Cumberland Times-News

June 17, 2008

A timeout with T.O. was always on the priority list

Mike Mathews

Monday mornings have never been high on my list of favorites.

Some people look forward to the start of a new week. I do, too. I'd just prefer to start it a little later in the day. Weekends have a way of doing that.

But yesterday it was impossible to look forward. It was a time to look back.

I found myself taking extended Time Outs, thinking of Tom O'Rourke who, over a sportscasting career of three decades, became a household name in the Cumberland area.

News of his death made this particular Monday morning hurt, and much more than that of a punch in the gut. A punch to the belly can wear off quickly. This one won't. It's a dull ache. The only thing that can help mask it is remembering the good times, what Tom did and said, and how he meant so much to so many people. That forces us to smile, and reminds us of how we were fortunate to have known him.

You may have never personally met Tom. But you knew him. You knew him through his bold, welcoming, warm voice not only through his many years of work at WCBC radio but also as a public address announcer for Allegany College and Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament basketball games, and as a host or toastmaster of many events.

He was identifiable first by his voice. His love and knowledge of sports and interest in everyone involved in those sports was unbeatable.

Athletes and teams set many goals. As teenagers, one that a number of us hoped to realize one day was to have our names appear in a J. Suter Kegg sports article or column in the newspaper. Another was to have our names mentioned by Tom O'Rourke on the radio.

A few years later, I began covering games and events for the newspaper and got to know Tom personally. He covered many events, from Detmold to Dundalk, from College Park to Cresson, and from Southern to Severn.

He called games from inside press boxes, outside press boxes and even on top of press boxes. He reported what he saw. And what he didn't see, well, he reported that too. Like the first great Fog Bowl a number of years ago one Saturday afternoon at Bishop Walsh.

When the fog first rolled in over Haystack, the opposing fans across the field disappeared from our view. Then the opposing team vanished, and so did the yardsticks and chain gang. A short while later, no goal posts. We strained to simply see the Bishop Walsh players standing along the sideline below us.

It wasn't quite that bad on the field for the players. When one team attempted either an extra point or a field goal, Tom's description, as I remember, was right on the mark: "... And the kick ... well, folks, ... it sounded good."

And it was. Tom was right again.

There was something special about Tom's work. I think it was when he covered a game he wasn't simply speaking into a microphone. He was talking directly to you. It's a talent I don't believe can be taught or acquired. You've either got it, or you don't. And Tom certainly had it.

There's no question Tom loved what he did, and there's no question Tom was a people person. Every single time our paths crossed he made it a point to say hello, strike up a conversation and share a comment or story that was followed by a trademark hearty laugh. I noticed it was like that with everyone he met.

He was supportive and complimentary. Even defended me, on air, a few months ago when I committed the dastardly act of inadvertently referring to a certain new high school by its former name.

So many people knew Tom. That's because he wore so many hats. Broadcaster, announcer and reporter, sure. But also Promoter. Storyteller. Wordsmith. Comedian. Teacher. Coach. Listener. Morale booster.

And most importantly, friend.

Monday mornings, unfortunately, come around every week. People like Tom O'Rourke, unfortunately, come around only so often. And when they leave us they become legendary.

Contact Mike Mathews at mmathews@times-news.com.