When Oneida’s Kevin Acres works his first game as public address announcer at Lincoln Memorial University in a couple of weeks, he will be in his 18th year of PA work in some form or fashion.
Acres, who is also the public address announcer for Oneida High School in both basketball and football, will step up to the collegiate level for the first time when LMU hosts Lenoir Rhyne on January 19.
So how does one go from having no PA experience at all to handling PA duties at the middle school level and eventually taking the mic for one of the nation’s top NCAA Division II programs? As it turns out, with an off-handed question.
Sliding behind the mic
Acres’ role as a public address announcer began in 2001, when Kevin Terry — who coached the Oneida Middle School football team at the time — asked Tim Smith, who had long been the voice of the Indians on local radio, to find someone to do PA for the middle school games. Smith asked Acres, and Acres said, “Sure.”
What made Smith think of Acres? “Tim didn’t want to do it,” Acres said with a laugh.
But it worked. At the time, WBNT radio was broadcasting middle school games. Smith and his broadcast partner Mark Matthews were in the pressbox for that first game. Acres remembers looking over at his two radio pals at halftime.
“They were both staring at me and said, ‘I think you’ve found your niche,’” he said.
And, as it turned out, long-time Oneida High School PA announcer Raymond Miller had just retired, after 33 years. Acres wouldn’t be at the middle school level long.
In those days, Brom Shoemaker — who had long been around the Oneida community as a business owner and as a member of the Oneida Special School District’s board of education — was handling PA duties for the high school, having stepped into the shoes that Miller left vacant. Shoemaker heard Acres doing the middle school games, and asked if he would be interested in stepping up to the high school level.
For the next six years, Acres was the voice of Dr. M.E. Thompson Field. Then, in 2009, he started doing basketball, as well.
“Derek Jeffers had quit doing basketball and they didn’t have anyone to do it,” Acres said. “I originally started out just doing pregame introductions because I was still doing radio. But after a year of doing that, I told (Oneida High School Principal) Kevin Byrd, there’s no reason I can’t do radio and PA both. I’m not really doing anything on the radio while the action is going on.”
So, from there, Acres started doing PA for the high school basketball games from an unusual position — the opposite side of the gym from the scorer’s table, where the radio broadcasts were set up. After a few years of that, he was able to convince Acres to setting up a media table behind the scorer’s table — somewhat similar to the setup at college basketball arenas. That, he said, enabled him to do PA more effectively.
Developing a style
In the early days, when Acres had no experience as a PA announcer, he relied on his wrestling background to get him by. He had done PA a couple of times for Smoky Mountain Wrestling, and understood the importance of showmanship as a former wrestler.
“You always want to do things with an emphasis to help get the crowd into it,” he said. “Everything you do as far as wrestling goes is focused on getting the crowd in on it. You have to add a little flair to it.”
But one thing Acres never did was try to emulate someone else. In high school gymnasiums and at football stadiums all across East Tennessee, PA announcers try to model themselves after Bobby Denton — the late University of Tennessee football PA announcer — or someone they’ve heard at the professional level.
“I can’t stand guys who try to copycat off of somebody else,” he said. “I think you need to be yourself. Being yourself will be a lot more natural than trying to be someone else.”
Acres is also careful to add flair without being too dramatic.
“Sometimes it’s hard not to go over-the-top,” he said. “I’ve made the mistake of doing that.”
Acres remembers well a middle school football game from his early days behind the mic, when a fan of an opposing team approached him after the game to let him know that he was “a little unsportsmanlike” towards that team.
It was the final game of the regular season. Oneida was undefeated, but was down 14-0 in the second half. The Indians managed to score, then needed a stop to get the ball back and have a chance to win. On fourth down, it appeared the runner would manage the first down, but an Oneida linebacker filled the gap, and made the stop.
“I got a little too enthusiastic about how we stopped them on fourth down,” Acres said. “We got the ball back and won the game, which I’m sure didn’t help out the cause, either.”
In hindsight, Acres would agree with the opposing fan who got their feathers a little ruffled.
“Looking back on it, I was probably a little too enthusiastic,” he said. “When you’re a PA announcer you’re more like a reporter and you have to remember that.”
Acres has been a member of the National Association of Sports Public Address Announcers since 2013. The organization sets guidelines for PA announcers at the high school, college and professional levels, providing rules, advice and etiquette.
“You learn a whole lot of stuff through them, as far as how to say things and not only how to say things, but when to say them, when not to say them, and a lot of things people sometimes forget, like calling attention to emergency exits in pregame, and things like that,” he said.
As he has developed as a high school PA announcer, Acres has always known that he wanted to take his game to the collegiate level. “It’s just a different level, and you always want to work your way to the top,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to do college.”
Acres even sent his resume to the University of Tennessee after Denton died. “They replied back and said they would take it into consideration but I never heard another word from them,” he said. “I knew that was way out of my league, of course, but if you don’t ask you’ll never know.”
This past fall, Acres’ son, Joshua, entered his first year at Lincoln Memorial. Acres decided to inquire about the need for a fill-in PA announcer.
“I was sure they had a PA announcer in place, but I just thought as much stuff as they’ve got going on up there, they’re bound to need someone to fill in every now and then. So I just took it upon myself to email the communications director and ask him about it.”
Within an hour, Scott Erland — LMU’s director of sports communication — had replied back. He would like to see Acres’ resume and some sound clips, he said. A couple of days after that, Erland asked to meet with Acres, and the two men sat down over dinner at Shoney’s in Caryville.
In that meeting, Erland told Acres that he actually needed him as the school’s full-time PA announcer for both basketball and baseball. The current PA announcer, Stephen Linzmeier, had accepted a job in Indianapolis and was moving.
“(Linzmeier) had just gotten the job offer the day before I had emailed them,” Acres said. “(Erland) took that as a sign; he told him, ‘You’re gonna get that job in Indianapolis because I had a guy ask me about doing the PA here.’ And the next day he got the job.”
It’s a 90-minute drive from Oneida to Harrogate, the home of Lincoln Memorial. And Acres works in Kingston, a 90-minute drive from Oneida in the opposite direction. He’s a health and safety officer at Certified Scientific Services, a job he’s held since graduating from Roane State Community College with a degree in environmental health after being laid off from his job of 23 years at Hartco when Armstrong closed the Industrial Lane plant in 2007.
But Acres, who will continue to balance his work with Oneida High School and with WBNT, said it will be worth the strain on his schedule.
“Lincoln Memorial has by far the best arena in the Southern Conference,” he said. “They host the NCAA regional final about every other year and I’ll get to those games. I’ve always wanted to do college, and this will be a good opportunity.”