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For the love of mic

Courtesy photo Joe Brett does play-by-play for a South Medford home boys basketball game. The Table Rock Sports broadcaster looks forward to getting back to a normal schedule.
It’s all about connecting with fans for local sportscasters

You can say one thing with certainty about the broadcasters at Table Rock Sports: They love being behind the mic.

The storytelling aspect, connecting with fans, and being present at history-making moments all combine to make the job a satisfying one.

TRS founding partner is Joe Brett, whose day job is operations manager for Rogue Valley Community Television for the Digital Media Center at Southern Oregon University.

“I love sharing the game with viewers and listeners,” he said. “I always try to leave them knowing more about the teams and the season underway than before they tuned in.”

Brett has worked with high school sports most of his professional life. He and fellow TRS broadcasters such as Terry Ross and Jonathan Kurman cover sports for North and South Medford, Grants Pass, Crater, St. Mary’s, Phoenix and Cascade Christian high schools on a live-streaming platform at tablerocksports.net. Footage is archived on the TRS YouTube channel.

This fall, TSR will cover four varsity sports: football (all home and away games) and home matches for boys’ soccer, girls’ soccer and volleyball.

“In addition,” Brett said, “Mazama in Klamath Falls and Grant High in Portland will be working with us on football streaming this fall.”

Ross, 64, lives in the Applegate area and has been in broadcasting for 28 years.

“I got my start as a part-time DJ at a country radio station,” he said, “where I began doing some sports broadcasting.”

He discovered early on that broadcasting a game was important to fans who couldn’t attend. The impact on listeners and viewers isn’t lost on him.

“One of the teams I covered was on a losing streak,” he said. “They broke the streak when a player hit a basket at the buzzer. The player’s grandfather, who lived in Ohio, had listened to the game via the internet, and when the player got to the locker room, granddad was on the phone, waiting to congratulate him. Pretty cool.”

Kurman, 26, lives in Ashland and is in his fifth year of sportscasting, having started with the Medford Rogues in 2017.

“I grew up in Southern California watching two of the greatest — Vin Scully for the Dodgers and Chick Hearn for the Lakers,” he said. “They were paid not just to watch the games, but to be a part of them, capturing their biggest moments in words and jubilation. That attracted me to the business.”

Pete Belcastro was a founding partner of Table Rock Sports. It had its genesis when he struck a deal in 1990 with KCMX Radio to continue broadcasting Ashland High football and basketball games.

“Pete cut the deal to secure the air time,” Brett said. “He sold the sponsorships and did the games.”

Brett and Belcastro had worked together since 1981 at KOTI and KOBI, and Brett helped him with the Ashland broadcasts for the next couple years.

“I was able to bring in North and South Medford in 1995, and Pete and I formed Table Rock Sports,” Brett said. “He and I were the broadcast team for those 10 years at SOU. I’ve taken the lead in growing the business in the live-streaming era, but Pete remains our CFO and is a guiding force.”

Brett was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in a military family. His father was a high school sports referee and umpire. Brett and his two older brothers were active in sports, and the whole family of seven played baseball and Wiffle Ball games together.

The baseball diamond was Brett’s main focus, playing on midget, Babe Ruth, high school and American Legion teams. His Klamath Falls Sacred Heart High School team won the state title in 1977 during his senior year, and he was captain of the K-Falls Falcons Legion team the following year.

He played baseball two years at Central Arizona College and two years at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, where he studied communications. The 1981 Lamar team played in the NCAA regionals.

His first taste of broadcasting came in 1975 when he was interviewed as a player by KOTI-TV in Klamath Falls before the 1975 state final.

“The TV station was a fascinating place,” Brett said. “That same year, my friend and classmate, Randy Adams, was doing a little live air on KAGO Radio, and I spent some time on radio hill just nosing around. I just knew it was for me.”

That interest led to a work-study internship at KOTI in Klamath Falls where he learned to shoot, edit and narrate game reports. That experience gave him a leg up in landing a student host/producer position for a show featuring Lamar University faculty and students at the local CBS affiliate.

“My first paid gig was in August of 1981 when I was hired as sports director of KOTI,” Brett said. “I was fortunate to come to Medford in 1984 when I worked as sports director at KOBI until 1990, when I took a media position at SOU.”

He enjoys it all, but prefers radio sportscasting to TV and streaming.

“There was so much more of a personal connection when your words painted a picture for those who were listening,” he said. “I loved conveying the emotion and drama unfolding with my voice and the sounds of the game.”

It took him a few years to embrace live-streaming sportscasting. He came to understand that he could focus more on the plays and the players when he didn’t have to describe the scene.

He covered sports on multiple nightly newscasts as sports director and anchor for local television, getting to know many outstanding student athletes and coaches along the way.

Broadcasting sports live can be exhilarating, but it is not without its challenges — or even near disasters.

There was the time he drove to Bend without his radio gear in the 1990s. “I had left it next to my front door.” He had to pass an old dial phone handset back and forth with his color commentator all night.

And there was the Klamath Falls football broadcast when the power went out in the press box. “I had to stand at my car and do the game from a bag phone, one of the first mobile phones.”

Another time he borrowed a visiting fan’s cellphone when he couldn’t connect with his own gear to the mobile hotspots. “We streamed the game off his phone.”

But there also are some exciting, memorable moments on the highlights reel of his broadcasting career.

One of those moments occurred in a 1985 tape-delay televised high school football state championship game between Medford and Churchill in Eugene.

“It was the last game for Medford High before the split to North and South the next year,” Brett said. “With only a minute left on the clock, Churchill missed a two-point conversion by inches, giving Medford the win, 14-13. We drove back to Medford, did some quick editing, and televised the game that night on KOBI.”

During his 20-year stint as play-by-play announcer for South Medford, the 2007 basketball championship season was the zenith for him by far. South Medford player Kyle Singler went on to play for Duke as a four-year starter and was named outstanding player of the Final Four during Duke’s NCAA championship run in 2010. He also played NBA basketball.

“South Medford played the Les Schwab tourney in Portland, finishing second, and won the Bass Pro championship in Springfield, Missouri, that January,” he said. “Over a dozen future NBA players participated in those games.”

Table Rock Sports produced 480 live events in 2018-19 for its schools as well as some games for the Oregon School Activities Association and NFHS (part of the CBS Sports Digital Network). It was on pace to repeat when the pandemic interrupted.

The shutdown of school sports occurred just after the first round of the state basketball tournament in March of last year.

“We didn’t do another high school event until March of 2021,” Brett said. “In the interim, we contracted with Baseball Northwest to stream 40 softball games from U.S. Cellular Park last October and 61 baseball games in four days for a similar event.”

The TRS crew is looking forward to getting back to a normal broadcast schedule. The company also plans to create additional content on its website, such as video blogs, features on local teams and players, and more social media tidbits.

Brett, 62, works at Table Rock Sports during his time off from SOU duties. He is gratified with the business’s success.

“It’s amazing to me how we’ve grown from our humble beginnings,” he said. “With all the OSAA coverage we produce, we’ve been a consistent top five producer of high school sports nationally in the NFHS network. It’s a tribute to the many talented folks who call and shoot our games, and their shared passion to provide excellent coverage.”

For more information and broadcast schedules as they are confirmed, go to tablerocksports.net.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.