For nearly 30 years, the closest thing to a royal lineage in the world of Wildcat and Lone Star Conference sports media relations involves a few branches of the Roberts family tree, most of whom have deep roots on the Hill.
For more than 25 years, ACU alumnus Garner Roberts was the sports information director (also known as SID) at his alma mater, and he still can be found volunteering in the press box at football games and at track and field meets in Abilene. He is a member of the CoSIDA (College Sports Information Directors of America) Hall of Fame, with a well-worn passport reflecting the years he traveled the globe with the Wildcats, and his work in press relations at the Olympics and myriad other international athletics competitions.
His cousin, Joey Roberts, worked as a student employee in the ACU SID office, and now is the SID for Tarleton State University, today’s opponent for the Wildcats.
To a sports fan, the life of a SID looks pretty glamorous from afar: travel, rubbing shoulders with coaches, athletes and media; knowing the inside scoop; and a ringside seat to exciting events. It can be a rewarding career for a journalist with a love for sports, a saintly spouse and an extraordinarily understanding family.
It also requires an enormous amount of elbow grease; long, late and early hours; driving to and home from games in the middle of the night; fast-but-not-always-fabulous-food and not-so-hot coffee; and deadlines that loom like turkey buzzards eyeing road kill, complicated by quirky wireless signals, weather delays, overtime games and pole vault competitions that drag into the next day. And that’s not counting record-keeping responsibilities to challenge any Rain Man’s savant skills.
It's not for the faint of heart nor for those who tend to juke hard work. There's no cheering in a professional SID's pressbox; they're too busy taking care of business for the working media, professional scouts, league/NCAA officials and fans. Summers are spent catching up with the previous school year and getting ready for the next, when an SID such as Tarleton’s or ACU’s must juggle media relations and promotional and statistical sorties for up to – in ACU's case – 16 sports teams at a time. And while the Wildcats are notable exceptions, most SIDs rarely get to experience promoting their programs in a playoff or championship environment. For every SID’s moment in the spotlight with a successful team, there can be dozens of .500 seasons (and worse), lopsided losses and time spent sweltering or freezing in the great outdoors.
ACU’s SID is Lance Fleming, who is not related to a Roberts as best as I can tell, but knows to keep one handy nearby. Garner’s uncle, Bill Roberts, is a longtime volunteer statistician in the football pressbox at Shotwell Stadium. The public address announcer for Wildcat home games is Jason West of Snyder, Texas, who is married to Bill’s daughter (and Garner's cousin), Jami (Roberts) West, and whose two handsome young boys often sit next to their dad in the press box at Shotwell. In this photo, you can see Jaden (left) and Jaxon (middle) “helping” Jason at a recent game. The two boys are wearing toy headsets and sharing toy binoculars – little chips off the old Roberts’ block. Their mom, Jami, is a longtime graphic designer for ACU who produces, among other things, athletics-related publications for her alma mater.
Following Wildcat sports is frequently all in the family, you might say.
There can be benefits. Lance leaves tomorrow morning with ACU president Dr. Royce Money, athletics director Jared Mosley, broadcaster Grant Boone and longtime freelance photographer Gerald Ewing to watch the Cincinnati Bengals host the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon on the north bank of the Ohio River.
And it’s not because of the pregame tailgate fare at Paul Brown Stadium, however tasty that might be. Its an opportunity to watch former ACU stars Danieal Manning and Johnny Knox of the Bears line up against the Bengals’ Bernard Scott in a rare meeting of former Wildcats who are making headlines and turning heads in the sports world this autumn.
The hectic travel itinerary aside, it’s a welcome trip for someone whose promotional savvy as SID helped document – and launch – the promising professional careers of Manning, Knox and Scott. Sitting in a stadium or press box without any chores to do will be a rare treat in October. It’s also a well-deserved opportunity for Lance, who is one of the hardest-working and successful SIDs in the business.
ACU has 55 NCAA national championships (only USC, Stanford and UCLA have won more) and a decades-long reputation for producing first-string SIDs, a noteworthy family tradition all its own.