Editor's note: This week we are continuing a feature called Q&A. Through this feature we hope to help you get to know your neighbors, government officials and others in the community. Today we feature Steve Holt, who has been the voice of Covington High School athletics for 23 years and also covers CHS sports on a freelance basis for The Leader.
Q: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A: I couldn't have verbalized it as a child, but I was always most comfortable performing for an audience. I don't know of anyone who doesn't like applause. I don't have stage fright. I guess, I have/am living the dream. My experiences tell the tale. Like many, I was in school/church skits and such as a kid. I had the lead in my high school senior play. I worked in the theatre at UT-Martin and was on the Student Government Entertainment Committee, which vetted professional acts for appearances at the school. Since I wrote for the school newspaper as well (writing is performing too), I got to interview such luminaries as Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and The Supremes. I am a founding member of two community theatre groups and have performed in, directed and done a full range technical work in more than 50 dramas, comedies and musicals over the years. I have sung in church choirs and even in coffee houses in college. Now I perform 45-60 nights a year at CHS sporting events.
Q: What person had the biggest influence on you growing up and why?
A: I was powerfully influenced in multiple ways by a number of people. It's tough to pick just one. Given my affinity for an audience, I will say my father. Dad was trustee in Dyer County for 23 years, retiring the year after I graduated high school. In the 1980s, he was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives. He lived for politics, which in itself is a specialized performance art. Through him, I was exposed to a broad range of public figures and experiences that fed my liking for being before the crowd. My earliest memory of a big stage came during Bill Farris' run for governor in the late 1950s. A big rally was staged on the north steps of the Dyer County Courthouse. I was eight and was assigned the job of rolling former Governor Gordon Browning onto the stage in his wheelchair. Bright lights, crowd of a 1000 or so, cheers and applause. I didn't know they were not for me and I was hooked. Dad, in overt and subtle ways, gave me insights into how to get an audience of one, five, ten or 500 on your side. The first rule is "Work the whole room. Kiss all the women." Works like a charm.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I like to play golf, read and spend time with my family, especially enjoying the growing up of my grandchildren, and write for The Leader.
Q: What is your fondest memory of announcing a Covington game ?
A: I have several moments that come to mind, but two specifically stand out. The first is on the football field and the 2000 playoff quarterfinal miracle versus Martin Westview. CHS trailed 21-20 inside four minutes left in the fourth quarter. Poised to punch in a TD and end Covington's season, Westview's stud running back, whose name escapes me, took the handoff and went off left tackle. He was repelled, but not tackled. With a second effort, he lunged back at the goal line and stretched out the ball towards the goal line, but found only the waiting hands of Darron White, who proceeded to sprint 99-plus yards for the TD that gave CHS a 27-21 lead. I don't do play-by-play. That's not a PA announcer's job. My mentor, Mr. Charlie Elam, told me (and I heard it re-affirmed by the great Vin Scully last week): "Tell 'em what is going on and shut your mouth." But this time, Don Clark, my faithful spotter since game one in football, had me by my belt and the back of my pants to keep me from falling out the press box because I was halfway out the window screaming into the microphone. I have no idea what I was saying. The win propelled Covington to an appearance in the 2000 Blue Cross Championship game where they fell to Portland. The other game came in the baseball playoffs in 2006. Covington and Ripley had battled to a 0-0 loser-go-home tie and went to extra innings. I think it was the bottom of the 10th when one of the best ever to don a CHS baseball uniform, Gunter Delashmit, came to the plate and launched a Tiger fastball up into the left field light standards for a 1-0 Charger win that kept CHS in the hunt for what eventually proved to be Covington's second TSSAA baseball state championship.
Q: What do you like most about calling games ?
A: Announcing comes easy to me, but it takes a lot of preparation. I typically devote two to three hours preparing for every game, and then am "on stage" for two to three hours on game day. It is fun and frequently exciting, but it is also a lot of work. Some my be surprised, but a couple of things tangential to the games are what I enjoy the most. The first happens at every game. I am privileged to call the spectators to their feet to honor America with the playing and singing of my favorite song, "The Star Spangled Banner." The second comes only once a season and at the end with senior night ceremonies. Whether the student-athletes are aware of it or night, after four years of announcing and writing about their performances on the field and the courts, I kind of feel like they are my kids too. I have come to know many over the years and still keep in touch with several who were special to me. It is affirming to me to have the honor of sharing their individual accomplishments with the crowds who have cheered them on during their time at CHS.
Q: What does the expression "It's time to kick the tires and light the fires" you use to open football games mean and what is it's source?
A: Basketball and baseball have an entirely different opening protocol than football. Players in those two sports are afforded individual introductions by name and position. In football, the team collectively sprints onto the field with no such introduction. I listen intently to the PA announcers at other high school college and professional sporting events for techniques and things to say to get a crowd going. I wanted something to say to bring the football team on the field, but struck out the first year. Early on, Dewayne Bennett began calling me "The Voice of the Chargers," alluding to the legendary John "Voice of the Vols" Ward. It would have been sacrilege to me to have paraphrased his iconic "It's Football Time in Tennessee." Before the second season started I was watching "Top Gun" and heard what has become a signature for me: "It's time to kick the tires and light the fires." Only Tom Cheairs has ever questioned me about its use, as he had used it. It is a phrase used by military, an maybe even commercial pilots, saying that they are ready to start the engines and get going.
- Jeff Ireland