AKRON – Growing up developing my own sports sensibilities, I learned very quickly who I liked and didn’t like on my sports broadcasts. And two weeks later in my adolescence, it would change. And then change again after someone else came up with a catchy punchline or delivery.
One thing that hasn’t changed in my 17 years of working in sports media in northern Indiana is my opinion of Rita Price. That of which is likely the same as most who come in contact, listen to, play in front of and work with the Hall of Famer.
Rita really is the best.
There’s no other way to put it. Just ask someone, that’s generally the first thing out of people’s mouths. Rita is the best. There are some concrete aspects that can prove that. Tim Keaffaber will tell you that, her longtime broadcast partner for 107.3 as they steer the fan bus around the state covering Tippecanoe Valley football and basketball. Ask any of the hundreds of coaches that have come in contact with her, or really anyone that’s part of the nightly showcases.
Tuesday afternoon Roger Grossman brought Rita in to speak with the Warsaw boys basketball team, a show of both the present and the past in what it means to teach the new generation about what came before them. Wednesday, those same Tigers played on the court to which adorns her name, Rita Price Simpson Court at Tippecanoe Valley.
The two communities came together to honor Rita, just as she has served the community her entire life. For the better of five decades, her voice has been synonymous with not only the football and basketball broadcasts on WRSW, but the lunchtime drives, all of the promos – Niff-tone of Mentone has always stood out to me for whatever reason – and just her general disposition in the community. She’s always there with the same attitude, the same encouragement, the same delivery.
What has struck me, aside that Rita has worked EVERY IHSAA girls basketball tournament since its inception in 1976, is that her approach doesn’t change. And in a world where management groups are trying to constantly revamp and restyle its product to fit a fickle audience, Rita has somehow just been that voice of sports consistency. Sure, she has evolved like everyone else, and as she’s gotten older, Tim has taken on more of the play-by-play calls while Rita offers observation. But Tim often defers to the Hall of Famer in key moments.
Her call of Luke Zeller’s buzzer beater to send Washington over Plymouth in the 2005 IHSAA boys basketball championship is part of IHSAA’s tournament lore. Her encouragement of Tippecanoe Valley athletes after sectional championships is the highlight of some Viking’s careers. Case in point, nearly every one of the 2015 Lady Vikings lined up after its sectional basketball championship over NorthWood to speak to the legend, all looking more nervous to speak on the radio than the final moments of taking down the mighty Panthers.
Rita was probably the proudest person in the Tiger Den a couple weeks later watching those same young women earn its first-ever state championship berth.
Wednesday night was a new proud for Rita Price. As the community stood and applauded as one facing the court that bears her name, Rita carried that ‘aw shucks’ demeanor that’s gotten her through a career of memorable moments. While she will probably never say it, Wednesday was a big one. And probably the most deserved. Take a bow, Rita, you really are the best!