Athletics: Longtime voice of C-I Rangers sets down his mic
For 37 years Joe Simons created a unique and undeniable home-court advantage for the Crosby-Ironton basketball programs as the public address announcer for the Rangers.
It’s a sad night to be a Ranger.
When the high school basketball season finally begins in 2021, it will be the first time in 37 years the acoustics at Crosby-Ironton High School will sound strange.
Whether it was the historic Herman Woock Gymnasium or more recently the Ranger Gym, the C-I Rangers boys and girls basketball teams enjoyed a unique home-court advantage like few other venues.
And it was all because no one can read a room like the voice of C-I Joe Simons. The booming baritone bellowed his final words as C-I’s public address announcer last season.
Last week, Simons called Jared Matson, C-I’s activities director, about handing over his court-side seat to someone younger.
“I am stepping down,” Simons said. “I’m 78 years old. I still loved it. I wouldn’t say I didn’t, but it just felt like now is the time.
“I called Jared the other day and I said, ‘I was going to come in and visit with you personally, but I just couldn’t do it. I don’t think you want to see an old man cry.’”
The retired social studies teacher and coach will certainly be remembered for creating an atmosphere few other schools enjoy.
“In my time here, he’s kind of made those basketball home games special,” Matson said. “We’re grateful for all the time he gave to Crosby-Ironton athletics and we’re going to miss him.”
Simons’ ability to put goosebumps on top of goosebumps didn’t come naturally. He worked and cared about his craft, but never tried to force it.
“I never felt comfortable doing it,” Simons said with a laugh. “John Davies (former C-I activities director) really helped me a lot. He gave me confidence. The coaches were great. The kids were great.
“I just tried to be loud when the kids did something well and I was very quiet when they didn’t. You just go by the feel. When everyone would get excited, I was excited, too. I wasn’t trying to stage it. I just reacted to it.”
The players felt it. Whether it was pregame introductions or in-game reactions, the players fed off the voice.
Bryce Tesdahl is now the head boys basketball coach at Minnetonka and before that at East Ridge. He said it’s hard to create the type of environment C-I enjoyed.
“Having him call my name for four years was something special,” Tesdahl said. “For a small town, he really helped create an environment of high energy levels. Whether it was the starting lineups or somebody hit a big shot, you could just feel the energy in his voice.
“We didn’t lose too many games in general, but when you were playing at home, you knew you had Joe behind you. There were a few games where there weren’t too many seats left open. Any time you could get Garry Grewe (former Pequot Lakes head coach) or Lynn Peterson (former Staples-Motley head coach) calling a timeout and Joe screaming on top of them it helped. You don’t get a lot of environments like that. He’s just a special man that provided a lot of special moments through his voice.”
Noah Gindorff experienced big-game atmospheres in both high school and as a football player at North Dakota State University. The C-I graduate said nothing compares to having Simons call his name before games.
“That was pretty cool, especially my junior and senior years being called the man in the middle,” Gindorff said. “He just has such an iconic voice that it was really cool to hear your own name called out like that.
“It felt like at home games we had that extra dimension of excitement. When we had big games he was able to generate more excitement in the crowd. He just made it really fun to play at home.”
Gindorff was a part of one of Simons’ most memorable moments while working the mic.
“There are so many moments and I know as soon as I hang up the phone I’m going to think of three of four more, but there were a ton of memories,” Simons said. “We had so many fabulous athletes go through Crosby.
“One that really gets me was when Esko came to town. They had a good record and a good team and they came over here during Noah Gindorff’s senior year. I think they were undefeated. It was just one whale of a ballgame. The fans were going nuts — the whole place. Late in the game, down comes Evan Edmundson who lets off a 3-pointer. Swish. Game over. The buzzer went off just like that and they stormed the floor.”
Ranger head boys basketball coach Dave Galovich has only worked with Simons. For 35 years, Galovich would bring his scorebook to the scorers’ table before every game. Barb Hoge would fill it out as the official scorer and Simons sat next to Hoge. The coach said it will be weird not to see Simons’ beaming smile on game day.
“We’re going to miss him,” Galovich said. “He’s been a fixture at Rangers athletics since before my time. I tell you what, Joe just loved Ranger athletics. His heart was into it and that came through his booming voice of his. It got the Ranger fans excited and there is no doubt he had an influence on any athletic team from C-I. Just that added adrenaline you get from the crowd and Joe was great at getting the crowd going at the proper times.”
Galovich was quick to point out that few if any other voices have their name on a scorers’ table. Joe Simons will forever have his in the Woock Gym.
Hoge is grateful for that because she knows how much Simons’ cares about being a Ranger.
“I remember because you can’t say anything when you’re sitting at the scorers’ table, but if a big play happened, he would just be pumping his arm next to me and smiling,” said Hoge. “He couldn’t always voice it, but that’s one thing I will always remember because I knew when to look over at him.
“He had a passion for being a Ranger.”
Hoge said Simons was always a teacher first. He acknowledged the band and band directors. And had no problem acknowledging the talents of the visiting teams. She said sportsmanship was an important part of what he did, but she and most C-I fans loved his closing remarks after a Ranger victory — “It’s a great night to be a Ranger.”
“John Davies used to say that all the time,” Simons said. “Every time we would win, he would wink and say ‘It’s a nice night to be a Ranger.’”
Before Hoge became the official scorer at boys basketball games she was in charge of C-I cheerleaders. That’s when the Hoge-Simons tandem began.
“When I first started the band would always be there,” Simons said. “Then the band stopped being there all the time and so we wondered what we would do about music. Barb was in charge of the cheerleaders at the time. So we got a little tape recorder and so we would play this little tape recorder and I would take the microphone and put it right over the top of it. Some of the stuff was from ESPN. We had three or four of those tapes.”
Hoge said Simons knew exactly what song to play to fit the moment. Music might have been Simons’ undoing, however, more specifically the music choices of today’s players.
“I think one of the things that really bothered me was all that damn hip-hop music or whatever it is,” Simons said. “Barb and I would look at each other and wonder how can they get excited over that crap. Old guys would come down and yell at me for playing it. I could only say, ‘That’s what the kids want.’”
And it was the kids’ wants and needs that came first for Simons. He was a huge supporter of dance. His oldest daughter was a dance team member back in the late ‘80s and Simons did whatever was asked of him when it came to the dance program.
“I went to school with Trish, his daughter, and we would make up dances in his basement and he’s just always been a huge supporter of dance,” said former head dance coach Amy Lundgren. “He’s been at all of our shows and competitions. In all of my years, he’s never said no. That’s just been awesome. He’s the voice of the Rangers so it’s just not going to be the same.
“Whether it’s a seniors’ last game, he can make you feel emotional, but in the next sentence can make everyone laugh. He had an uncanny ability to do that.”
Lundgren still gets goosebumps thinking about how Simons would announce the Crosby-Ironton Rangerettes. The emphasis and hold on the ‘n’ she said was the best.
“It was fun,” Simons said. “Those kids would really react anytime you would say something. They let you know and everyone would come by and say thanks. Amy was on the team with my daughter and they would go down to state. Then all of a sudden it kind of slid away as it does. Then Aitkin picked up and we couldn’t beat those guys to save our souls. Last year, and this might have something to do with me finally quitting, but last year we finally beat them. Amy came by and said, ‘Now I can die.’
“I had tears in my eyes. That’s unbelievable. I liked doing it.”
And that is Simons’ advice for whoever his successor might be.
“Have as much fun as I did,” he said. “It’s a fun job. I really loved it. I looked forward to being there for every game. I worked with some great people.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.