Geoffrey Tennant: the voice from the stands

Published 8:50 pm Wednesday, November 26, 2014

By Mark Schmerling


Unlike some other high school public address football announcers, Geoffrey Tennant does not see himself as primarily a promoter of the home team.

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“Homer” is not a term that describes him.

“My function is not to serve as a cheerleader,” said Tennant, the long-time public address announcer at Polk County High School home football games. “My job is to call the game as it occurs.”

If a player on either team does something exceptional, he will talk about it. Of course, he cares about the Wolverines’ success.

“It’s about the kids and the game they’re playing,” Tennant continued. “I’m just sort of here as an observer. Our kids are important. If another team plays here, their kids are important.”

Tennant has been on the side of various players for a long time.

Before his position as PA announcer, Tennant served as an assistant football coach at Tryon High School, from 1966-1978, under the legendary Elmo Neal, coaching part-time before that. He also coached golf at Tryon, and served as the school’s athletic director. He knows what motivates young athletes.

Tennant noted that, in the late 1970s, Tryon had an individual who had performed the PA duties at football games for a long time. When that person was no longer available, Tennant took over, and also performed the same job at home basketball games.

From there, “it kind of morphed,” he observed.

When schools were consolidated around 1989, Tennant began doing what he does now, interrupted only by a “brief hiatus.” Since 1994, Tennant has been the voice from the press box at Polk County High School home football games.

Fans and players have become familiar with Tennant’s dry humor and his efforts to help the school’s athletic programs. A flurry of penalty flags on the field during a game this past season, drew his response about how they covered the “greensward.” On a recent chilly night during a home football game, Tennant, who regularly encourages patrons to visit the concession stand (the profits of which, benefit Polk athletics), offered that it might not be the best night to enjoy the ice cream that he usually reminds fans to try.

Of course, his post-game sign-off, “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are,” originally used by the late comedian Jimmy Durante, has become a Geoffrey Tennant trademark as well.

That line, recalled Tennant, seemed to be a good way of telling people goodnight, rather than simply encouraging fans to have a safe trip home.

It’s also appealing, comforting, and a connection to another generation.

Tennant’s voice from the booth is also comforting. Does he sing?

“I don’t even sing in the shower,” he announced, “because the water would turn off, on its own.”

More than particular games, he remembers players, Tennant said. “I’ve had the honor and pleasure of working with a lot of great young men and women . . . I remember kids, and how important it was at the time, and maybe still is, to have a chance to help them . . . You want to be a positive influence in the lives of these young people.”

While, for instance, a 2-8 record will often result in a coaching change, Tennant is more concerned about positive changes in the athletes under a given coach.

He would not like to see a coach fired for having a losing record “if kids are learning, and if the kids are learning well.”

His warmth toward players helps him remember a few standout games. One occurred “way, way, way back,” he remembered, when Tryon’s football team traveled to T.C. Roberson.

“T.C. Roberson was a powerhouse,” Tennant recalled. “We went to their place, and beat them, 7-6.”

Another game, this one basketball, involved a team with the great Tommy Burleson, who went on to a great college and NBA career.

Tennant had told his players that whatever Burleson did, just make sure they controlled the other players. In the game, recalled Tennant, whatever Burleson didn’t put in the net off the boards, one other player did.

Since Tennant became involved with high school sports, “A lot of things have changed, I think.”

He sees a tendency of athletes to specialize, a change from the days when, especially at schools with small enrollments, many individuals played sports for three seasons.

“I like the idea of the kids doing something out of (possibly their favorite) season, to keep their interest,” said Tennant.

He also observes a tendency among some athletes to become so involved with travel teams (where they are more apt to gain attention), while scholastic programs sometimes have trouble fielding teams.

Injuries are always hard to deal with, Tennant noted.

“You feel for the kids. That’s something I’ve never gotten over,” he said. A very recent example is the Wolverines loss to Reidsville in the second round of state football playoff competition, when half a dozen Polk players left the game hurt, and one (Jordan Smith), out with a recent season-ending injury, never got to play, or even suit up.

One doesn’t become a public address sports announcer with the expectation of great financial reward. But, other types of rewards are there.

“It’s a way to stay connected, primarily to the kids,” Tennant noted.

“I’ve had the pleasure of watching great athletes,” Tennant remarked. “I’m a far better person for having them as part of my life, than I would have been. I guess the two I focus on are my own two kids,” he said. He coached one of his kids in golf.

Another inspiration for Tennant is his 15-year-old granddaughter, who swims five hours a day, every day, and “who wants nothing more than to make the Olympic swimming team.”

When she dons her swimming mask, the giggly 15-year-old girl instantly becomes a serious competitor. Tennant said that he would enjoy watching her, “even if she’s not my granddaughter, just because of the type of competitor she is.”

Tennant has also found time to be a firefighter and an EMT.

“I’m still somewhat active in it,” he said.

But, Tennant is most motivated by young athletes.

“That’s what it’s all about. It’s about those kids.”