UPSTATE N.Y. SPORTS LORE: Sports in the Air
WENT’s Isabel, Roehl still going strong on area airwaves
Everyone has a sports team they like to follow and when they cannot be at their games in person, watching them on television or listening to them on the radio is the next best thing. And if you are a high school football or basketball fan in the Fulton-Montgomery County area, you have the unique option of being able to catch some of those match-ups on WENT Radio out of Gloversville.
Since 1944, WENT AM 1340 & FM 105.1 on the dial, has brought many of the Upstate New York area’s best high school football & basketball match-ups to life on the air each week during the months of September through March. And leading the charge for these broadcasts since 1984 are the WENT duo of Tom Roehl and Alex Isabel. Isabel, an attorney by trade, joined WENT to start calling football games in September of 1984. A few months later, current Sports Director Tom Roehl joined the station in December, and the two teamed up for the first time to call basketball games. Their successful chemistry doing basketball games led to them calling area football games together the following fall. The concentration was the coverage of Gloversville and Johnstown football and basketball (both boys and girls teams). Their coverage has grown over the years to also include games for Fonda, Broadalbin-Perth and Amsterdam.
Through this coverage, area listeners get to hear games that include all of the teams across the conferences our local teams play in. They also broadcast at least one Fulton-Montgomery Community College men’s and women’s basketball game each season. They branched out to cover some area high school baseball games back in the 1990s. But late afternoon games flowed over into the station’s prime news air times, and night games interfered with the station’s coverage of Major League Baseball games.
While they are usually a tandem covering most games together, on nights when both Gloversville and Johnstown teams are playing at home, the duo splits up to allow the station to cover both games. One of the games is aired live, while the other is aired on a tape-delay later that night. On the nights that they are split up, they sometimes bring in guest color commentators. For football contests, it is usually Shannon Noonan, and for basketball games it is former Division I college & professional player E.J. Gallup. The duo and their guest commentators bring a perspective of statistics, analysis and history that is not often seen at the high school level.
When asked to talk about some of their most notable games covered, both start instantly rambling off games, dates and player specific details like they happened yesterday. Some of those games/memories include;
“Miracle at Knox 11-03-89”
It was week #8 of the 1989 high school football season and both Johnstown and Glens Falls were undefeated in Foothills Council play. Johnstown was down 9-0 with 2:50 left to play in the 4th quarter. It was one of those games in which it appeared that Johnstown could have had eight quarters to play, and still would not have been able to score against the very powerful Glens Falls team. Roehl even commented as much on the air as the clock ticked down. No sooner did those words come out of his mouth, that Matt Swedick threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Joe Ruggeri. Johnstown then successfully executed an onside kick to get the ball back. And with the clock about to run out, Swedick converted a 4th-and-10, by throwing a touchdown pass to his brother, Dave, to give Johnstown a 13-9 win and the Foothills Championship.
“Fonda-Fultonville vs. Glens Falls Playoff Game of 1999”
After failing to make the Sectionals for many years, the Fonda-Fultonville football team was unbeaten in 1999, but needed to get past Glens Falls in order to go to advance to postseason play. The game was filled with all sorts of crazy plays being traded back and forth by both teams. Finally, Fonda-Fultonville’s Kyle Collins ran an interception back for the game clinching touchdown to secure a 39-27 victory and send them to the Sectionals.
“Brian Fruscio Game”
On Tom’s second night on the job (the fourth game he ever did) in 1984 at the Johnstown PBA boys basketball tournament, Watervliet’s Brian Fruscio hit a game-winning buzzer shot to beat host team Johnstown.
Johnstown coach Jack Dunlap went nuts, yelling and claiming that there was no way there was any time left on the clock. Ironically, Johnstown’s own Barry Clawson was the timekeeper.
“Gloversville vs. Jamesville-DeWitt”
Gloversville was playing Jamesville-DeWitt at Herkimer Community College for the first round of the State Tournament in the late 1980s. It was a very physical game and Gloversville’s Matt Goodemote was always in the middle of all the hard-fought incidents. Goodemote was Roehl’s favorite player of all time because of his talent and toughness.
The entire game was rough and led up to a big brawl at the end in which Goodemote was shoved out of the gymnasium and into the hall.
