also a special moment. I remember getting the crowd going to support him and I think having a clock and an announcer really helped him focus during the event. Jim Gleason, the coach at Horizon, came to me that day and said that Walmsley wanted to go under 9:20, so, I pulled out my stopwatch and started pulling my own splits and realize he is on it. I was able to get the crowd involved to help him, and I think they did that day. Jim, his coach, and his father thanked me later, and I just felt fortunate to be in the position to help him.
And, Joey Heller because of his family, and because of who he is. He was in my PE class as a 7th grader and I really encouraged him to get into competitive running after watching him beat all the 8th graders in the all school mile where I was teaching. Then, his senior year, he won the state 4A championship in 4:14. Two nights later he anchored the 4x800 and I said for years that I did not want to retire from Shadow Mountain without thinking I brought my A game because I learned to love the 4x800. Joey and the three other boys had come up through Shea Junior High School and they won the 4x8 that year in 4A in 7:57 which turned out to be the fastest time in the state. That was probably the biggest highlight of my coaching career. And those boys getting up on the podium…..I was choking.
Joey has the North Canyon record in the 1600, and he went to Arcadia his senior year to run the mile. He got a 4:12.87 in the event but was beaten by AJ Acosta (4:12.86) who is now at Oregon.
I watched him the other night in his last college race at ASU. So when I got to the introductions, I made it a point to let everyone know this was probably his last race. When you think about it, he was a high school State Champion and an ASU All American in the DMR. I don’t need those stats in my notes…..I just remember.
His parents came up to the rail after the race and his mother said, “Well, I guess that is it, huh. You know you both started here the same year”. I became the ASU announcer the same year that he started at ASU. So, to see him start in PE as a 7th grader with me trying to encourage him to try competitive running, and then to be the announcer the night he won state and got up on that awards stand, and then to announce his last race in college, that just stuck in my throat.
In the end it is moments like that when I appreciate the position I’m in to do a good service to the athlete, his family, his coach, and the crowd and make some new friends at the same time. It has opened a lot of doors to a lot of nice friendships, and a lot of times I go home and think, boy you are so lucky!
"Ron is the BEST announcer in the state of Arizona. He knows the kids who are completing and can give you information on them from the time they first started running whether that be club, middle school or presently! He obviously has a love for the sport and the student athletes as it shows in his enthusiasm while he is announcing. We have hired Ron to be the announcer at our Queen Creek Twilight meet for the past two years due to the fact the he is the BEST at what he does and we want our meet to be the BEST. He brings a wonderful feeling to the event and I hope he will continue to do it for years to come!
~Ellie Hardt ~ Meet Director, Queen Creek Classic ~ Queen Creek Coach
You can hear Ron this week at the Arizona State Meet at Chandler High School on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. He will also be at the Great Southwest in June for the entire meet including the Decathlon and Heptathlon. The next time you see Ron let him know how much you appreciate what he does because Arizona Cross Country and Track and Field would not be the same without him!!