August 9, 2014 4:50:26 PM
Friday night, it was not business as usual for the "Old Announcer."
Ron Hartness will begin his 37th season of doing public address for Starkville Academy football Aug. 22 when the Volunteers play their home opener against Lamar School.
Hartness and the crew were working in his perch at the brand new press box at J.E. Logan Field Friday night as the school held its "Meet the Vols" event.
However, this night was way different than the usual introduction of all of the fall sports teams' players, coaches and cheer leaders.
Before the festivities began, Hartness was honored as a huge banner was unveiled renaming the press box the "Ron Hartness Press Box" in his honor.
"I was truly honored and humbled," said Hartness, who also does public address for basketball. "This is a very special occasion for me. I knew something was up because (athletic director) Coach (Glenn) Schmidt was acting funny. She is normally a straight, to-the-point person. This is what we are going to do. However, (Friday night) she was stalling and making sure everything was ready.
Schmidt felt fortunate that the dedication ceremony was kept quiet for six months.
"Ron had a such a major role in building this school," Schmidt said. "He wanted the kids to have an opportunity at a quality, Christian education. Now all of these years, he is still here giving back. That is how special that he and his family are. They mean a lot to this community."
Hartness was joined on the field by wife Virginia, son Phil and his wife Karen, daughter Laura and her husband Chad as well as grandsons Cole and Brayden. The plaque was presented by former Starkville Academy headmaster J.E. Logan, for whom the field is named.
"To have my family here made this an incredible experience," Hartness said. "My wife has spent so many Friday nights at home alone while I was doing things to help support the young people of this school. I can't tell you how much it meant to have each and every one of them here to share this special night."
After working close to four decades in one venue, a lot of the memories are now running together for Hartness.
"I have so many players play," Hartness said. "What stands out is how these people -- the players and the cheer leaders -- moved on to be successful business people, successful husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. It is great when you catch up with a former player and you see their family and you can see where they have carried themselves. That is what it is all about. That is what makes this job special."
Schmidt said Hartness is a constant in an ever-changing world of athletics.
"I have been here 11 years and he is the consistent thing in basketball and football home games," Schmidt said. "He is a model family man that spent his life trying to build a school for his children to go to -- a Christian school. Now his children are gone and he is still giving to the school."
Somewhere along the line, Hartness began signing off after each game by referencing himself as the "Old Announcer."
Right on cue, the pee wee, junior high, junior varsity and varsity football players and cheerleaders were introduced individually Friday night. Hartness instructed each person to give a big wave to the "Old Announcer" when their name was called out.
"I didn't really expect it to catch on like that," Hartness said. "But it's something that we have a lot of fun with."
Like many others, Logan -- twice a headmaster at the school -- felt honored to be part of the proceedings.
"I would have been disappointed had they not asked me to be a part of it," Logan said. "I've known Ron for 40 years. Not only has he been good for Starkville Academy sports, but he was an outstanding board member."
This season, Hartness and his fellow workers will be working in new digs. Logan Field received a major renovation during the offseason, which includes new seating -- with some chair-backs-- on the home side. The new press box will feature areas for film crews, visiting and home radio, as well as clock operators, Hartness and his spotters.
"Even though it has only been one night, it feels like home already," Hartness said. "In some ways, were due."
Schmidt hopes their are many more game nights to come for the "Old Announcer."
"(We're) so honored to have somebody we can look up to because in this day and time pride for a school is special. We live in a world of individualism where it is all about me. This is the perfect example of a community that is looking up to a model family to see how it is supposed to be done. He is that example."
Scott Walters is a sports reporter for the Commercial Dispatch. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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