The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

November 3, 2013

Nelson brings unique past to broadcast booth

ENID, Okla. — Tom Nelson’s resume starts with a letter of recommendation from the San Diego Chicken.

To say the rest is well-rounded might be an understatement.

The 46-year-old Chisholm Trail Broadcasting play-by-play announcer and ad salesman has been a general manager for two United States Basketball League teams and helped found one of them, sat on a Continental Basketball Association team bench as a player and an assistant coach, with zero previous experience as either, and was the first Dodge City Legend’s play-by-play caller to be thrown out of a game.

The broadcaster-turned-general-manager-turned-salesman-slash-broadcaster now takes all of it to the booth, hoping to make the smallest of games a big event.

“When I call a ballgame, I try to make it sound like a big-league game,” Nelson said. “That’s the goal … The kids deserve that. I want somebody to be listening to that game, and I don’t want them to think, ‘Ugh, this is a 30-point game’. I want them to kind of hang on it.”

Selling the event for Nelson started before his career did, his first big success coming while he was working in the university relations department at Fort Hays State in Kansas.

Needing halftime entertainment for a Friday night game against Wayne State, a league bottom-dweller, Nelson put a call into Ted Giannoulas, more commonly known as the famed San Diego Chicken mascot, and a longtime fixture at San Diego Padres games and on Saturday morning television.

The university’s athletic director scoffed at the Chicken’s $7,000 fee, and accepting it wouldn’t happen, Nelson called Giannoulas to share the bad news.

Instead, he was given a counteroffer.

“I wouldn’t make this offer to anyone else, but you sound like you can make it happen,” Giannoulas told Nelson.

The deal: Whatever the average attendance for the Wayne State game, the university can keep. The rest goes to the Chicken.

Typically totaling less than 2,500 tickets sold, more than 12,000 — 5,000 for the women’s opener and an over-capacity 7,500 for the men’s nightcap — showed that Friday.

“He ended up walking out with 20 grand,” Nelson said.

In return, Giannoulas wrote Nelson a glowing open letter of recommendation to any and all future employers. Less than a year into his first job as a sports anchor for WIBW TV in Topeka, Kan., Nelson used that letter to leave the graveyard anchor shift for greener pastures working for the Topeka Sizzlers, a CBA basketball franchise. To Nelson’s fortunate surprise, the man interviewing him for the job had three autographed pictures of the San Diego Chicken on his wall.

“I hand him the letter, and he gives me the job on the spot,” Nelson said.

He sold advertising and wrote press releases as “basically assistant everything,” for the Sizzlers, but his tour de force was learning to operate the team’s dot-matrix scoreboard, a relatively big deal for a minor league team in 1989, but an untapped resource. Before his arrival, the most the scoreboard was used for was the score and the next event.

“That first year, I had out-of-town scores, clapping hands, team logos and all this stuff,” Nelson said.

That season, the Sizzlers’ owner, dismayed by an 0-10 start, decided to stop pouring money into the franchise. The team’s general manager, director of media relations and director of marketing were cut loose, but Nelson stayed — at $200 a week, he was too cheap, and too efficient, to get rid of. More importantly, he had one irreplaceable skill.

“You can’t get rid of the guy who runs the scoreboard,” the disgruntled Sizzler owner’s wife apparently had declared. “He makes the hands clap.”

His one season as a jack-of-all-trades for the Sizzlers is where the bulk of the head-scratching items in his previous experience came from.

The team needed two assistant coaches. When they were one short, Nelson pretended to be one, his job duties extending only as far as checking how many timeouts the Sizzlers had. The league mandated at least eight players be suited up on the bench, so he filled that role, too. At least he looked the part.

“I got introduced,” Nelson said, pantomiming his jog onto the floor. “‘6-foot-7, from Fort Hays State, Tom Nelson.’”

The team was blown up after the season, and for the next 10 years, Nelson was back in the broadcasting business, working Kansas State games in Manhattan, Kan., high school and junior college games in Garden City, Kan., and video production in Dodge City.

There, Nelson helped assemble the Dodge City Legends in four months in 2000, setting up the team for a championship run in its first season and another in 2003, both times led by former University of Kansas player and 3-year NBA vet Darrin Hancock.

