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Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016

Bowling doing what he was born to do

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Joe Bowling with his collection of cards he makes.
CHARLESTON - Joe Bowling is sure he is doing what he was born to do.

Sitting behind the radio microphone at the Charleston High School football game Friday night, he detailed the action to listeners. He talked about Blue Jay traditions, listed player statistics and provided the details so those at home felt as much a part of the game as those in the stands.

Sports have always been a part of Bowling's life. Before he took his first steps, he attended his first baseball game when his father took him to Stan Musial's final game as a St. Louis Cardinal.

By the time he was 5, he would mimic the announcers as his grandfather listened to games on the radio. Bowling listened and learned then listened some more to broadcasters he heard as served as a usher for the Cardinals.

"I tried to hone my skills," said Bowling. "Did I dream of being the next Jack Buck? Sure I did. I've had this stuck in me since 9 months old."

Although he has never taken a broadcasting class, Bowling worked his way into announcing. His first job was announcing the Fredericktown football games. It was then the importance of his words began to sink in.

After his first few broadcasts, a teller at the local bank commented her father enjoyed listening to him. Bowling offered to send out a hello over the radio and soon began a weekly "Hi to Biffle Jones."

After several games with the same message, his father explained Jones didn't attend the games because he couldn't see. "I thought wow, I'm announcing the game to a man who is blind," recalled Bowling. "I realized I had to take my announcing to another level. A good announcer has to be someone not just able to tell what is going on, but what is going on around the players and before the plays. You can't assume anything."

Admitting "sports announcing doesn't pay a lot of bills," Bowling often would combine the job with others. He worked at a newspaper and would cover games, even taking pictures, as he announced.

Eventually, Bowling decided to give up announcing to focus on a new job in Fruitland doing computer work. Fortunately for Southeast Missouri fans, his reputation preceded him.

"It was three days before the season started and it would be the first season I hadn't done announcing," recalled Bowling. When he got a phone call asking him if he would consider announcing games for New Madrid County Central and Charleston high schools, two football powerhouses, he decided it must be one of his friends pulling a joke on him.

"I decided to call their bluff and said meet me for lunch. Well, sure enough it turned out they could really use me," he said. "I've never looked back."

Today, in addition to providing the Charleston football play-by-play, Bowling is the announcer for Bell City volleyball and basketball and Oran basketball. He maintains a schedule that few people envy, but Bowling insists he wouldn't have it any other way.

Prior to a game, he reviews reference material for one to two hours. A computer program he developed provides game statistics during the games.

"I've racked up enough years that I can reference things that happen to events 10 to 12 years ago. I keep the statistics on my computer as I announce. That gives me plenty to talk about. Thank God I've never run out," said Bowling, pausing then adding with a smile, "I'm sure there are people who wish I would."

His time at the ballfield and at courtside has enabled Bowling to combine another of his passions - photography. About three years ago, he explained he was going over his own baseball card collection and wondered if he could do something similar for high school players.

Working with a printing company the first year, Bowling tried to create the cards for 10 teams from schools as far north as Bonne Terre throughout Southeast Missouri and west to Poplar Bluff. He came home one day and there were 800,000 cards on his door step, unsorted and needing to be delivered to the individual schools.

"That was bit more than I could chew. Here I was toying with the idea and it darn near sunk me," said Bowling. He has refined his operation since then, now printing his own cards along with taking the photographs.

Each card features a player. The back of the card contains a second color photo and a comment from the coach. The cards and a team picture are packaged together and Bowling offers the packets to a booster club or school organization to sell; at the end of the season they split the profits.

Also Bowling produces uncut cards, which he sells to individuals.

While the cards create a visual memento, Bowling also sees it as a positive thing for players. Coaches have used the cards to hand out during summer camps to youngsters advising them with practice they might have their own card some day.

At a Sikeston game, he watched boys approach the high school players asking them to autograph their cards. "That must have given those boys a pretty good boost to be asked for their autographs. That puts them pretty high on the pedestal," said Bowling.

It was also high praise for the man behind the cards.