How to: Call football play-by play

By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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Pete Dufour grew up next to a transistor radio with an earplug, listening to Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons do Giants games and Bill King call the Warriors. “I was really into sports when I was a kid,” Dufour said. “The radio was a close companion.” In high school, his first broadcast was calling color for Ukiah’s KUKI. “Their highly-rated Wildcats were heavy favorites in the finals of Placer’s Kendall Arnett,” he said. “I picked Placer to win, and they pulled off the upset. I was hooked.” On and off the airwaves over the last three decades, Dufour has honed his radio skills. As the current play-by-play announcer for Placer High and Sierra College football on KAHI-950 AM, he’s developed steps for calling each game. Here’s how it’s done: DO YOUR HOMEWORK “You have to know the players and their numbers, their stats, the coaches, and what offense and defense they like to run,” Dufour said. “You also have to know something about the school itself, and give a sense of history.” This applies to both the home team and visitors. “You don’t want to sound like a ‘homer’ and you want to be fair.” Studying the differences in rules between high school, college and the NFL is also a key step in research. “All this information helps you prepare the audience, explain why a flag was thrown, and helps you focus on key matchups and trends as the game progresses,” Dufour said. SET THE SCENE FROM A COMMUNITY PERSPECTIVE “These are 16- and 17-year-olds playing a game in front of their family and friends,” Dufour said. “We don’t need to be too critical or take ourselves too seriously. This should be fun.” He tries to paint a vivid picture for the listening audience. “The band, the cheerleaders, the smoke from the tri-tips on the snack bar grill, team colors, and anything else that adds flavor to the broadcast,” said Dufour, who sets up a crowd microphone every game to take in as much sound as possible. HAVE A PLAN FOR WHO TALKS WHEN Dufour and partner Matt Folsom have developed a system to ensure they don’t interrupt each other or overlap comments. When the team breaks the huddle, Dufour sets the offense, using binoculars to focus on the ball and call the play as it happens. “With Placer’s offense, you really have to make sure you know who has the ball, or you’ll be fooled,” Dufour said. If it’s a pass play, Dufour lowers the binoculars to see the whole field. When the play is over, he sets the down and approximate distance. “Then I rely on Matt to bring up anything important he saw, like who made a great block or tackle,” Dufour said. “He adds up any stats that he’s been keeping. Then we begin again.” He gives the score about every three minutes and tracks scoring plays to recap during game breaks. Folsom totals the yardage as they go. “We’ve been working together for three years now, and we’re keying off each other pretty well,” Dufour said. “He keeps me honest and covers most of my mistakes. He’s always needling me, likes to make it fun.” About the Expert Pete Dufour hooked up with Matt Folsom a few years ago when Folsom was searching for a Sierra College play-by-play partner after Bob Chapman left KAHI. Dufour had worked at the radio station from 1979 to 1986 as a DJ, news director and play-by-play broadcaster. He later went to K-108 and The Point before launching a career with the State 20 years ago. He currently serves as the Administrative Services Manager with the Sierra Nevada Conservancy in Auburn. “I’ve covered the 49ers, the Giants, the A’s, the Kings, but I really enjoy Friday night football in the foothills,” he said. “We have the best coaches, the best atmosphere. Our high school communities all come out on Friday night, and you see your friends and neighbors at the game. It’s a great place to raise kids. We’re lucky. At the bigger city schools, they don’t have that environment.” Dufour, a former Auburn Little League president who originally played with the youth organization, also referees football and umpires fast pitch softball. “It’s fun to be around the game,” he said.