BRADENTON — For 47 years, Jim Forssell was the “Voice of the Hurricanes,” a part of the pageantry during Manatee High School football on fall Friday nights at Hawkins Stadium.
His bass baritone was a familiar sound over the PA system, identifying players, giving down-and-distance and saluting good plays by players on both teams.
“I looked forward to each game,” said Forssell, 77. “I figured I’d be doing it until I didn’t do it anymore.”
That time, apparently, has come.
At a meeting earlier this summer, Principal Bob Gagnon and Athletic Director and Football Coach Joe Kinnan told Forssell they wanted to make a change and do it as part of a halftime ceremony during the Aug. 27 Kickoff Classic with visiting Tampa Plant.
The rematch of the 2009 Class 5A state championship game, won by Plant, will be televised by ESPN.
“It was time for a change, but we wanted to celebrate his years with us, make it a huge event — a passing of the mic on national television,” Gagnon said Tuesday. “But it’s not what he wanted to do.”
Forssell said he’d heard rumors of an impending change and sought a meeting with Gagnon and Kinnan.
When he heard their plan, he declined to go along.
“I told them if they’re going to replace me, let it start today,” Forssell said. “I thought it was awkward for me to start announcing the game and then hand the mic to someone else. It didn’t square with me.”
Nick Kovalakides, a former University of Maryland PA announcer, will take over.
“Jim meant a tremendous amount to this community and we thank him for his years of service, all the memories,” the principal said. “It was our plan to honor him, but it didn’t work out that way.
“I have nothing but admiration and respect for Jim.”
Forssell started announcing football games in 1963 — Kinnan’s senior year.
“It was a tough decision and we’re happy he was with us for so many years, but it’s like anything else — you can’t do it forever,” Kinnan said.
Forssell said he’s already over the turn of events.
“Pride is a foolish thing. It’s more bewilderment than anything else,” he said. “I’ve made my peace with it.”
It was then football coach Bob Stewart who asked Forssell to announce.
“I wanted somebody with a good voice and I thought I couldn’t go wrong with Jim,” he told The Herald in August 2000 — the start of Forssell’s 37th season.
After 34 years as the MHS choral director (32 as music department chairman), Forssell retired in 1995, but continued announcing.
“It gave you a good feeling, contributing in some small way to the football program,” he said. “It was a great time for me, seeing all those great players over the years.
“It won’t tarnish those memories. It’s still my school. I’ll just have to buy a ticket to games like everybody else.”
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.