It’s hard to fill the shoes of someone as well-known and well-liked among the CSU community as the Rams’ former radio play-by-play announcer Rich Bircumshaw, who passed away from a stroke in April at age 54. But that is the task at hand for Jerry Schemmel.
In June, Schemmel was announced as the newest Voice of the Rams, replacing Bircumshaw after eight years on the job. Fans in Colorado will most likely recognize the South Dakota native’s voice from listening to the Denver Nuggets radio broadcasts, a job he has been doing for the last 17 years.
He will continue to call all Nuggets home games.
For the graduate from Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., a school where he patrolled the middle infield for the baseball team, it has been a long journey to the broadcasting summit.
“My first job was doing high school games for a small station in Topeka during my senior year of college. I did high school football and basketball,” Schemmel said in a phone interview from his house in Littleton. “It was a long haul — almost 10 years before I made it to the NBA. Every step of the way I learned something new I could use to get better. I started out doing high school games, then small college games then major college, the CBA then to the NBA.”
Still, despite his 25 years of broadcast experience, there is no preparation for filling the shoes of someone like Bircumshaw.
“It can be strange. I’ve never done anything like this before. I just tell people that I have big shoes to fill both as a broadcaster and a person. As far as a supporter, there isn’t a bigger supporter of CSU than Rich. I’m just going to try to be as prepared as I can possibly be and do the best job I know how and hopefully that’s good enough for the people who have followed Rich over the years.”
For fans of college athletics, there is generally more media coverage of confrontations a head coach has with a member of the press than focus on good relationships, and any fan of CSU basketball knows that both Bircumshaw and the Rams’ men’s head basketball coach Tim Miles had a great relationship, sharing jokes on the air, even after losses. For Miles, it has been tough losing a close friend, but he said Schemmel is as good a hire as any to take the reigns.
“Well, Rich was a dear friend, and he was a guy that I worked with on nearly a daily basis. It was a time when we were struggling to get this ship (the basketball program) going in the right direction, and he was an unconditional supporter and an unconditional ally, and you’re never going to replace that.” Miles said. “At the same time, Jerry Schemmel is a professional, he’s awesome at what he does, and we’re lucky to have him.”
“It’s a great hire for Colorado State. A guy as talented and experienced as Schemmel, his resume is so impressive and I think that it will really soften that blow with the loss of Rich Bircumshaw.”
To replace a man that many saw as a hero to the community, there is no better way to do it than with another philanthropist such as Schemmel. Schemmel, whose brother serves as the Athletic Director at San Diego State University, is very involved in the Denver community raising money for local causes, almost giving his own, personal twist to the “NBA Cares” campaign.
In both the summers of 2003 and 2004 he rode his bike from the West Coast to the East Coast, once raising money for a Denver Christian school to help them build an athletic field, the other for Children’s Hospital. He helped raise more than $250,000 during those rides.
While he loves giving back to his community, he can’t ignore a life-changing event that happened 20 years ago this month. While on a United Airlines flight from Denver to Chicago on July 19, 1989, Flight 232 had a mid-air engine explosion that forced the plane to crash-land in Sioux City, Iowa where 112 of the 296 passengers lost their lives. The death total would have been 113 had Schemmel not gone back into the wreckage to save an infant.
“It has completely reshaped me. I’m not the same guy I was 20 years ago,” Schemmel said. “A lot of priorities in my life are completely different now. To me, my Christian conviction is now my priority, then family after that, followed by my career. I think I have my priorities back in order now.”
Schemmel agreed that in an odd way the crash of Flight 232 has turned out to be a positive experience.
A loving husband, a caring father, a community hero and a strong survivor, Schemmel is excited for his first game as the Voice of the Rams on Sunday, Sept. 6, when the CSU football team opens their season against CU-Boulder at Folsom Field.
Sports Editor Matt L. Stephens can be reached at email@example.com.