This is the first of a two-part series with MPBN’s Lisa Richards
Once again this past February school vacation week, fans from across Eastern Maine made the annual trek to Bangor to follow their favorite high school basketball teams. It’s an annual rite of passage for many of us throughout this region of the Pine Tree State. Countless others watched the games on television and some viewed the action from far flung locales across the country and around the world via the internet.
This year marked the 41st year the girls tournament has been under the auspices of the Maine Principals’ Association. No longer would the girls be pushed to the side, living out their athletic accomplishments in the shadows of their male counterparts. Much has changed over the years, including the overall speed and athleticism of the girls game. For those fans who view the games on television, a constant over the years has been the voice of MPBN’s Lisa Richards.
Richards, a longtime physical education teacher and coach at Bangor’s William S. Cohen School (formerly Garland Street Middle School), recently completed her thirtieth tournament. She has served as a color commentator for the girls semifinals, finals, as well as state championship contests.
For those of you who think an announcer just shows up, talks into a mic, and leaves, think again. Some might but the good ones don’t. There is much unseen preparation that goes into getting ready for a telecast. Lisa Richards is one who does the grunt work and puts the time in. Preparation for her four day week begins at the start of the season back in early December. In getting ready for each year’s tournament she scours newspapers for game stories. Throughout the season she attends numerous games, talks to and emails coaches, and checks stats and schedules.
Richards quipped that prior to and during tournament week “my kitchen table is tourney central”. She has stats, schedules, and clippings all over the place. During the quarterfinal round she can be spotted court side scouting all of the teams she will be covering later on during the week.
In addition to her preparedness, Richards’ greatest attribute as a broadcaster is an understanding of who her primary audience is. The average viewer is generally not the basketball junkie who tunes into a weeknight ESPN college basketball contest. Typically it will be the uncle or grandparent, who may or may not be basketball fans, who tune in to watch their relatives play. Lisa understands this and tries to convey knowledge but at the same time wants to keep the games simple. She remembers these are high school kids, not professional athletes. One of the great joys she has in broadcasting from court side is being able to see the little things. She gets to see the expressions on kids faces. She likes to pass those feelings on to the viewers at home.
Speaking of preparation, Richards got a crash course of sorts when she and her broadcast partner at the time, Keith McKeen, had to fill a lot of dead time in her first year. The year was 1986 and the Bangor Auditorium roof had sprung a leak just prior to that evening’s Eastern Maine Class B girls championship game between Houlton and Mt. View. Keep in mind, MPBN is a public television station, no commercials. The game scheduled for 7 P.M. didn’t get underway until after 8:30.
In trying to improve her craft, Lisa listens to other broadcasters, both on a local and national level. Even thirty years later she still admits to getting a bit nervous before each broadcast but falls back on her preparation.
In covering tournament games over the past thirty years, Richards gets a kick out of the passionate fan bases, often seated behind her. She said sometimes people get wound up even though they don’t know all the rules.
The 1980 graduate of MDI High School keeps coming back each year primarily because of the family feel of the tournament. She often runs into the same people, people she only sees once a year at tournament time. She knew the seats familiar folks sat in, particularly at the old Bangor Auditorium before moving to the Cross Insurance Center.
Ed Fowler, who has produced the tournament games for MPBN since the beginning, had nothing but high praise for Richards’ work. According to Fowler, her knowledge of the game is outstanding but not overbearing and she is not a prima donna. Over the years she has earned the respect of others with what she does on air and is very easy to work with. According to Fowler, she is a great fit for the station because they are not commercially driven, but rather are looked upon as an educational outlet.
From her preparation, to the fact she “gets in” when on air, there are few out there who do it better than Lisa Richards.
Part two next week looks at the growth of girls basketball from Lisa’s perspective.