IHSA honors West Aurora's Ormond with Distinguished Media Award
The familiar voice of West Aurora High School football and basketball will soon receive one of the Illinois High School Association's most prestigious awards.
The man who has literally seen and done it all for the Blackhawks since 1964, Neal Ormond, heads the trio selected as part of the seventh class of the IHSA's Distinguished Media Service Award winners for 2019-2020. He will be honored before West Aurora's game next Friday against Yorkville.
The award was created to recognize media members who have covered high school and activities in Illinois for a significant period of time, while maintaining perspective on the amateur events they report upon.
Ormond certainly meets the criterion.
The 78-year-old has called more than 500 West Aurora football games and 1,500 basketball games on radio since 1964 -- and is still going strong today, broadcasting games for WBIG-AM (1280).
"A lot of people have helped me along the way," said Ormond, who played basketball on the Blackhawks' 4th-place state finishing team in 1958. "This is special because it reflects on my media work. I'm humbled to be recognized by the IHSA, a statewide organization."
Currently in his 56th year of broadcasting, Ormond has also served as a volunteer coach at West Aurora for 70 combined seasons in track and field, girls tennis, girls basketball and softball.
In addition, he served 22 years on the West Aurora school board before deciding not to run for reelection in 2017.
Ormond has been married to wife Mary Clark Ormond for 42 years. They have 3 children -- Neal Alan Ormond IV, Laurel Ormond, and Chrissy Ormond De Swardt.
He retired in 1995 after 31 years as VP of Human Resources at both Quaker Oats Company and WW Grainger, Inc.
"I have developed a lot of friendships in the coaching arena," said Ormond. "I've had the privilege of meeting a number of great coaches, not just at West Aurora but from all of the schools we've played against.
"It is a fraternity that I am proud to be a part of. I've met so many great athletes and young people and been able to bring the story of their accomplishments to the public."
Now that West Aurora games are also simulcast on the NFHS Network, Ormond's voice can be heard by Blackhawks fans across the country.
"I've heard from people who were aboard cruise ships on the Mediterranean listening to West Aurora games," said Ormond.
Ormond, who also ran track, played tennis and was a member of the speech team at West Aurora, went on to earn a bachelor's degree from Yale (majoring in Marketing/HR) and an MBA from Stanford, where he also served as the sports director of the student radio stations at both universities.
"It was a lot of fun," said Ormond. "I thought about joining the broadcasting business. I interviewed with NBC on campus and eventually went on an interview for a management trainee at KING (radio station) in Seattle.
"At the end of the day, I wasn't offered the position but after listening to my tape, the program manager told me he thought I had a future in sports broadcasting. There was a young man at the station who wanted to move from sports to news and they wanted me to replace him. His name was Keith Jackson. I turned the job down because I had received a great offer in Chicago from Standard Oil of Indiana."
A year later, Ormond received a letter from Jackson asking if he would reconsider joining the sports staff in Seattle.
"Once again, I turned down the offer," said Ormond. "In retrospect, it worked out pretty well for him (Jackson went on to enjoy a 40-year broadcasting sports for ABC Sports)."
Upon returning home, Ormond was invited by local radio station WMRO to join its on-air broadcast team in 1964.
"At the time, the station's sports director was Bob Locke," said Ormond. "I worked with him on East Aurora and West Aurora games. We would work the road game live while the station would run Charlie Essig's taped broadcast of the home game."
A little later, Ormond became the permanent voice for West Aurora games.
"We had a great following," said Ormond. "There was a great rivalry forming with Ernie Kivisto coaching basketball at East (Aurora) and John McDougal at West (Aurora)."
Working in Chicago, Ormond often took the train to meet family members who would bring the radio equipment needed to suburban schools for the Friday night broadcasts.
There have been many memorable moments for Ormond.
"One night I drove John McDougal back home after a game and he asked me what I thought about him possibly taking a position as basketball coach at NIU," said Ormond. "Shortly after, I helped serve on the selection committee for a new coach at West Aurora.
"There were some outstanding applicants -- Steve Fisher (who went on to coach Michigan's Fab Five) for example. It was a tough decision, but we chose Gordie Kerkman and the rest was history."
Kerkman coached at West Aurora from 1976-2014, compiling an amazing record of 805-313. His 1999-2000 team captured the Class AA state title, edging Westinghouse 60-57.
"It was a team that truly was a team," recalled Ormond. "We didn't have any superstars."
Twenty-four years earlier, the Blackhawks dropped a heartbreaking 45-44 state championship decision to Morgan Park.
"Laird Smith made the winning shot that would have been a 3-pointer today," said Ormond. "For 15 seconds, I couldn't say a word. I felt like I was kicked in the stomach."
Ormond, who has worked alongside colleague Rick Albright for the past 40 years, is his own biggest critic.
"I've listened to recordings of my games for 45 years," said Ormond. "I'm always trying to improve."
A true professional, Ormond has long earned the respect of West Aurora nation.
"I couldn't be happier that the IHSA is recognizing him," said Blackhawks athletic director Jason Buckley. "He means everything to our school and community.
"He is a comforting voice, a familiar face in the community, a voice of reason on so many things, and someone we lean on. He has perspective that nobody else has. It is unbelievable what he has done and continues to do."
The IHSA will present the award to Ormond prior to the Blackhawks' 6:30 p.m. varsity basketball game against Yorkville on Jan. 31.
"We're really excited to have that night to honor him," said Buckley.
All this for a guy who referred to himself as "rather shy" during his high school days.
"My parents pushed me to take a speech class in high school," said Ormond, who went on to become a 2-time captain of the school's debate team. "It gave me confidence."
And the rest is history.
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org