After 41 seasons, Neil Mast says its time for someone else to step up

by: JOHN LARIVIERE - Longtime Putnam announcer Neil MastLongtime Rex Putnam High School sports announcer Neil Mast will retire at the end of the 2013 track and field season.

Beginning next school year, Mast will no longer do the announcing at Putnam boys basketball games or at track meets. He’s been the volunteer announcer at Putnam football and basketball games for most of the last 41 high school seasons. He stopped doing football in 2008. He’s announced at track meets every year since 1995, and a few years before that.

“Putnam is hosting the Northwest Oregon Conference district track meet in May, and that will be the last time I do any announcing,” said the 78-year-old youth sports enthusiast. “I have some health issues and it’s time for some other people to step up.”

“Neil’s been the voice of the Kingsmen for longer than anyone can remember,” said Putnam athletic director Daniel Barendse. “We are so grateful for his long-term commitment, and the spirit of sportsmanship he brought to every game.”

“I tried to give all of the kids credit where credit was due,” said Mast. “It didn’t matter if they were from Rex Putnam or from the opposing team. I tried to be fair. My main philosophy was the kids come first. I wanted to encourage them, not demean them.”

Mast fell into announcing quite by accident. He was on top of Putnam’s grandstands as a volunteer at a football game, making sure that there wasn’t any trouble brewing behind the grandstands.

“Guys would go back there and have fights,” Mast recalls. “One night [late in the 1973 season] they pulled me into the press box. They said they needed a spotter and asked if I’d help out.”

Later that year, announcer Bill Boyer was late arriving to a game because of a late arrival of an airline flight.

“[Athletic Director] Bill Foelker said, ‘You’re it!’” Mast recalls.

Foelker liked the job Mast did at football games, and he recruited Mast to also announce at basketball games. For a couple of years, when boys and girls games were played on different nights, he announced both boys and girls games. And through the last 41 seasons, Mast has been the voice of Putnam boys basketball.

Mast says few people are aware of the work behind announcing a game.

In football, it meant visits with the home and visiting coaches to get lineups and to discuss the pronunciation of players’ names, getting jersey number changes, finding out who the kickers and punters were, getting officials’ names, and collecting and going over hand-scrawled last-minute announcements.

So why did Mast stick with it for so long?

“One thing, it’s a challenge. Another thing, it’s fun to do. It’s better than just sitting there watching….

“I think the kids are the reason I kept doing it. I’ve made friends with all of the kids….”

Over the years, Mast has also announced Putnam gymnastics, dance team, wrestling, baseball and softball competitions. He announced American Legion and Babe Ruth baseball games in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Mast received a high honor a few years ago when the Oregon School Activities Association and National Federation of High School Coaches honored him with their “Award of Excellence.”

The award reads: “For exemplary display of sportsmanship, ethics and integrity.”

But Mast insists his biggest reward has been watching young people grow and mature.

“It’s all about the kids,” he said. “When you honor the kids, and keep encouraging them, that’s what it’s all about. You get to watch how they turn out and hope that you’ve made a positive difference in some way. That’s the reward.”

Mast says he plans to continue enjoying Putnam athletics as a spectator. He’s been a fixture on the sidelines at football games since he stopped announcing in that sport.

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