Nick Young has been broadcasting basketball games on the radio for so many years, even he isn't sure of the exact year he started.
What is certain is this: Young has been a fixture on the airwaves as a play by play announcer spanning five decades, beginning in the 1970's and continuing with the current 2010-11 season.
At age 85, Young is still calling games on the radio, although his appearances on WMGH 105.5 FM in Tamaqua were cut back this season due to illness.
For anyone who listened to broadcasts of sporting events in the Tamaqua area through the years, Young is an institution whose name is synonymous with radio announcing and whose influence on generations of sports fans cannot be overlooked.
"On the radio, you have to paint the picture with words, and Nick did the painting," said Pat Morgans, one of the broadcast partners who worked with Young over the years. "He is still very good at doing it."
Young has been around Tamaqua basketball most of his life. During a 41 year teaching career at Tamaqua High, he coached the sport from 1950, starting as a junior varsity coach under the late Eli "Pinkey" Purnell, through a stint as head coach from 1968-71, during which the Blue Raiders were members of the East Penn League.
Young began working in radio not long after that.
"I got involved in it when Floyd Zimmerman bought the radio station (then known as WZTA)," he explained. "Pastor Funk (the late Rev. Clarence "Russ" Funk) was doing sports there at the time. He asked me if I'd be interested, and I said I'd give it a try."
The ownership of the station changed hands over the years, including the Curran family in Pottsville (who changed the call letters to WCRN) and the late Harold Fulmer (who renamed it WMGH Magic 105.5), but Young's work on football and basketball games remained a constant. Young also mentioned working for Mickey Angst at WLSH AM 1410 in Lansford.
While Young has worked with many broadcast partners, he mentioned Funk, Morgans, Jim DePew, Steve Ristila, Bernie Forgotch and Mark Marek as among those on the list.
This reporter also had the pleasure of working Tamaqua basketball games with Young for a time in the 1980's.
"It was Nick that got me into broadcasting," noted Morgans. "Actually, my first time on the radio with Nick was when he had a show on Saturday mornings where he interviewed coaches, and he interviewed me when I was baseball coach at Marian."
Part of the reason for Young's longevity is his knowledge of the games he announces.
"Nick is a great guy to work with, and I learned a lot from him about how to prepare for a game," said Morgans. "It is so easy and fun to work with him. He knows how to bring you right into the action."
To prepare for a game, Young will look up statistics on the teams that are playing and check the standings to figure out playoff possibilities, then incorporate that information into his on-air announcing. He focuses on the game itself.
"When you do a game, it's the only thing on your mind," related Young. "You are engrossed in a spectacle."
The highlight of his broadcast days? "It was when the Tamaqua girls won the State title in Chocolatetown," stated Young, whose daughter Kathi was a starter on that Lady Raider team in 1977-78. "Through radio, I've been fortunate to have associated myself in a way with a great number of players," he added.
Young has watched the game of basketball go through changes over the years.
"For one thing, the gyms are a lot bigger," he related, mentioning the many homecourt "bandboxes" that were on the local high school landscape.
Another change, in his opinion, is that the game is much more physical.
"Today, many games are the result of the officiating," he added. "I can't tell the difference between a charge and a block.
"I remember when basketball was a non-contact sport and it was more finesse-oriented. Now it's more like street or playground basketball and there's a foul on almost every possession. That's not a problem until you get down to the nitty gritty and the difference is two points.
"Another big thing that's changed in athletics is that years ago, there was only one championship team from a league that made the District playoffs. Now almost everyone is in the playoffs."
Young said that this might be his last year broadcasting games. "This was going to be my last year, but I'd miss it if it wasn't there," he stated.
"To me, I never looked at this as a job. It was a hobby for me. There was no pressure on me, and everyone I worked with has been very cooperative. I've been blessed to be able to do it this long at age 85."
COURAGEOUS TIGER ... It's been a tough season for every player on the Northwestern basketball team, which heads into its last game with a 1-20 record.
For one player, the struggles on the court are just a small part of what has been a difficult senior year.
Dylan Roth, a starting guard and four-year member of the Tiger basketball program, found out Sept. 2 that he had colon cancer.
All season long he's been enduring chemotherapy treatments once every three weeks. Because the treatments make his hands and feet sensitive, Roth is unable to play for a week after each treatment. So he's spent his senior season playing when he can.
While his team's won-loss record is disappointing, in the grand scheme of things Roth and his teammates realize that basketball isn't as important as it might have once seemed.
"It's rough," Roth said. "But at the same time what I'm going through off the court it kind of makes it less important how the season is going. I'd love to win. Everyone does. But it is what it is. I'm just doing the best I can to help the team as much as I can."
Last Thursday, on his team's senior night, Roth wasn't able to help his team come back against Northern Lehigh. But he did get on the court and create some final highlights to his career.
After early foul trouble limited him through three quarters, he got hot in the fourth and hit three three-point baskets and a two-pointer to lead the team with 11 points.
He put off a chemo treatment to play in the game.
"I actually was supposed to have chemotherapy [Thursday]," he said.
"But then when the game got moved back because of the snow, I had my parents move [the treatment] back a day so I could get out here one last time."
RIVALRY WEEK ... Huge rivalry games are on tap that involve area girls teams in the next two days.
Tonight, Northern Lehigh hosts Palmerton is a game that will decide the Colonial League North Division championship. Both teams enter the contest with just two league losses.
Both the Bombers and Bulldogs have already locked up berths in the Colonial League playoffs. Tonight's game will determine who enters as the division champ and who enters as a wildcard team.
While Palmerton and Northern Lehigh have been among the top teams in the Colonial League the last several years, Marian and Pottsville Nativity have been among the top teams in the Schuylkill League for what seems like forever.
Friday night, the Fillies and Golden Girls will renew a rivalry that has gone a long way in deciding league, district and state championships for nearly three decades.
The winner of tomorrow night's game in Pottsville will capture the Schuylkill League Division 3 title and earn a spot in the league playoffs.
THAT KIND OF SEASON ... The 2010-11 season hasn't been a kind one to the Weatherly boys basketball team.
The Wreckers entered the season in a rebuilding mode with an extremely young and inexperienced team.
The season has played out the way you would expect as the Wreckers have struggled to a 2-17 record so far.
If his team's struggles weren't tough enough for Weatherly coach Ron Cann, Mother Nature helped make the year a little worse.
Cann fell and broke his wrist during a recent snow storm and had to have surgery on it last week. Because of that, the Wreckers' game scheduled for last Thursday against Mahanoy Area had to be postponed and played last night.
The good news is that Cann is already on his way to recovering from the accident and has returned to the Wreckers' bench.
HOLLAND RECOVERING ... Another well known local coach is also recovering from a medical problem.
Long-time Mahanoy Area coach Mickey Holland suffered a heart attack following the the Golden Bears' game against Minersville on Jan. 19.
Holland, in his 30th season at Mahanoy Area, was released from the hospital a little over a week ago and is currently recovering at home.
Golden Bears' assistant coach Ty Wartman has been running the team in Holland's absence.
Holland is a class act who is highly respected by players, opposing coaches and the media. Everyone is wishing him a speedy recovery and return the sidelines.