Monday, September 12, 2005

Chris Schenkel: An Appreciation

One of my favorite sportscasters of all time, Chris Schenkel, passed away over the weekend at the age of 82. In case you don't remember Chris Schenkel, he covered a wide variety of sporting events, including the Olympics. He is perhaps most recognized for his coverage of bowling, which is why he was featured in the film Kingpin.

When I was growing up, it seemed like whenever ABC's Wide World of Sports was covering some odd sport, like curling or Acapulco cliff diving, Chris Schenkel was covering it. For marginal sports, Chris was the go-to guy, the original Marginal Sports Broadcaster.

I always enjoyed watching those odd sporting events, and a big part of it was that I enjoyed the broadcasters. There would always be a professional broadcaster, like Schenkel, and then a plucked-out-of-nowhere color commentator.

The color commentators tend to be recruited from the ranks of former participants in the sport. During the 2004 Olympics, one of the sports was trampoline. Yes, trampoline. Is there even one American who can speak with any authority about the competitive sport of Trampoline?

Well as a matter of fact, yes. Well, almost. Trace Worthington was actually a former freestyle skier, but he'd done a lot of stunts on the trampoline, so he brought some knowledge to the table. They sure were lucky he was available! He was so cheerful, I'm sure he was thinking, "I'm getting paid for this, right? This is so much better than detailing cars."

For marginal sport color commentators, the undisputed master is Mr. Dwight Stones. Dwight Stones was a track athlete himself about one million years ago. He's now made a living covering track and field events on TV for over 25 years. The man's body of work is remarkable. I would have to give Dwight Stones the Lifetime Achievement Award in the Color Commentator category.

Evidently, all of the marginal sports color commentators receive the same media training. If you watch just a handful of these guys, you will see that they each have the same basic repertoire of hand gestures, which are to be performed in a notecard-sized square six inches directly in front of the chin. It doesn't matter what sport or what athlete they are talking about. They all use the same hand gestures. Always in the imaginary notecard-sized box.

The professional broadcasters are different. They are pro's who, for whatever reason, find themselves stuck in these tide pools of the broadcasting business. Take, for example Al Trautwig, who for my money, is the rightful heir to Chris Schenkel's mantle. He has covered soccer (both indoor and outdoor), Olympics, Triathlons, Marathons, the Tour De France, and he was Worthington's partner covering the Trampoline. Trautwig has had a distinguished career covering major sports as well, but he has served with distinction covering the "marginals."

Sitting next to Worthington on the trampoline broadcast, Trautwig appeared to have a flash of recognition. Al appeared to realize he really was broadcasting a trampoline competition, that this wasn't just a bad dream.

"Where did it all go wrong?" he appeared to be thinking. "Where did it go so terribly, terribly wrong? I could be broadcasting Monday Night Football."

All the while Worthington blathered on, smiling and folding imaginary origami swans in front of his chin.

Trautwig quickly recovered, though, and made some insightful remark to Worthington that showed he had done his homework. Because Al's a pro. Just like Chris Schenkel was.

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Chris Schenkel, 1923 - 2005


At 11:34 AM, Blogger Changeseeker said...

Nice piece of work. Chris would love it.


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