NEW BERLIN - Steve Spencer, the voice of New Berlin West football and basketball for more than a decade, died unexpectedly Thursday night, Feb. 2, at the age of 55.
Spencer was more than a voice on a microphone announcing the games. He encouraged players and coaches, alike. He liked to kid the players, calling them by their nicknames or by the names he dreamed up — like calling a girl's basketball player "chubby," when she was anything but.
Many's the time, he would victoriously announce, "Chubby for threeeee" elongating the three in his signature high-pitched style whenever "his kids" made baskets on the long throws.
"His commitment to the kids and his passion for West are apparent on the mic," said Jordan Napoli, director of athletics and activities at West, on Friday.
Heart and soul
"He poured his heart and soul into the school," Napoli said, from donating to programs to being a dedicated booster.
Third-year varsity basketball coach Brandon Mattox remembers Spencer for his kindness.
"I took over for Hall of Famer Jeff Lewiston," who coached at West for some 20 years and had been inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball coaches Hall of Fame. Mattox acknowledged, it was tough to step into those shoes.
"He always had positive things to say to me — like keep working, it'll turn out fine," Mattox said. Many was the time that Spencer put his hand over the microphone at the announcing table to remark to the new coach what a good game a player was having.
"He knew how to pick me up, he knew the struggles of coaching," Mattox said. He knew how to encourage the players, too. He knew all their names and usually their families, too. After games, he mingled with the team on the floor talking to this one or that one, or telling them jokes.
"He is a tremendous loss," he said.
As the players grew up, it was Spencer's voice they heard at the microphone announcing the games. He started announcing when his son was in athletics and stayed on for love of the school and the sports program, Napoli said.
"He was very passionate about Viking athletics," he said.
That passion was recognized only last year by the Wisconsin Athletic Directors Association that bestowed on him its Athletic Service Award, presented to those who give selflessly to local athletic programs.
In 2001, Spencer was asked by former head football coach Jeff Grabo if he would be interested in announcing varsity games. At that time, Spencer had been behind the mic for Viking youth sports. He decided to help the football program out. The following winter in 2002, Spencer added girls basketball to his repertoire. The following school year, he was regularly announcing for a variety of fall, winter and spring athletic events. In addition to Spencer volunteering as a game announcer, the Spencer family gives a yearly $500 choral scholarship.
Last Friday was Parents Night at the New Berlin West basketball game. A moment of silence was held to honor the voice of Viking basketball and football.
Without Spencer at the games, Mattox said, "It has a whole different feel."
The outpouring of support from coaches, players, fans and friends since his dad died of a heart attack has meant a lot to the family, said Spencer's son Matt.
They brought joy to his father, too, for many years, he said.
"He loved seeing all the high school kids getting excited," at the games, especially at basketball games, Matt said.
And his ever-ebullient father loved the action, be it on the court or on the field. When the lead changed or if West got on a run, "he would be screaming into the microphone," Matt said.
Like his dad, Matt and his sister Mollie were involved in sports, the older Spencer having played football, basketball and baseball as youngster.
His lifelong love of sports even blossomed into a sports talk radio show that aired for about half a dozen years on Saturdays when his children were growing up in New Berlin.
Something else that people might not know about the outgoing Spencer is that he loved to sing. Years ago, he sang in the church choir, he sang lullabies to his children and he even sang at his son's wedding. "He was great," the younger Spencer said.
In later years, he and wife Maggie were regulars at the karaoke mic. One of the favorites of the couple, who walked down the street holding hands, was, "I Got You, Babe."
Son Matt, who said, "He was my best friend," was touched at what his dad posted on Facebook about what turned out to be his last weekend on Earth. The quite happy weekend was highlighted by going to dinner and a movie with Maggie. Spencer termed it "a perfect weekend."
Spencer is survived by his wife, Maggie; son Matt (Beth) and daughter Mollie (Megan), and other relatives and friends. Funeral services will be Saturday, Feb. 11, at St. John's Lutheran Church, 20275 Davidson Road, Brookfield, with visitation from noon to 2 p.m. and the funeral to follow.