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Blind faith: Local color commentator perseveres, succeeds despite being legally blind
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Glory 1330’s Mike Wofford plays music during his morning radio show. Wofford is the color commentator during sporting events for Glory 1330 despite being legally blind. - photo by Tom Reed

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Listen to Glory 1330's Mike Wofford talk about the challenges and rewards of being a color commentator.

On the air, Glory 1330’s Mike Wofford sounds just like any other color commentator.

His voice is crisp and clear. His thoughts are intelligent and well-researched. His chemistry with his on-air partner is as fluid as any other sports broadcasting team.

With 30 years in the broadcasting business behind him, all of that is understandable.

But what separates Wofford from his peers is his one challenge. Wofford is legally blind.

"I can barely make out my hand if I stick it up to my face," said the Gainesville native Wofford, who was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when he was 15 years old.

From the time he was first diagnosed with the disease, which causes the rods and cones in the eye to die, Wofford’s vision slowly deteriorated. In 1982, when he was 26, the doctors told him he was legally blind.

"They told me I’d be fully blind with a dog and a cane by the time I was 27," Wofford said. "I’m 50 now, and I can still see a little."

His vision is so bad that he can’t make out the "E" on the eye chart, but Wofford continues to work as a broadcaster, color analyst and, as of 1998, the general manager and owner of Glory 1330, an AM Christian radio station in Gainesville.

"I’m really blessed," Wofford said when trying to explain his ability to continue broadcasting. "Having a disability is one thing, but you can’t let it keep you down, and you can’t let it keep you from what you’ve been called to do."

In Wofford’s case, that means broadcasting sporting events, regardless of whether or not he can actually see what’s happening.

"You can’t tell he can’t see," said Ron Poole, Wofford’s play-by-play partner for football games. "People that don’t know him are surprised to find out that he can’t see. He’s so good he works around it."He has a real feel for the game."

Feel is an appropriate word when describing Wofford and his abilities to remain a credible broadcaster.

In the studio, he feels for CDs and buttons on the control board in order to smoothly run his morning radio show. At games, he feels for how the game is panning out based on the words of his play-by-play guys, whether it’s Poole during football season or Chris Kinsey during the basketball and baseball seasons.

"It’s amazing that he can figure out what’s happening just by what I’m saying," said Kinsey, who is in his first year at Glory 1330 after interning there in 2005. "Sometimes he can tell where the ball is going before I even get the words out of my mouth."

As a newcomer to the broadcasting world, Kinsey also said that Wofford is helping him become a better on-air personality.

"Him being blind is almost an advantage for me," Kinsey said. "I have to paint the picture that much better."

According to Wofford, it is those portraits described by his partners that allow him to remain successful.

"The biggest obstacle I have to overcome is working with a play-by-play guy that I can trust that they know what they are talking about," Wofford said. "If they mess up, then I mess up and that makes me look bad.

"The one thing I don’t want in my job is for someone to say, ‘Oh that poor blind guy over there,’" he added. "When you hear my voice on the radio I want you to think that I’m just like anybody else ... that I can see and I can do the job."

Aside from finding a play-by-play partner that he can trust, Wofford, who spent four years as a play-by-play basketball announcer during the 90s, deals with a multitude of obstacles on a daily basis. Whether it’s having engineer Paul Meggs help him with the studio computer or having one of his employees read him the roster of a team so he can memorize it — because as Wofford put it "braile is too difficult to learn"— his daily routine isn’t easy.

"This job isn’t as easy as it was 30 years ago," said Wofford, who began his career in 1978 at WGGA-550. "Back then, there were like 30 players on a football team. Now there are 100 kids on the team."

But his love for the job keeps him going.

"Being here gives me something to wake up to every morning," he said. "I’ve got purpose in my life. It’s to be here, to be on the radio and serve God and this community."

That mentality has afforded Wofford the opportunity to maintain a positive outlook on life, despite the fact that he can’t see the two people he loves the most — his wife of 10 years, Janet, or his 8-year-old daughter Lilly.

"The biggest thing in my life that I miss is that I can’t see my 8-year-old daughter," Wofford said. "I can’t see her face and I can’t see her grow up."

With that in mind, Wofford said that if he were able to have his vision back for one day, he wouldn’t go to a game and see what he’s been missing all these years.

Instead he’d gather all the people he loves and try to form an everlasting memory.

"I’d get my little girl with me, my wife, my family," Wofford said. "I would get the things I cherish the most together and have that picture in my mind.

"The big thing to me is to see the family and see them clearly," he added. "I don’t think I’d even go to work that day."

While he doesn’t know if he will be able to make that wish come true, he admits that his goal is to "not go blind. The goal is to beat this thing."

Until that happens, he will continue his life as a broadcaster and color commentator.

"So I can’t see," he said. "The big thing is that I can do the job. If I make a mistake people will say it’s OK because I can’t see, but I don’t want to make it a constant thing.

"I’ve got the pressure on me that others might not have," he added. "I want to sound good, I want to know what I’m talking about, but at the same time I don’t want them to know I’m blind.

"The day that I sound like I’m blind, I’m getting out of it. I won’t be on the radio anymore doing ball games."

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