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Voice of the Eagles: Morehead State play-by-play man Chuck Mraz begins 28th season behind the mic

By Mark Maloney
Special to KyForward

He is Morehead State’s Man With the Golden Voice.

Actually, a Blue and Golden Voice.

When the 2016-17 school year begins, Chuck Mraz will start his 28th season of play-by-play calls for the MSU football and men’s basketball teams.

His work is widely respected in the profession.

When the 2016-17 school year begins, Chuck Mraz will start his 28th season of play-by-play calls for the MSU football and men's basketball teams (MSU Athletics Photo)

When the 2016-17 school year begins, Chuck Mraz will start his 28th season of play-by-play calls for the MSU football and men’s basketball teams (MSU Athletics Photo)

In May, he received the East Kentucky Leadership Conference award for Media and Technology. That came on the heels of his third Associated Press play-by-play award, a “Best in State” honor for long newscast and a third-place prize for sports reporting.

An employee of Morehead State Public Radio (WMKY) since November of 1986, Mraz serves as news director. He recruits and trains employees for the news department and supervises morning operations of the station.

A typical day begins at 3:30 a.m. He’s in the studio by 4:30 a.m., preparing to be the news and sports host for a show called Morning Edition. That includes newscasts at 6:52, 7:52 and 8:52, and sportscasts at 7:18 and 8:18.

Then there are once-a-week sports (Monday Morning Quarterback) and news (Front Page) programs.

He’ll have a cast of 14 or 15 MSU students each fall and spring semester, mentoring them as they go on air, write stories and go out to report. Mraz, 59, figures that over the years he has worked with about 900 students.

“We try to work with them and train them on how to do things the right way so that, when they get out, they can get a job,” Mraz said. “So it’s a pretty hectic day.”

He likens the student workers to snowflakes. Each one is different.

“Each one, I approach in a way that I want to see how I can best help them learn and how to best motivate them,” Mraz said. “Some you have to be really soft with. Some you’ve got to be tougher with.”

Born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, Mraz is a devoted fan of baseball’s Cubs and football’s Bears. But there’s also no doubt about his affection for MSU’s Eagles.

“If you listen to me, you know that I’m fair,” Mraz said. “But at the same time, you know that I’m for Morehead State to win. That’s who I work for, that’s who pays my checks and those people who are out there playing are friends of mine, and the coaches are friends of mine. Naturally, I’m going to want them to win.”

Mraz’s path to Morehead began after he earned a radio-television degree from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale in 1978. He spent some time working for small stations in southern Illinois, then went to Chicago to work as a writer for a while. With an itch to get back into play-by-play, he returned to small-station work in southern Illinois for about three years. Then, he landed the Morehead job.

“I wanted to eventually work my way into Division I college broadcasting,” he said. “I was fortunate and I got the opportunity to come to Morehead.”

Mraz works closely with MSU’s media relations department – Nick Evans, Matt Schabert and Eric Mathews. He works at developing rapport with partner Jason Blanton, just as he had done for a while with Matt Andrews.

“Because you have to be able to know what the other’s thinking and how to respond in certain cases, develop an on-air chemistry,” Mraz said.

He credits much of his success to his parents, Ken Mraz and the late Joanne Meyer. In addition, wife Joni and daughters Elizabeth and Megan have been loyal supporters.

“Without them, it doesn’t happen,” Mraz said. “The other thing is all the people that I’ve worked with and the athletic department – all the support I’ve gotten from the athletic directors like Brian Hutchinson and guys before him like Steve Hamilton. The coaches. The players. If they don’t work with me, that makes my job a lot tougher.”

The job has been tough at times. For instance, when he butted heads with former MSU football coach Cole Proctor.

“We were having a tough season, and apparently he didn’t like some of the things that had gotten back to him that we said on the air,” Mraz said. “As I said, I’m not going to sugar-coat things. I never have. If we don’t play well, I’m going to say we don’t play well. If somebody makes a mistake, I’m not going to hammer him about it, but people get beat on deep passes, somebody misses a block or somebody misses a tackle and it’s pretty obvious that they do, or when somebody misses an open layup when they’re down the floor by themselves – again, I’m not going to beat up on them, but I’m going to mention that it happened.”

Proctor told Mraz to knock it off, but the broadcaster kept doing his job the way he saw fit. So Proctor stopped talking with Mraz.

After the season, the pair met with athletic director Hamilton and patched things up. But MSU later ended football scholarships and Proctor didn’t stick around for the next season.

“So we didn’t have a chance to work together again after that,” Mraz said. “But I guess I’m glad that we were able to come to a meeting of the minds and at least kind of make up and shake hands and part as friends.”

Mostly, calling MSU sports has been a blast for Mraz.

He goes on the floor to shake hands and slap palms with the basketball players when they go through pre-game layup drills. That young tradition started more than five years ago, when current NBA standout Kenneth Faried wanted to shake hands for good luck.

Faried stands as one of Mraz’s all-time basketball favorites, along with Demonte Harper. And “the group that Sean (Woods) had here last season, I thought, were tremendous human beings as well as being really good basketball players.”

A favorite moment “was going to the 2011 NCAA Tournament and beating U of L on the shot by Demonte Harper,” Mraz said. “That obviously is a career high-water mark for me. … I was absolutely thrilled about that opportunity and thrilled that we were able to win that game.”

His call at the end of the game was simple and spontaneous: “The Eagles have upset the Cardinals of Louisville.”

Louisville radio host Drew Deener had asked Mraz earlier in the week if he thought Morehead could win the game. Mraz did. Deener also asked Mraz if he had thought about what he would say if MSU were to win on a three-point shot.

“Nope,” Mraz said in recalling the interview. “And I won’t because otherwise it’s going to sound contrived. That’s the last thing I want to happen. It’s got to be spontaneous. It’s got to be real.”

Having played high school football, he says he equally likes that game and basketball.

“I really enjoy those Saturday afternoons at the football stadium,” he said. “And we had, last year, a really good team to watch. A fun team that would never quit.”

He says he has particularly enjoyed working with MSU football coach Rob Tenyer and his predecessor, Matt Ballard.

But calling football doesn’t come as naturally as basketball.

“When you have constant action, you can more easily get into a rhythm that way,” Mraz said. “With a football game, you have a play, then you stop. And then you have your analysis and, at times, set up the pre-play. And then you go into the play again. … It’s almost easier just to keep going.”

He says he doesn’t know how long his broadcasting career will last. He says he’s like Forrest Gump – he’ll do the job as long as he wants to.

“I feel like I’ll do it until I feel like I’m no longer effective or I just don’t want to,” he said.

Fans have made it clear to him that they want him to continue calling games for the Eagles.

They often spot Mraz near press row and offer kudos.

“I don’t know if they understand how much those nice comments have meant to me,” he said. “They may have only taken a couple of seconds, but they mean a lot. … Because I’m doing it for them. If I’m not doing it for them, then who am I doing it for?”

Mark Maloney writes for the Morehead State University athletics website

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