For almost four decades one man has been the voice guiding the Viking ship — both on and off the field.
Johnny Smith came to East Hall High School in 1976 as a first-year chemistry teacher. A few weeks into his first year, the football coach came to him and asked him to announce a football game.
Now Smith enters his 37th year as the voice of Viking football and wouldn’t change a thing.
“So the third game of the (1976) season I started announcing and I haven’t stopped,” said Smith. “It’s fun and it’s a blast. I live for Friday nights.”
Smith retired from the classroom last year, but continues his duties as the football announcer on Friday nights. It’s his way, he said, to give back to a community that’s given him so much.
“I’m there until they tell me otherwise,” he said. “At least that’s my intent. I always say every year: ‘Coach, do I have a job next year?’ One coach said one time: ‘You have a job until I tell you otherwise.’ I said: ‘OK. I can live with that.’ As long as they’ll have me, I want to be here because this is how I feel like I contribute to the community.”
And it’s that community that’s kept him around for so long.
“I walked into that front door in 1976 and walked out just last year,” said Smith. “People ask: ‘Why did you stay at that school so long?’ I’m a rare teacher in that I walked into a classroom and I stayed in the same classroom for 35 years. The family atmosphere in the East Hall community beats anything that I’ve ever seen.”
He met his wife through the principal of East Hall High School and his daughters were raised in the community. In fact, it’s the community that rallied behind him when his dad passed away a few years ago, and, most recently, his mother.
“That’s something you never forget and anything I can do to return that, I’m more than happy to do,” said Smith.
And the way he shows his gratitude is to get in the press box every Friday night and share the achievements of so many young people — on both sides of the field.
“I think every parent wants to hear their child’s name mentioned and that’s something I’ve worked real hard at,” said Smith. “It always bothers me if I go to another stadium and hear an announcer be another cheerleader. Both sides pay the same amount of money to get into the game and you can show some spirit for your team, but you should be fair to both sides and that’s what I’ve always tried to do.”
Some of those parents even had their names called by Smith decades ago.
“It goes back so far,” said Smith. “Seeing people grow up in this community and to have their children and teach their children. I called their names when they were here and they have children and I’m calling their names. It’s just really special. It’s almost indescribable how that makes me feel.”
Smith was never an athlete growing up, but that didn’t stop his love of sports. While in high school he managed the baseball team and worked closely with intramural sports in college. Being in the press box is just an extension of that.
“I love being in the press box,” he said. “I was never in athletics, but I was one of those who was always associated with athletics.
“I’ve always been made to feel like I was just as important to the football program as a coach or any player. They just made me feel like they need me here.”
And that attitude carries over to Friday nights in the press box. Smith said that no matter who is in the booth with him — reporters, radio crew or spotters — that he’s trying to make it fun.
“We just have a real good time because I want everybody, when they come to our press box, to feel at home,” he said. “I’ve just always enjoyed that. It is just a big, fun time in the press box. And I always love when visitors come into our press box, because as soon as you walk into our press box and you look out over the trees in the falls, it’s the best look in Northeast Georgia — I’ll stack it up with anybody.”
Smith, in his own right, stacks up with the people and voices most synonymous with Hall County football. That, he said, is a wonderful feeling.
“It’s very humbling,” said Smith. “It makes me feel really good to be recognized like that and people associate me with East Hall football.”