Baker University’s play-by-play announcer Tom Hedrick signed off for good after Wednesday’s basketball game between the Baker Wildcats and Mid-America Nazarene in Olathe, Kansas.
It ended a 62-year career, one that had him announcing everything from the Kansas City Chiefs’ only Super Bowl win to KU basketball to Cincinnati Reds games. But Hedrick is just as well-known as a professor, teaching budding sportscasters about the business.
“My dad was a Methodist preacher. But he was a type of guy who taught at Boston University, School of Theology,” Hedrick said, adding “My mother was a music teacher, so that’s in my blood.”
One of Hedrick’s students at the University of Kansas in the late 1970s was Kevin Harlan, who called the play-by-play for this year’s Super Bowl on the Westwood One Radio Network. Harlan grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where his father, Bob, was a front office executive with the Green Bay Packers.
While in high school, Harlan knew he wanted to go to somewhere he could be groomed in broadcasting.
“My dad ran into (former sportscaster) Gary Bender at Soldier Field in Chicago and Gary Bender is a Kansas graduate,” Harlan recalled. “He (Bender) said, ‘Before he looks at Notre Dame or visits Wisconsin, have him call this guy named Tom Hedrick.’”
A long way from Green Bay, Hedrick took Harlan under his wing and made him feel welcome — “like I was his own son,” Harlan said.
“But (Hedrick) was not afraid to share critiques with me either. He’d hear what I had done and would say, ‘I think I would look at this a little bit, or I’d try to work on that a little bit.’ Which is what I wanted, I had to have it,” Harlan added.
Hedrick, who wrote a book called “The Art of Sportscasting” in 2000, said it’s special to hear his former students succeeding.
“When I hear Kevin Harlan, that’s a thrill. When I hear Gary Bender for years on CBS and ABC, that was thrill,” he said. “I’m equally proud of Brian Hanni, who’s doing the KU football and basketball games.”
For the last 30 years, Hedrick has been at his alma mater, doing Baker’s play-by-play broadcasts, commuting from his home in Lawrence to Baldwin City. The 84-year-old revealed what made him realize it was time to hang up the headphones.
“I remember names of current players and I will know everything about a player two or three years ago, but I can’t remember their name,” Hedrick confessed. “In my business, I can’t afford to do that.”
During halftime of his final broadcast on the Baker campus (Feb. 20), a banner in Hedrick’s honor was unfurled in Collins Gym, where the Wildcats play their home basketball games.
Hedrick is one of only two living sportscasters who did the play-by-play of Super Bowl I. The other is Jack Whitaker, now in his 90s.
In the prime of his career, Hedrick was the play-by-play voice at the University of Kansas, a play-by-play man for the Cincinnati Reds, the Kansas City Chiefs’ announcer. He also occasionally contributed to the CBS Radio Network. One of his national assignments was calling Super Bowl IV in 1970, the first (and last) championship for the Chiefs.
When asked to reflect on his career, Hedrick said, “I’m pleased, honored and lucky. I’ve always laughed and said, ‘I work at being lucky.’ And I do.”
The Parrot, as Hedrick is called, likes lists; he’ll usually find three things to say about someone or something. Considering I’ve been in the same business as Hedrick for the last 40 years, here are three observations: He’s meticulous in his preparation, he carries himself like a professional and he’s about as personable as they come.
Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.