Friday nights at Lakeview Academy, until recent years, were devoid of football.
But over the last five years, the school’s football program has grown in size and skill, and one man has had “the best seat in the house” to witness it all.
J.C. Smith, a man with Lakeview ties dating back decades, has been the voice of the Lions since their inaugural varsity season in 2008.
“When the program first started a few years ago I volunteered to be the announcer,” he said. “Like many people who have a bucket list, being a PA at a ballgame was one of mine, and this seemed like a natural fit.”
During the mid-1980s, Smith coached the 10- to 11-year-old girls’ basketball team and eventually met his wife, Cathryn, a Lakeview graduate, on the campus. His son, Bennett, is a junior at Lakeview.
“I’ve had a long relationship with Lakeview,” Smith said.
Smith grew up in Mobile, Ala. where his passion for sports, especially at the high school level, grew.
“I have a chronic passion for sports,” Smith said. “I grew up in Mobile and I can recall the first high school football game I went to, there were 40,000
people at the ballgame. I remember hearing the announcer, Pinky Grant, and I enjoyed hearing him do games for several years.”
That passion has allowed him to scratch off one item off his bucket list. He hopes his famous (or infamous) lion’s roar will echo across the athletic grounds of Lakeview’s campus as long as the school will have him.
“They haven’t fired me yet,” Smith said. “Folks will say they’ve enjoyed it and it always helps when you win. But I’ve always tried to be myself.
“My wife, Cathryn, will be happy if they keep me here because it keeps me out of her hair, so as long as they’ll have me, I’ll enjoy doing it.”
But while he’s behind the microphone, Smith tries to take some pages out of one of the most synonymous names with football announcing in the county: Walt Snelling of Gainesville.
Smith said Snelling’s aptitude to make the athletes — on both teams — feel important and appreciated is something an announcer should take pride in.
“Going to City Park and hearing him announce and his style in terms of making sure — obviously there’s no bigger Red Elephant that Walt Snelling — but his objectivity in recognizing kids from other teams, I think that’s critical,” he said. “Recognizing kids from Lakeview, even if they only get in for one or two snaps, I try to get their names mentioned.”
And supplementing the recognition of athletes, Smith said, is his attempt to add some humor from the booth.
From his lion’s roar to fake door prizes for ghost seats, Smith hopes the crowd leaves entertained.
“People are here, so they don’t need me to give them too much detail,” Smith said. “But I try to, as Sgt. Joe Friday used to say, just give them the facts. I like to add a little humor to it.”