Gainesville vs. Winder-Barrow
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: City Park Stadium, Gainesville
The Blitz: What's coming tonight in high school football.
Gainesville’s Red Elephants will hear a new voice at tonight’s football season home opener against Winder-Barrow.
Fans will bid farewell to longtime announcer Walt Snelling, while Ryan Casper will call the game for the first time.
Snelling, who has been calling games at City Park Stadium since the early 1980s, said he’s loved the past three decades on the job.
“I spent a lot of time wearing the red. I know that, and I loved every minute of it,” he said.
Snelling is stepping down due to ailing health, and said he looks forward to the change of pace he thinks Casper will bring.
“Our styles our different. He’s more businesslike than I am, I guess is the easiest thing to say,” Snelling said. “I’m liable to say anything.”
Wayne Vickery, the school’s athletic director, said he thinks Casper will do a great job, but that he’ll miss hearing Snelling’s voice over the public address system.
“It’s a new era,” Vickery said. “I don’t think Walt Snelling can be replaced. I think Ryan’s going to bring a lot of new technology that we’re not used to … but he’s got great technology skills.”
The team will honor Snelling with a tribute and an award for lifetime achievement at the end of the halftime show tonight.
“We’re going to give him a plaque, run him out there in a golf cart,” Vickery said. “I hope we have a great night with great weather and a great turnout for Walt. I hope the Red Elephants get their first win of the year.”
Casper, who has called baseball games for the Red Elephants in the past, said he looks forward to trying his hand at football announcing.
“Football has so many plays and things that are happening,” Casper said. “There’s a lot more going on in a football game compared to baseball.”
Vickery also said Casper, who is a country singer, has a “phenomenal voice.”
Casper said he spent 15 years as a musician and was able to go on tour around the Southeast, hear his songs on the radio and record albums in Nashville, so he’s no stranger to the microphone.
“It’s kind of a different animal, but I guess I’ll still get to have a mic in my hand,” he said.
Casper is studying to become a physician’s assistant at Brenau University, and is no stranger to the City Park field. Before returning to school, he worked on the ground and turf maintenance there, and still helps out with field upkeep from time to time.
“I’ve had the experience of painting the field up for the game on Friday nights,” he said.
He said he can’t hope to emulate Snelling, but hopes to bring his own energy to the games.
“Taking Walt Snelling’s place is definitely some huge shoes that I’m not going to try to fill, because he’s a Gainesville tradition,” he said. “I want to try to bring a fresh, new approach, keep the night going and keep everybody having a good time.”
“It’s going to be very different, of course,” Vickery said. “We’re going to all miss Walt. ... There will only be one Walt Snelling. How many hours and hours and hours did he give to the city of Gainesville? Nobody’s done more for the kids than Walt Snelling.”
Snelling said the kids were the best thing about announcing the game.
“I love children,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s very important for the youngsters to hear their names called, because that might be the only time they get to.”
Snelling said he hopes to be remembered for his fairness.
“I believe in being fair to all students, and I think I’m noted for that,” he said. “I was fair to the point where it aggravated a lot of the Red Elephant fans.”
Snelling said that, as much as he’ll missing calling Red Elephant games, he feels he’s passing the torch into capable hands.
“I think he’s doing a fine job, and he’s going to do a fine job (Friday) night for the Red Elephants,” he said of Casper.
“We’ll be getting it cranked up (Friday) night,” Casper said.