There are 30 steps to the press box at the top of Attaway-Heinsohn Field in North Charleston. For 33 seasons, Norm Ruppert has climbed them every Friday night there was a home game, in order to take his position at the microphone as the stadium’s public address announcer.
This year, the school has offered to bring the microphone to him because he’s just not sure he can make it to the top any longer. Medical problems forced Ruppert, 66, to walk with the help of a cane. Sometimes, he needs a walker for stability. He steadfastly prefers to continue announcing the games from his perch on high.
The athletic director, Nate Pearson, has already given him his parking pass and hand-delivered this year’s schedule. The school is even offering a make-shift position from the stands that’s 4 or 5 rows up, if that will make Ruppert feel more comfortable.
Generally speaking, Norm Ruppert is generally speaking. He’s not fond of change, though he’s seen a bit of it. He prefers to be where he’s always been ... in that press box on Friday nights. He is certain he can do it for six home games, one more year.
You don’t say
Ruppert’s been around athletics most of his life. He coached youth teams in the Cooper River Parks and Playground system. He so loved his Chicora High teams that he was named their “fan of the decade” after graduating from the North Area school in 1965. He started on the P.A. at North Charleston High in 1979.
He’s seen six head coaches, five athletic directors and even more principals come and go, but except for one year, he’s been in the press box every Friday night.
His one missed season came in the mid-80s when he expressed a difference of opinion with the principal over his handling of the head coach. That principal left and the new principal hired him back the next season.
Ruppert looks forward to Friday’s in the fall. His inability to move as freely as he’d like keeps him from going too many places. There’s pride in his voice when he explains that he does his best to play it down the middle with his announcing. The most important aspect of the job is to keep the parents happy by properly pronouncing all the last names.
Ruppert admits to knowing much more about basketball than football when he first started. He also says he’s only had one occasion where he ran afoul of the refs by crossing the line with a critical comment about the marking of a first down. We all know there’s much greater clarity on such matters from 50 to 60 yards away than those the striped shirts can possibly hope to see.
Aside from that temporary microphone misstep, he’s attempted to approach the job with confidence and professionalism.
Ruppert also tries to be upbeat. His job is to relay the facts of the play, then get out of the way. It’s not always easy to be positive when his team has won but one game in the last two years.
What goes up ...
It’s quite possible that the folks who live near the old village end of Montague Avenue have heard Ruppert’s voice but have never seen him.
On Friday nights, he arrives 90 minutes before kick-off. He doesn’t want any of that routine to change but admits to considerable concern. Going down the stadium steps is even more problematic. He resolves to figure out a way to get to his press box seat instead of the spot the school is willing to provide down below.
The next time a coach wants to communicate how much athletics can mean to somebody, he might want to relay Ruppert’s commitment to climbing those 30 steps with barely one good leg as he attempts to get where he believes he’s supposed to be on Friday nights.
He’s supported the teams for three decades. Maybe a strong player or two could lend a supportive hand in getting Ruppert to the press box for one more season.
Reach Warren Peper at firstname.lastname@example.org.