By Gary R. Rasberry
Whether you liked him or liked to dislike him, I doubt anyone will be unable to say that they won't miss "Big Ralph."
Ralph Guarnieri, the voice of area football and basketball for as many years as I've been listening to radio, passed away on Tuesday morning, silencing a voice that has given many a sports fan something to listen to on game nights and something to talk about the morning after.
Growing up in Mercer County, I always remember spinning the dial when I had the FM on between WCSM and WKKI to listen to games that I was interested in, especially on Friday nights.
With no football at Mendon, I would listen to games every once in a while. With WKKI being the voice of Roughrider football, I had a chance to listen to the St. Marys games while flipping to the MAC games on WCSM.
When I finally got into sports writing back in 1993, I had a chance to cover games that Ralph and his broadcast partners -- be it Don Martin or Joe Hurlburt -- would be doing. Ralph was polite and would say hello when I greeted him, but we never had long conversations. This past fall I got a chance to keep up with Ralph a little more as I took the St. Marys football beat for the latter half of the season and the postseason. During the playoff run, I more often than not sat right next to Ralph when he called the game. The most anticpated moment was seeing at what time Ralph would utter those magic words "Put 'em on the bus," which meant the game was over. During the playoff run, Ralph and I chatted a little more, usually about how poor the facilities were at one school or another or stories from previous games.
Some didn't like the way Ralph called a game, or the way he gave his opinion about bad calls or bad plays.
Being someone who actually liked Howard Cosell and his "tell it like it is' style, I thought what Ralph did bring color to the game.
Ralph was prepared when he went to games. I am often kidded about being there before the gates opened, but a lot of times as I walked into a gym or a stadium getting ready for a game, Ralph was usually there setting up his gear and taking a tour of the facility to get ready for games.
Let's not forget some of the things he did to better the coverage of games on the radio. Twenty-plus years ago, covering all the state boys basketball games in Columbus was barely heard of when Ralph would go up and cover all 12 games. The same was said when he first went up to cover all the state football finals in Stark County. It wasn't easy trying to make the trip from Canton and Massillon several times a day to get on the air on time. But he made it.
There are the pregame shows he had on the air before games, talking to coaches and getting background on the teams that made my prep work seem limited. Ralph knew his stuff before the game. People only heard him and didn't see the material he had in front of him to get the info. The lineup cards with the heights and weights of the players marked out in position. The stats, the brackets for other games. He was ready with the information.
The last game I remember covering that featured Ralph on the air was the St. Marys-New Bremen girls basketball game. With not much of a crowd at the Cardinal Gym that day, you could hear Ralph call the game even though I was on the opposite side of the media section.
One of my favorite memories came this season in the St. Marys-Indian Hill football game at Northmont. Ralph, Joe, the St. Marys school cable crew of Bill Cheslock and Denny Vogel as well as writers from St. Marys and Lima, were all together in the section reserved for St. Marys. Late in the game, Roughrider Nick Yahl put a hit on an Indian Hill player that was so hard we could hear it in the press box (with the window closed due to the cold). The collective 'Whoa!" from everyone there was audible on the radio.
Tuesday night, it was kind of appropiate that St. Marys and St. Henry, two schools that Ralph called a lot of big games for in his career, played in boys basketball.
Announcer Josh Link read a wonderful statement concerning Ralph and asked for a moment of silence. The place went silent until the horn sounded in tribute to Ralph as a bell would ring 10 times for the fallen boxer.
The horn may have sounded for the final time for "Big" Ralph Guarnieri, but the voice will linger on in our memory.