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Published: Sunday, 3/12/2006

He's done it, or broadcast it, all

In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports writer John Wagner talked with Frank Gilhooley, longtime TV and radio sports broadcaster.

Frank Gilhooley is the Toledo sports treasure that binds the decades together.

He grew up here, playing on the 1942 Central Catholic basketball team that played for a state title. That began a sports odyssey of more than 50 years that featured Gilhooley's involvement, either as a participant or broadcaster, in most of this area's major sporting events.

His sports involvement in Toledo goes back to when he served as a bat boy for the Mud Hens in the 1930s at Swayne Field.

After graduating from Central in '42, he played both baseball and basketball at the University of Notre Dame. He was drafted into the Army in 1942 but was rejected because of a hernia. After graduating from Notre Dame in 1948 he again was drafted and went to Fort Mead in Maryland.

Following his discharge, Gilhooley coached at Visitation High School in Detroit, but quickly learned that he didn't enjoy coaching. So he worked at Dana for a time before joining the team that traveled with the Harlem Globetrotters in 1951-53.

His life-changing break came in 1953, when the former Milwaukee Brewers Triple-A team moved to Toledo. Gilhooley became the team's radio announcer for three seasons, and when the team left in 1956 he began announcing for WTOL radio, which became WCWA.

That began a long radio career that included play-by-play work for the University of Toledo, Bowling Green State University and Ohio State University.

When WCWA dropped sports in 1970, he became the sports director at WSPD (Channel 13). Gilhooley served at that TV station, which later became WTVG, for 17 years until his retirement in 1986.

Before the Mud Hens' 1987 season began, the team's general manager, Gene Cook, asked Gilhooley if he would like to join the team's radio broadcast team.

On April 6, Gilhooley will begin his 54th season as an announcer and his 20th season broadcasting home games with Jim Weber.

Gilhooley, who will turn 82 years old in May, still lives in Sylvania with his wife of 52 years, Lydia.

"WE HAD PRETTY good success at Central. We went to the state final in 1942. We lost to Xenia Central, whose coach, Tom Blackburn, later had a lot of success at the University of Dayton. That year was the last year they played all of the games on the same day. We beat the top team in the state, Akron North, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon and had to come back for the state final at 7:30.

"Then I went to South Bend, and we had a pretty good ball club there. One year we finished up 18-4. I was surrounded by some really good players. And we had good success in baseball. We had a guy named Jack Mayo, who pitched with the Phillies in the World Series.

"Those were the best times of my life down in South Bend. The friendships I made and still maintain are special to me. I roomed with a guy named Johnny Lujack [Heisman Trophy winner] on baseball and basketball trips, and I still talk to him. He is the best all-around athlete I have ever seen. He could do anything. There were some great athletes there. I didn't see many losses in that football stadium in those years, when Frank Leahy was there.

"THE GLOBETROTTERS were a great bunch when we traveled with them. The only one who really was any kind of a problem was the star of the whole thing, Goose Tatum, and actually we got along well with Goose, too. They had some good basketball players, and it was fun playing against them.

"We had some good games against them, and when it was 'showtime' you were expected to go along with them. They were amazing. They had a football skit where they would line up in a football formation, and Johnny Wilson would drop-kick the basketball from the other foul line. Three times during that one season he made it! And he was never very far off the target.

"That was a great experience, traveling all over the country. There were no freeways then, so it was tough travel. The funniest thing was that one time the 'Trotters bus broke down while we were near Louisville. Maurice Saperstein, the coordinator of the tour, said they had to take our eight-passenger car and we took the bus into Louisville. So there we were, seven white guys taking the Globetrotter's bus into Louisville. People were taking a double-take, thinking, 'Who are these guys?'

"WHEN I CAME home in 1953, my mother told me Red Smith, with the new Toledo baseball club, had called me. Red was from Notre Dame and I had met him a few times. He told me to come over and have lunch with him a couple of weeks before the season began.

"He said, 'I need an announcer for the ballclub this year,' and I told him, 'Well, I don't know who's working in town.' He laughed and said, 'I'm not talking about anyone else, I'm talking about you.' I had never talked into a microphone in my life, but that's how it started.

"When I finally said I'd give [radio broadcasting] a try, Red arranged for me to go to Richmond, Ind., to sit with Waite Hoyt, the Hall of Fame pitcher and broadcaster. We hit it off quite well. I had never learned how to keep score, so I learned how to keep score from him - and I'm still doing it the same way.

"After sitting with him for two days, he said, 'I started the same way you did, flat-out cold. But I would tell you the things I go by. Number one, you cannot repeat the score too often. How many times have you gotten into the car, turned on the radio, and wondered what the score is? Also, I don't think you should criticize organizations, umpires or players, because that's not your job. And thirdly, you can talk too much. There are some that keep rattling on.'

"I DON'T THINK I ever did come up with any catch-phrases, but I might repeat myself many times the same way in the same game. I've had a great relationship with Jim Weber, and also with Jason Griffin. I think the chemistry between us is good.

"I'm still having fun [broadcasting] games. I look forward to it, and I love that ballpark. I get as big a thrill walking in there every night as I did the first time I saw it. I think it's the best thing that's happened to Toledo in my lifetime, I really do.

"I don't think I would change anything in my life. Oh, I would love to have gotten a shot at a major league job. I had a couple of close calls, but they didn't work out. But I've had some great assignments: covering Rockets basketball when Bob Nichols had some great teams, doing some Bowling Green football when Don Nehlen was there, and of course, Joe Tabner and I did the Ohio State games for 11 seasons when Woody [Hayes] had some great teams. I've been married 52 years, and I wouldn't change that. I don't think I would change anything."



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