Community Builder: Voices of the valley
Editor’s Note: Community Builder is a periodic Q & A series providing perspectives from local people who have been involved in significant change in Southern Oregon. Today’s conversation is with Pete Belcastro and Joe Brett of Table Rock Sports.
Q: You started radio broadcasts of Ashland High School football in 1992. What was the beginnings of announcing games on radio?
Pete Belcastro: My friend, state Rep. Bill Garrard, who owned KAGO radio, challenged us to “buy the air time from the radio station, sell our own sponsors and then split the money with the schools.” We started with just football and boys’ basketball. When Ashland High School scheduled boys and girls doubleheader basketball games, we started radio broadcasts for both. We’ve been doing girls games ever since.
Q: This past year Table Rock Sports broadcast more than 500 events in 10 sports over the internet. How did you adapt to the internet?
Belcastro: When I was a kid, I had a transistor radio to listen to games. Now I have the same size device, and I can watch the games as well as listen to them. And I can watch them again and share them with others. It’s transformed everything that we do in sports; how we announce, how we prepare for games, how we set up for games, the amount of equipment it takes to do games. It used to be simple, and now it’s a lot more complicated, but it has just as much impact.
Joe Brett: We used to plug in a phone line to an audio mixer, put on the headsets and we would paint the picture for you on radio. Listeners would see the games through our words. It’s an incredible art and craft to be able to do that. We’ve gone from a telephone line to connecting digitally. How do you connect at soccer fields, gymnasiums and football fields? With free-flowing video it has allowed for internet broadcasting to flourish.
Q: What sports do you cover?
Brett: Instead of broadcasting just football, we broadcast boys and girls sports equally. That’s always been important to us. It’s important to the schools, it aligns with the title IX goals. This has given us the opportunity to showcase our girls equally with our boys. Look at the teams that our girls have produced. Whether it’s boys or girls, when they get into those state championship games or they take it deep into the playoffs, the entire community rallies. The league rallies around teams that do well. It’s neat to see the girls have their place that they’ve earned and rightfully should have.
Now we’re covering 10 sports: boys and girls soccer, volleyball, football, boys and girls basketball, wrestling, baseball, softball, track and field. We haven’t figured out a way to do golf, but St. Mary’s is challenging us to cover golf.
Q: How have you developed a statewide presence?
Brett: We have camera and announcing crews in Portland, so when our local teams go up there, local fans can watch the games. We have 36 people providing commentary and camera work around Oregon. We cover state championship games and OSAA sports awards ceremonies.
Belcastro: Roseburg, Eugene, Salem and Portland know that when they play our teams ... it will be shown on the Table Rock Sports website. I was giving out business cards at the Abbey’s Basketball Tournament recently and visiting teams said, “Oh, no, our coaches have that bookmarked. TableRockSports.net, we know.”
Q: Why do you think athletics are so important?
Brett: It’s really about students and extracurricular activities augmenting their learning. Students get a more well-rounded experience from their high school days than they would if they weren’t able to compete. To be with their teammates and friends, and strive through the athletic arena is worthwhile. This is true with band and drama and all the other extracurricular activities — whatever can engage students and motivate them to excel at school. Athletics is one way.
Belcastro: Jim Nagel, a very successful coach at Ashland High School, always said that students who participated in extracurricular activities had a much better chance of being successful in life. Many students tell us, if it wasn’t for sports in high school, I would not have been successful. I would have failed. The statistics show that successful students are successful citizens of the future.
Q: Why do you think sports are important for Southern Oregonians?
Belcastro: We both grew up in Klamath Falls. When I was growing up, the biggest events in our town was when Klamath Union would play Medford or Grants Pass. The communities came out. It was the only thing in town. We didn’t have our iPhones. We didn’t have the internet. We just had sports, and it became ingrained in our towns and part of our history. How we keep it relevant today is the biggest challenge we face.
The leagues are different today. Medford doesn’t play Klamath or Ashland anymore. There are more sports now, a lot more teams, more participation; so you have to have a platform. At least in the broadcast world, Table Rock Sports provides an online local sports community.
Q: What do you treasure about announcing SOU sports?
Belcastro: We announced SOU football games for years. These athletes were playing for the love of the game, not for the scholarships. It was beautiful to watch as teams developed and players became citizens.
Brett: To see the families on the field after those SOU games was some of our most rewarding times. Families from both teams and players would all join on the field. It was just the joy of the game and the event that had just taken place. Win, lose or draw, they’d dust themselves off and move forward. There are great lessons for life that come with that. I am thrilled I’ve been able to stay involved in sports.