But it’s not the titles, nor a pair of nods for the league’s best executive in the same years, that yielded the most interesting honor for Nelson as a USBL GM.

In 2000, when Nelson was with the Legend, one of his duties was providing play-by-play coverage for the team in road games, broadcasting back to Dodge City. On one of those occasions, when the Legend visited the Washington D.C. Congressionals, Nelson arranged a visit with an old high school teacher. The trip was a short one, so Nelson’s few opportunities to chat would be during the game’s two-minute media timeouts.

To one particularly quick-triggered official, that just wouldn’t do.

“So I go up and talk to my friend, he’s five rows behind me,” Nelson said. “At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the official comes over to me and goes, ‘You need to be more professional.’ I haven’t been critical of the officials, I’ve just been calling the game.”

Nelson ignored the warning without understanding exactly his offense, and shortly after was thrown out, along with his former teacher and the Legend coach. The ejected party would get the last laugh though. When the building cleared, Nelson and coach returned to the arena and hosted a post-game show, the cap of an episode that drew some of the most response from fans and listeners during the Legend’s tenure.

“I’ll never forget this,” Nelson said. “The players are coming off the floor, and they see us looking in the window, and they’re just rolling … (the radio station) found out how many people were listening to the games, and they made a plaque for me that said, ‘Tom Nelson, the only radio guy ever to get thrown out of a game.’”

Nelson was lured to Enid by a lucrative offer to run the Oklahoma Storm, and hasn’t left since.

He was the Storm’s full-time general manager for one season, settling into his post at CTB in 2004 and remaining in a partial role with the Storm until the USBL folded in 2007.

1
Text Only
Sports
  • Baseballpicture.jpg Majors open regional with Cherry Creek

    The Enid Majors (36-12) enter the Connie Mack South Plains Regional Tournament today at David Allen Memorial Ballpark coming off one of their best seasons in the past few years. Now, the pressure is on as they face Cherry Creek, Colo.,at 8:15 tonight.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ballpark to observe Military Appreciation Night

    David Allen Memorial Ballpark hosts Military Appreciation Night tonight during the 6 and 8:15 games of the Connie Mack South Plains Regional Tournament.

    July 21, 2014

  • Jeff Mullin mug 2012.jpg Rory McIlroy: There's a new tiger in town

    His father introduced him to the game when he was small, putting a golf club in his hand when he was barely past the toddler stage.
    He fell in love with it and worked hard, improving steadily. He became a terrific junior player and quickly improved.
    He was touted as the next big thing and didn’t disappoint.
    Now, at the tender age of 25, he is a multiple major champion.
    Tiger Woods? Yes, once upon a tee time. But now those words are being spoken about Rory McIlroy.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Big 12 Media Days.jpg Gundy has big plans for Hill

    The picture became a little clearer Monday of how Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Year Tyreek Hill will be utilized in the Oklahoma State offense.
    And the picture is rather wide.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Briles: Baylor swinging for the fences

    Coach Art Briles and Baylor arrived at Big 12 football media days as defending champions for the first time.
    Briles has a slightly different take on the Bears’ newfound standing.

    July 21, 2014

  • Radio-TV for 7-22-14

    July 21, 2014

  • Big12.jpg Big 12 commissioner says 'change is coming' in college sports

    That was the theme of Monday's state of the conference speech by Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby on the first day of Big 12 Football Media Days.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Worrell takes 8th at Firekeeper Classic

    July 20, 2014

  • Fowler happy with runner-up finish

    For ex-Oklahoma State star Rickie Fowler, this is getting downright familiar.
    He’s not complaining.
    For the second time this summer, Fowler played in the final group of a major championship, failed to overcome a big deficit, and settled for the runner-up spot.

    July 20, 2014

  • Big 12 Media Days start today

    The new-look Big 12 is ready for some football.  
    OK, the conference’s logo is what’s new this year. There are no changes in the makeup or format of the 10-team league, the only power conference with a round-robin schedule that determines a champion without an extra game.

    July 20, 2014

Click here for NASCAR headlines
Sports Photos


Enid News & Eagle sports photos from the month of February 2014. Enjoy all the ENE photos with full access at http://enidnews.smugmug.com.