Mark Story

After a song from George Clooney — and 40 Sweet 16s — radio announcer walking away

Catching up with Chris Lofton

Chris Lofton, who starred at Mason County and the University of Tennessee, has built a professional career playing basketball overseas.
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Chris Lofton, who starred at Mason County and the University of Tennessee, has built a professional career playing basketball overseas.

For 40 straight Sweet Sixteens, Danny Weddle has called all the state tournament games on Maysville’s WFTM.

Yet iconic boys’ state tournament moments like Paul Andrews’ half-court shot, Richie Farmer’s 51-point game nor Ken-Jah Bosley’s buzzer-beater are not Weddle’s most memorable story from his four decades broadcasting high school hoops.

Believe it or not, a Maysville St. Patrick-Augusta regular-season game from some 40 years ago supplies that.

It turned out, the father of the Augusta starting center had worked at WFTM. So when the player — you might recognize his name, George Clooney — spotted the call letters, he looked Weddle dead in the eye and began to sing the station’s jingle.

George Clooney Augusta hoops player.JPG
In 1978-79, George Clooney was the starting center for the Augusta Panthers. Danny Weddle has a vivid memory of calling an Augusta game that season against Maysville St. Patrick. Augusta High School Augusta High School

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Weddle says. “Of course, we had no idea what a (Hollywood) star (Clooney) was going to become. I sure wish I had that game on tape.”

On Wednesday afternoon, when 8th Region champion Walton-Verona and 13th Region king Knox Central tipped off the 102nd boys’ Sweet Sixteen, it carried a poignant significance for Weddle.

This state tournament will be the final games behind a radio microphone for Weddle, 59. The longtime radio voice of the Mason County Royals is retiring. “It just feels like the right time,” Weddle says.

Only three years out of high school, Weddle called his first Sweet Sixteen in 1980. That year, Owensboro cut down the nets in Freedom Hall.

Back then, press row at state tournaments was filled by local radio stations broadcasting the action home to all regions of the state.

“When I first started going, the whole press row, end line to end line, was radio stations,” Weddle says. “We sat by (W)HAS, Paul Rogers (now the University of Louisville play-by-play announcer) was calling the games. It seemed like every town in Kentucky was there. Now, I think there are seven stations left that still come and call every game.”

If there is a geographic heart of Kentucky high school basketball, it has long been the 10th Region. Yet even in a part of the state where passion for high school hoops has historically run strong, Maysville stood out.

When current University of Kentucky radio play-by-play man Tom Leach was beginning his career in his hometown of Paris by calling Bourbon County and Paris High School games, he envied Weddle for getting to work in Maysville.

“Because Danny got to go to the 10th Region (Tournament) and call every game,” Leach says. “We just did whatever games Paris or Bourbon County played (in the region tourney). But the interest (in basketball) in Maysville was so strong, Danny got to do every game — and then the state tournament, too.”

A 1977 Mason County High School graduate, Weddle grew up listening to Al Michaels call Cincinnati Reds baseball games and Cawood Ledford announce Kentucky Wildcats football and basketball games.

“I knew I wanted to be on the radio from about the seventh grade on,” Weddle says.

In 1978, Weddle went to work at WFTM. He started helping out calling local high school games that winter. By 1979-80, Weddle had become Mason County’s regular play-by-play announcer.

In 1981, Allen Feldhaus Sr. coached Mason County on a Cinderella run to the state title game in Rupp Arena. In the finals, Mason led Simon Kenton by 10 points at the half — which made it hurt even worse when Simon Kenton rallied and won.

“I’m driving back from Lexington thinking, ‘You may never have that chance again,’” Weddle said.

Instead, buoyed by school consolidation with the Maysville Independent School District in 1991-92, Mason County became an enduring state basketball power.

Weddle wound up calling two Mason County state championships — in 2003 (Chris Lofton) and 2008 (Darius Miller).

Through it all, Weddle sought to give his small-town broadcasts a major-market feel.

“I always admired how calm his announcing was,” says Kelly Wells, the University of Pikeville head man who was coach of Mason County’s 2003 state championship team. “He doesn’t get over-emotional, which means the listener always knew what was going on.”

At one point, Weddle said he had discussions about moving to Indiana to work at a larger station. Early in his career, he let himself fantasize about heading to Florida and trying to get a play-by-play job in minor-league baseball.

The chance to call games in his hometown during a period of bountiful success for the local high school basketball team always proved too good to leave.

“There are a lot of announcers who work at a very high level who, whether because they are content where they are or the timing just doesn’t work out, they never move,” UK’s Leach says. “Danny would be one of those. He’s always been a pro.”

In recent years, the reality of having so many nights tied up by broadcasting ball games began to wear on Weddle.

He and his wife, Glenda, have three grown daughters. The idea of having more free time to visit his children or to pursue his love of history began to pull at Weddle.

“You know, I just thought 40 years was a nice round number,” he says of choosing to retire now. “My oldest daughter, she lives in Dayton, Ohio. For me to go see her, I kind of had to arrange around basketball. (Not having to do that) will be nice.”

First, Danny Weddle has one final Sweet Sixteen to broadcast.

“All state tournaments are special,” Weddle says. “Being part of this for 40 years, it’s been fun, it really has.”

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a H-L sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.


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