Thursday December 15, 2011 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
Lake View’s Rich Kozak will receive the Stan Barron Award for Excellence in Broadcasting this weekend.
Just when Rich Kozak thought he had reached the pinnacle of his broadcasting run as he provided the ESPN radio call for the Western New York Flash’s Women’s Professional Soccer championship game victory in August, the Lake View resident now has some competition for a best moment in what is his passion and hobby.
Two decades into the City of Buffalo Schools football broadcasts that he helped begin — and maintain by whatever means necessary, Kozak will be given an award named for the Buffalo radio and television personality he once revered. The 2011 Stan Barron Award for Excellence in Local Broadcasting will go to Kozak on Saturday, Dec. 17 at the 25th annual WNY High School Football Awards Banquet at Classics Banquet Center in Niagara Falls. The event is hosted by the area’s high school football guru Dick Gallagher.
“I was shocked and surprised to hear,” said Kozak, who shared his passion for the work of the late Stan Barron with his grandfather, who he hopes is smiling down on him. “I’ve known of the award and some of the people who have won it. I still remember listening to Stan and being in awe of him. For myself and the loyal guys who have worked with me all of these years, it feels nice to be recognized.”
For someone who works in another profession, Kozak is proud of the resume he’s built over the past 15 years as a local radio announcer and reporter and from time to time, a cable television contributor. Though broadcasting may not be his regular day job, he’s sat in the same chair as longtime Sabres’ announcer Rick Jeanneret and taken a seat in the Bills press box for a variety of broadcasts, in addition to getting the thrill of a lifetime when his voice could be heard on ESPN radio in August.
“I’ve had the opportunity to announce some big games in some very special places. Sometimes, you don’t realize how big it is while you’re doing it,” said Kozak, who graduated from Buffalo State College with a degree in communications and the intention to use it full-time but found more practicality in becoming a teacher. He’s an English language Arts teacher at Erie I BOCES, which services the Southtowns at Frontier.
While his work on local radio and the internet each week during the high school football season may be his pride and joy, the last-minute call to put on the head phones and announce the Women’s Professional Soccer championship game at Sahlen’s Sports Park in Rochester still has him talking.
It was Aug. 27 as Kozak drove on the Interstate 90 to the game with his family when he got a call from the Flash’s general manager AJ Cecere, who was a little frantic about the scheduled radio announcer for the game having taken ill.
Through a friendship with Cecere and his children having trained with the Flash’s head coach Aaron Lines, Kozak’s play-by-play experience was something the organization knew about. Cecere asked not only if Kozak would be coming to the game, but also whether he’d announce it. Kozak was excited by the opportunity and also felt like helping a friend in need at the time was, “a very Buffalo thing to do.”
As Kozak describes it, “Long story short: I fight to park, run into the stadium and to will call to get my family their tickets, I run up to the press box — get lost on the way, then sit down at 3:56 p.m. and put on my headphones for the 4 p.m. kickoff.”
The game, which was broadcast on 950 AM, wound up going into double overtime before the Flash won in a shootout. Kozak said he stumbled a bit at first, but then simply started talking soccer and got more comfortable. Plus, there was little time for him to actually ever feel nervous. He was familiar with many of the Flash players, because a bunch of them live in Hamburg during the season and through the interest of his daughter, Maia, who’s now a freshman at Frontier High School.
“If it was an audition, I’m not sure I would have been hired,” he said with a laugh. “It was a dream come true; it’s like getting picked out of the audience to take the lead in a movie or play. I wish more of my friends and family could have listened but there wasn’t enough time to tell everyone.”
Kozak does enjoy a good audience listening as he does play-by-play on 1440 AM WJJL and the National High School Broadcast Network each week during the high school football season as he works along with his “Intense Milk” crew of analyst Art Serotte, sideline reporter Dr. John Pluta, and “Mr. High School Sports” Roger Weiss of Boston.
He found out just how good this fall when an article in The Buffalo News about the broadcasts possibly coming to an end due to the loss in some sponsorship dollars incited a large-scale response.
The morning the article appeared, he received phone calls from concerned fans, while a sponsor, Upstate Farms, asked what they can do to help. The two sides are slated to meet next month to see if something can be worked out.
Also a consideration in this process will be Kozak’s family, which also includes his wife, Joanne, 10-year-old son Jonah and six-year-old daughter Ava, all of whom he noted have already been very understanding of the time taken up by his broadcasting pursuits.
Doing much of the grunt work himself without receiving a pay check over the years has been worth the enjoyment of the broadcast on game day, getting to work with the entire broadcast team, which he cherishes, and the opportunity to speak with the coaches and athletes, whom he believes deserve the attention. He truly does it for the love of the game and an ongoing fire for broadcasting that’s never been extinguished. His efforts have not gone unnoticed.
“You don’t realize how much you touch people until something like this happens,” Kozak said. “If we can do this broadcast for many more years and do it the right way, I’d love to keep it going. My family has been so supportive and seeing this response has also been a big eye opener for them to see how many people are actually interested. If it comes back, it would have to be better, use more resources and not take a tole on my family.”
Even if he never broadcasts another day, Kozak will have plenty to remember and soon will be himself mentioned in the same breath as some of the other great local broadcasters who have also won the Stan Barron Award.
“You can say I may rob some of the things that broadcasters like Stan Barron have done, but to me, it’s like paying homage to those guys,” Kozak said. “I revered how they handled those broadcasts and how they gave high school athletes as much credence as the professionals. The way they told stories with their play-by-play was something else. For me, this award means quite a bit.”