Monday, May 10, 2010

The State of the Program: Part I

The following is the first part in what hopes to become a series about the state of the Oakland University basketball program. So often such addresses are deliver by the heads of state (or in this case, the program), but for today this is from the perspective of an outsider, a dedicated fan.

When we talk about teams, we remember spectacular seasons and the players who made those moments possibles. When we as fans make an emotional investment in a championship season, we obtain a sort of immortality; we were a part of something bigger than ourselves, something that will live on in our memories and those of our children and grandchildren when passed on.

But when we talk about programs, we remember the institutions: the coaches. Coaches transcend the lifespan of players, and the truly amazing achieve their own immortality, not only in the minds of fans who were there for the ride, but for an entire society. We often forget, though, that there are others who achieve such standing, the ones who dictate what the coaches put on the court or field: the broadcasters.

In Michigan there is no broadcaster who has attained ever-lasting life like Ernie Harwell. He called games when fans had no choice but to tune in over their transistor radios. He called the good seasons and the bad ones. He was an institution within the Detroit Tigers baseball club. And the reverence with which people remember him in Michigan and around the nation surely cements his legendary status amongst society at large.


On the same night Harwell was remembered at Comerica Park, a new generation of broadcasters - Mario Impemba and Rod Allen - spent an inning talking Harwell with the legend's long-time partner, Paul Carey. Impemba was visibly excited about the opportunity to talk with Carey about Harwell as both have likely given him - and any aspiring baseball broadcaster - inspiration over the years. As their discussion closed, Carey told Mario he'd be looking forward to his calls of Oakland University games later in the year. It was an interesting note to end on, but clearly one prominent enough in Carey's mind to bring up on a regional broadcast of a Major League Baseball game. Impemba offered his thanks and cut to commercial.

Coming off a conference championship and an NCAA Tournament appearance, it is a remarkable time to have ties to Oakland University. Paul Carey, a legend in his own right, knew this enough to recognize Impemba's broadcasting duties with OU during what was surely a much-viewed Tigers game! Impemba, who began working with the Golden Grizzlies two seasons ago, has been a key figure in bringing OU basketball to a respected level in the metro-Detroit area. From his first to second year alone, the program made the move to a better radio station which provided opportunities for more coverage, including most of the road games during the 2009-2010 season. His connection to the program has also boosted content on the Fox Sports television arm, giving the university the ability to televise a few home games each year. Impemba has also published columns on the FSD website at various points throughout the season.

In short, Mario Impemba has become a key person in the movement to make Oakland University basketball a special, special entity here in metro-Detroit. Credit is of course given to the people who make these things happen (Gary Russi, Tracy Huth, Greg Kampe, etc), but at the end of the day, the fans only remember the person talking dimes and dunks.

Impemba, due to name recognition first but style and dedication thereafter, has the chance to be remembered here. He can be an institution at Oakland University, the guy who called the games during championship seasons and deep tournament runs in Sioux Falls or Tulsa or wherever the conference tournament ends up in future years. He'll never be as revered by as many as a guy like Harwell or Carey - at least in this sport - but those who are there, those making the emotional investment, will be there for him every step of the way so long as he is there for us.

Every great team has someone calling its games by which the dedicated hear and make sense of the action at hand. While great teams can help define a program, they are ultimately constrained by time. A great program, on the other hand, obtains continued success over the long-term, and by staying true to the program, through thick and thin, a great broadcaster can become an institution. Immortality achieved.

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