“St. Johnsville vs. Northville Girls Basketball”
Both agree that it was a fun ride to watch the Schoff sisters (Caryn and Wendi) and the St. Johnsville girls basketball team back in the early 1990’s. St. Johnsville had a 64-game win streak that extended through two whole seasons and into a third; 27 games in 1992-93, 28 games in 1993/94 and 9 games into the 1994-95 season. Early in 1995, St. Johnsville was hosting Northville. In addition to riding a 64-game winning streak, Caryn Schoff was on the verge of scoring her 3,000 point that night. The game was tabbed as “The Schoffs (Caryn and Wendi) vs. the Groffs (Jamie and Jessie) and the Giffords (Heidi and Jill).” Even though St. Johnsville had not been beaten in almost three years, Roehl thought that Northville was the second best girls team in the area and if anyone could beat St. Johnsville, it would be them. Northville proved him right and beat St. Johnsville to end their incredible winning streak. Both Tom and Alex are deliberate in pointing out that Caryn Schoff, with 3,548 total career points, is actually the “All-Time leading points scorer in NYS high school basketball history”. Syracuse University-bound Joseph Girard III (Glens Falls High School) is actually second in all-time points with 3,306 coming into the 2018-19 season.
Back in the 1990s, the 3-point shot was used sparingly in the game of basketball at all levels. The 1992-93 Broadalbin-Perth boys basketball team was unique in that it had five players who were prolific 3-point shooters (Tim Munn, Marc Eglin, Matt Hemstreet, Aaron Hugo and Shane Latza) and they relied heavily on this shot throughout the season. Because they were known for this type of shooting, the defending team would periodically leave one of the other B-P players wide open underneath the basket for an easy layup. This team was 25 years ahead of its time in that all five regularly shot from the 3-point range (like Stephen Curry and the modern-day Golden State Warriors). That season they were in the sectional championships against the very respected and feared Watervliet team and shocked the Upstate NY basketball world by beating them. Tom and Alex then rode on the Broadalbin-Perth fan bus up to Potsdam when they played against Saranac in the state tournament on March 15, 1993. Broadalbin-Perth would win that game on a 3-point buzzer beater by Tim Munn, pulling off yet another major upset.
Isabel recalls “the greatest tip play in the history of sports”. It was at an early 2010s Johnstown girls basketball game and Annie Stock jumped center to start the game. She tipped the ball cleanly and it hit the referee in the forehead. The ball instantly bounced back to her, and she nonchalantly passed it to a wide-open Johnstown player, who put it in for a lay-up.
Both talk about the magic of watching games in the old-style gymnasiums, namely at Gloversville. In a December 2009 Gloversville vs. Scotia boys basketball game, there were 8 seconds left in the game and Gloversville was down by two. Aaron Hall won the game with a 3-pointer at the buzzer and the Gloversville Super Fans went crazy, stormed the court and pinned him against the wall like he had just won the NBA finals. They miss the atmosphere of the old, smaller gyms that were loud, hot, dark and made for memorable games.
Their stories, which could fill a book, abound as they think back and reminisce about what they have witnessed on the fields and courts of Upstate New York. Combined, they estimate that they have called more than “1,340” games over the last 31 seasons between both sports. This includes logging tens of thousands of miles traveling both locally and on extended trips West to Syracuse/Ithaca, North to Potsdam/Plattsburgh, East to Cambridge and South to Poughkeepsie to cover local teams when they make it to the Sectional and State level of play. Approximately 180 different schools, some of which no longer exist (Bishop Scully), and a few thousand local high school athletes have had the thrill of having their athletic exploits called live on the airwaves to family and Upstate New York sports fans.
This week marked the start of the local 2018-19 high school basketball season and both Tom and Alex were on the scene calling the Gloversville boys game against rival Amsterdam, as they continue their march towards the 1,500 games called plateau. For all their listeners, you are part of a unique local sports history phenomena that we will one day look back upon and talked about with fond remembrance. To soak up some of this history for yourself, tune into WENT AM 1340 or FM 105.1 this winter and enjoy a local basketball game called by two unique and talented professionals. And next fall when our local high school football teams suit up, tune-in to help WENT celebrate its 75th anniversary of broadcasting local sporting events.
Mike Hauser is the founder of the Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame in Gloversville. If you have story ideas, old articles/photos or would like to nominate someone for the HOF, he can be reached through the organization’s website at www.fchof.com, email; firstname.lastname@example.org or call (518) 725-5565.