Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Time Has Come For The Paul Carey Award

Yesterday I received my monthly edition of The Scoreboard, the newsletter for the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association, and the member spotlight was none other than Paul Carey.

Besides being nicknamed 'The Voice Of God' and being recognized as Ernie Harwell's fantastic play-by-play partner for 19 seasons of Detroit Tiger baseball, Carey was a tireless advocate of prep football and basketball in the state of Michigan from his WJR studio seat. Carey hosted the Michigan High School Football & Basketball Scoreboard Show at midnight on 'JR for nearly 30 years. In an age of pre-Internet media, Carey was the only source for the lion's share of scores that mattered most to metro Detroiters until the Saturday papers came out.

It's time to recognize Paul Carey for his outstanding contribution to the advancement of prep sports in Michigan.

I'm proposing an idea to the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) to create the Paul Carey Award. Presented at the association's football championships at Ford Field, the award would recognize a state media member for their contribution to covering prep sports, a deserving writer or broadcaster of high school sports in the state of Michigan. The award's recipient should be decided by a committee after culling a list of deserving nominees from the athletic directors of the state association. Yes, it would garner a little additional attention to the state football finals, but more importantly, it would bring light to the outstanding contributions of so many dedicated media members statewide that treat prep sports like most writers treat a SuperBowl.

Speaking from personal experience, I'll never forget waking up on a Saturday morning and finding a picture of myself and my Ferndale High rival on the cover, above the fold, mind you, of The Daily Tribune sports section. Royal Oak's public schools had many great athletes in the last 50 years -- trust me, I wasn't one of them -- yet there I was. It's a thrill many of us never forget and something I notice still today, how hard the local media works to bring positive attention to prep sports in their respective communities. This is one of the facets of prep sports that make me proud to still be around school sports today, and I can't think of a better namesake for such an award than Paul Carey.

Carey wore a touching yet compelling foreword for my book, Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, and for my money, the foreword alone is worth the price of the book, a great retrospective of Detroit prep football. Paul Carey grew up the son of a highly-respected high school football official, the referee on many a Saginaw High-Saginaw Arthur Hill Thanksgiving Day game. After a stint in the military, Carey returned to Michigan and took up the craft of radio. Because of his upbringing in and around Michigan prep sports, he developed a strong vernacular for the who and why of The Mitten's high school scene, like how to pronounce Ishpeming and Escanaba, which games were most important for schools like Muskegon and Marysville, and who were the emerging powerhouses in Detroit's rapidly-emerging suburbia like Southfield, Utica, Dearborn, Pontiac and Grosse Pointe.

After being hired by WJR, he asked permission of the station's programming director to do the scoreboard show, and WJR jumped at the idea. It was free programming and it tied the station in with every community it reached in a very passionate way. If you think high school football is big today, it was everything back then. And so it began, a programming addition inserted at the midnight hour that became the song and verse of prep football long after the marching band had played it's last note on Friday night.

It didn't take long to catch on. Carey added a basketball show on Tuesdays and Fridays of the prep basketball season, and for one season, it was sponsored by the Detroit Pistons, even though the basketball show didn't stick like football. If you were a prep sports fan like so many of us are in metro Detroit, you were up until midnight, waiting for Carey's scoreboard show at the twelve o'clock hour. Sometimes Tiger baseball ran late, pushing the Tiger postgame, WJR news report and SportsWrap back -- it didn't matter-- the football show went on, even as late as 12:45 am on one particular Friday night / Saturday morning.

I can still remember Carey reporting the Friday night scores vividly: "It was Detroit Pershing 20, Detroit Denby 16, Cass Tech defeated Cody 14-9, Detroit Martin Luther King 36, Detroit Chadsey 9..." Carey would read every Detroit Public School League score first, a clear nod the the city WJR operated within, and after the final PSL score, Carey would declare, "I'll be back with the suburban scores after this." Back from the commercial, Carey would rattle off every metro score with unfettered clarity and resonance. No one score was more important than any other, because Carey knew every score mattered to someone.

Carey worked nearly four decades at WJR, broadcast with a Hall-Of-Fame partner for 19 seasons of baseball with one of the charter franchises of the American League and was the soundtrack to the Tigers Bless You Boys' championship season of 1984. Yet as many people in metro Detroit remember Carey for the Michigan High School Football Scoreboard Show as they do for Tiger baseball, in a city that will be a baseball town above all else, no less. Even today, from his home in Florida, Carey still collects the All-State teams from the Detroit dailies and the Associated Press.

That's a great, lasting legacy if you ask me, and one that deserves to be remembered by the state's prep sports leadership.

(Photo courtesy Ernie Harwell collection)

~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing

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