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Bears announcer shares his craft at Naperville clinic
'You can't take a play off'
By Marco Santana | Daily Herald Staff

Aspiring sports PA announcer Mike Marut of Wheaton reads a script while Jim Riebandt listens.


Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

Brian Voss, left, and John Fischl, both of Libertyville, talk shop during a sports public address announcers clinic at Naperville North High School.


Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

Bears public address announcer Jim Riebandt speaks to attendees at a clinic hosted by the National Association of Sports Public Address Announcers at Naperville North High School.


Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

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Published: 8/11/2010 12:00 AM | Updated: 8/11/2010 12:12 AM

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Jim Riebandt is not unlike an umpire.

Despite his high-profile job, he'd prefer to keep a low profile. Because if the fans remember him at the end of the day, it's likely he screwed up.

But Riebandt, public address announcer for the Chicago Bears, was front and center recently when he sponsored a clinic in Naperville for aspiring sports announcers.

"It's a fun thing," he said. "To have people that are interested in this, who knows, one of these people might replace me some day. You can set a tone, set a theme, set a bar to help people who like doing it."

The clinic took announcers through several aspects of their jobs, including writing scripts and mouth exercises that Riebandt, 60, said he does before every Bears game. The movements, created when speaking specific word combinations, help the announcers limber up, so to speak, and prepare them for on-the-fly phrases and cadence that help the announcer stand out, rather than constantly using standard phrases.

"When you talk, you don't want to be a monotonic robot," said Riebandt, who begins his 29th year behind the mic Sept. 12 at Soldier Field for the Bears' home opener against the division-rival Detroit Lions. The exercises, he said, "help you to think about what you are saying, be descriptive and not be afraid."

Riebandt took over as Bears announcer for Chet Coppock in 1982.

The nine attendees at the clinic had varying skill and experience levels.

Andy Hampton has announced baseball games for Northern Illinois University and Sycamore High School. He likened sports announcing to live theater. When a mistake occurs, the action will not stop.

"There's no going back," he said. "The game's not going to slow down because of you, and the show's not going to stop. You just have to keep going."

Hampton, 44, considers himself something of a late bloomer.

"My lone regret was that it took me so long to find something I am passionate about," he said.

That is not a problem for 15-year-old Zack Mackey. For him, the clinic offered training that he said he previously had not received. A freshman at Geneseo High School in far western Illinois, Zach was pressed into service by the school's athletic director when he needed someone to announce a basketball tournament.

Zach agreed and said he was hooked immediately.

"I have always liked being in front of a mic and talking to people," he said.

Short of being star-struck, Zach said he was thrilled to be learning from Riebandt.

"It's learning a lot of stuff from one of the best," he said. "It's really neat to listen to him."

The National Association of Sports Public Address Announcers was created just two years ago, and Riebandt said he hopes it will help anyone entering the highly specialized field.

"No one ever helped me," he said. "I picked it up on my own just doing it and listening to different announcers."

As much as he says he enjoys his job, Riebandt said it's not all fun and games, despite counting one of the most storied sports stadiums in the nation as his workplace.

"It is work, though," he said. "You can never take a play off and have to be the same person whether the Bears are winning or losing. But it's fun for me."