July 23, 2021

High School sports radio announcer Gattis Hodges retires after 40 years

WOODLAND — All the great radio play-by-play announcers have them: their memorable signature call.

Los Angeles Lakers basketball announcer Chick Hearn had: “this one is in the refrigerator” when a game’s outcome was ‘on ice’, or decided early.

NC State’s Wally Ausley uttered the classic: “The Cinderella team has done it, the glass slipper fits”, after the Wolfpack’s stunning 1983 NCAA basketball championship.

Gattis Hodges says he loved to stare down on a high school football field as a quarterback eyed an undefended receiver and say, ‘He was as wide open as a $2 shirt.’

“….And I borrowed that one, actually,” he recalled.

Hodges, who’s spent close to four decades behind the microphone, will give his tonsils a rest beginning this fall after revealing he is retiring from announcing high school football and basketball games.

He will, however, remain with his weekly talk show,’Coaches Corner’, on WDLZ-FM, Earl 98.3 in Murfreesboro, as well as continue as the ‘Voice of the Hawks’ doing play-by-play for Chowan University football and basketball.

“I kind of made the decision after 40 years of covering high school sports that it was time to step away,” he stated this week from his Northampton County home. “Just the travel, my age, and the coronavirus pandemic kind of showed me I didn’t miss it as much as I thought I would. I only did three (high school) games in 2021; so, it was time and I have no regrets. It’s been a great ride.”

A graduate of Northampton High School, Hodges began as a sportswriter for the Northampton News covering the local area schools.

“That was back when I was typing stories on typewriters, and I learned how to use White-Out really well,” he joked.

His writing prowess helped him land a job with Georgia-Pacific as a Chemical Process Safety Manager. He retired from G-P back in early 2020 after 28 years.

Still, he kept his hand in sports after being asked to serve as the PA announcer at the then-Chowan College men’s basketball program from 1983-1985. His knowledge of sports and his on air charisma landed him a job at local radio station, WBCG 98.3, as a game analyst. That would then turn into a sideline radio reporter’s gig with halftime and post-game interviews.

“I was Erin Andrews before Erin Andrews,” he humorously noted, referencing the FOX Sports personality. “I interviewed Lefty Driesell, Bobby Cremins, Chuck Amato, all the big-college coaches that would come to see Chowan play. Not to mention Chowan’s own Hall-of-Fame coaches, Jim Garrison in football and Bob Burke in basketball.”

The college football success encouraged him to move upstairs into the radio booth for more announcing, and that’s when Hertford County High School came calling. It would be a relationship that lasted 28 years.

“I worked with Sammy Doughtie (General Manager of WRCS-AM radio in Ahoskie) for a number of those years, and eventually ended up branching out if Hertford County wasn’t in the playoffs. I did teams like North Edgecombe, and once I went to Winston-Salem to do the 4A state championship between (Charlotte) Independence and New Bern.”

And it was not just games in North Carolina, as the Byrne Media Group he worked for had a station in South Hill, Virginia. It was near Brunswick High School in Lawrenceville, VA.

“We put basketball games on the air, and for seven straight years, I did the state championship game,” he said. “One of the most wonderful times I had. They just appreciated what the radio station did for them.”

Hodges admits there are several high school games that stand out.

There’s the first state championship game I called in Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill (1998) between Tarboro and Shelby in the early nineties,” he related. “We actually had two games that weekend: Tarboro on a Thursday night and then we came back on Saturday and did North Edgecombe and Starmount.”

Hodges admits to mimicking some of the great announcers, and perhaps such studiousness has tempered some of his on great sayings.

“I can’t think of anything original that comes to mind for me right now,” he noted. “My press box people and my scorer’s table people are who I’ll miss as much as anybody. These were just people you enjoyed being around and meeting.”

One of his best included himself and his Hertford County High stalwarts.

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“Johnny Overton ran the clock and Jim Shotwell was the PA announcer and I can’t tell you the amount of ‘Monday Morning Quarterbacking’ we’d do among ourselves after the games. There was Carol Swain who did the game photography. We were all such a great team. You love them all, and you appreciate them all.”

During all this time, Hodges has called 21 North Carolina High School Athletic Association and Virginia High School League state championships, three Babe Ruth World Series Tournaments, two Colonial Athletic Association baseball tournaments, several NCAA and junior college regular season and post-season games, two Oyster Bowl football games, and the 1988 East Bowl.

As he exits the booth, Hodges imparts some advice for any would-be announcers hoping to add their own golden tones to the airways. It stresses dedication, and comes from a man who’s made many a familial sacrifice to make sure there was someone who needed to hear the game.

“First of all, you’ve got to be committed to it, because its going to be a three month commitment of Friday nights,” he maintains. “Then there’s the best advice I ever got, and I got it from Sammy Doughtie when I first started doing it. He said to always remember that regardless of the magnitude of the game, it’s the biggest game of the day by the people who’re playing it, and you need to treat it as such.”

“I hope I’ve done that. I’ve tried my best to do that,” he concluded.