Q: What sports figures were instrumental in your life?
Belcastro: Ross Cariaga was the football coach at Sacred Heart. He played at Oregon Institute of Technology. He was our coach, and we tied for the state championship in football. Football was my thing. Joe’s dad, “The Colonel,” was the football commissioner, and I refereed football under him for eight years in Klamath. You can learn a lot about coaches and kids when you’re an official.
Brett: I landed in Klamath Falls at the end of fifth grade. Dave Steen was my Little League and Babe Ruth coach. He was very much in my corner and my confidant. The Dave Steen Sports Park is named after him. The demeanor and the approach that he had about him was perfect. I just thrived under Dave, and my success in pitching is directly tied to his guidance. My dad taught me a lot, but Dave Steen was a great coach. Then I played for a legendary guy named Kenny Richardson at Central Arizona College. Jim Gilligan was my coach at Lamar University, he is in the College Baseball Hall of Fame.
Q: What sparked an interest in you about announcing sports?
Belcastro: I started broadcasting sports at Oregon State University when I was a college freshman, doing PAC 8 wrestling. I had never been to a wrestling match in my life. One of my roommates was a wrestler, and I learned about takedowns so that I could talk takedowns, near falls, etc., to do the first match I ever did at OSU.
Brett: The first time I was ever in a TV station was in 1975. I was a sophomore in high school, and this guy sitting next to me was the sports director at channel 2. Pete interviewed me before Sacred Heart played in the state championship football game in Klamath Falls. That was it for me! I did a work-study at the TV station in my junior year and my senior year in high school; and that’s why I majored in communications.
Belcastro: Joe actually started the Friday Night Football shows on a local TV channel back in the ‘80s. We’d get volunteers to go shoot video, come back and they would put them together before the 11 o’clock news. Video had just come out. No more film. We started Friday Night Football, and they still do them on air.
Q: What do you think is the future of sports in Southern Oregon? Where are things headed?
Belcastro: I have a concern that as players are specializing in one sport, that the pool of students who want to come out and play is going to be reduced. We have a lot of minority students; I would love to see them participate in athletics more. We’d love to have Spanish announcers. We’ve got to get more kids involved. The issue is always about equipment for kids, and camps that they can go to at a young age. We’ve got to support those kids, boys and girls, to provide early opportunities or they’re going to be left behind.
Brett: I see in the stands and I hear the concern from school officials that fewer people are coming to games. Bigger games will still draw a crowd, but there’s so much more competition for entertainment. We want people to be at the games. They can’t always be there, so it’s nice to have the opportunity to connect with the games, the teams and the kids through Table Rock Sports and the internet. We need to find ways to help create more interest to get bigger crowds at the games.
Q: What are your fondest memories in broadcasting?
Belcastro: I used to listen to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett, Dodger games with a little earphone in my ear at the ranch, late at night. I wanted to be like Vin Scully. When Bill Garrard gave me the chance to do Klamath Falls Falcon games on the radio ... they were really popular, and the Falcons were really good. Doing those games was like, “Oh, this is really fun.”
Brett: When I stepped back from announcing, I had done over 600 football broadcasts and over 1,000 basketball broadcasts. That’s a lot of games. Covering those high school games was huge for our communities. Now we connect online. It’s still about connecting to people. We can now connect to a much broader range of people; literally worldwide.
Steve Boyarsky is a retired educator and longtime resident of the Rogue Valley. He continues to be involved in educational and youth programs.
Bios: Pete Belcastro and Joe Brett
Pete Belcastro was born in Yreka, California, and was raised in Klamath Falls. He graduated from Sacred Heart High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from Oregon State University. He earned a master’s degree in 1989 from Southern Oregon University. At KOBI, KOTI and KTVL, he served as a news reporter and anchor from 1979 to 1987. Pete was director of Rogue Valley Community TV at SOU from 1990-2008. He is the founder and long-time president of Table Rock Productions. Currently he is a principal broker at John L. Scott Real Estate. He and his wife, Christine, have a son, Mark.
Joe Brett has been a sports journalist and media professional in Southern Oregon since 1981, first serving as sports director at KOTI in Klamath Falls and then in 1984 at KOBI-TV Medford. Since 1990, Joe has worked at Southern Oregon University’s Rogue Valley Community Television. He continues to cover high school sports. Since 1993 he has co-hosted Friday night coverage at KTVL News 10. Joe has twice been named a Sportscaster of the Year by the Oregon Athletic Coaches Association. He is also the president of the Medford Parks Foundation Board and a member of the Southern Oregon Sports Commission.