Pete Belcastro doesn't have a notebook sitting in front of him, or a laptop, or an old newspaper. Somewhere, there are old cassette tapes that may come in handy, but they're either crammed into a box somewhere or gathering dust on a shelf. Not that he could play them even if he wanted to — like most people who have lived through the digital revolution, he no longer owns a cassette player.
But the truth is, Belcastro doesn't need a crutch when it comes to the subject at hand: Ashland High football. He just needs a little time. Or maybe a lot of time, depending on the game he's been asked to replay in his mind's eye. In this case, it's Ashland-Jesuit, 1998 Class 4A state semifinals — a.k.a, a victory for little guys everywhere.
"It came down to the end of the game," Belcastro begins. He then proceeds to describe, play by play, the late-game heroics that led to Ashland's 21-14 overtime victory, right down to the game-winning touchdown pass by backup quarterback Zach Hassell to Jay Kuester. A week later, Belcastro was in the press box at Autzen Stadium in Eugene broadcasting another Grizzly classic. This time the opponent was Roseburg and Ashland's quarterback was Jimmy Werbin (back from a mild shoulder separation suffered against Jesuit), but the result was the same: Werbin's 28-yard touchdown pass to Kuester won the game in overtime and clinched Ashland's perfect season.
"I can still see both those games and everything about them," Belcastro says.
Soon, Belcastro will be seeing football games from a completely new perspective — a fan's. That's because the voice of Ashland High football since 1992, a span of 21 years, has decided to unplug the microphone for good following this season, ending a run that spanned three state championship game broadcasts, countless playoff games and that one magical season he still calls "the most exciting stuff I've ever done."
Belcastro, who will also stop calling AHS prep basketball games following the 2012-13 season, was honored at halftime of Ashland's blowout win over Willamette last Friday. Making a rare halftime dash from the booth to the field, he was presented with a letterman jacket and received a standing ovation before hustling back upstairs to call the second half.
"That was the only time I got a little choked up," Belcastro said of the ceremony.
Belcastro made his radio debut in 1972, but didn't cover an Ashland game until he was asked to take over Mazama and Klamath Union road games in Ashland for KAGO, a Klamath Falls-based station, in 1986. Six years later, Belcastro hatched a plan to cover every Ashland game, sell the ad spots himself and split the profits with the school. He pitched his strategy to then-AHS head coach Jim Nagel, who gave the go-ahead.
The deal worked out well for everybody. According to Belcastro, Table Rock Sports Network has raised $140,000 for the schools it has covered — Ashland High, North Medford High, South Medford High, Crater High and Southern Oregon University — in those years.
The radio business has changed dramatically since Belcastro first spoke into a mic 40 years ago, and he laughs about the high-wire act the job used to be before the days of cell phones and quick fixes.
"When you did a radio game (in 1972), you had to have a telephone line and you had a telephone," he says. "You had to unscrew the receiver and had a mixer, and the mixer had a little line-out with two alligator clips. And you had to attach the alligator clips to the receiver things on the telephone and that's how the audio came through. But if the clips touched, it shorted out. You didn't have cell phones, so if the alligator clips touched and you went off the air, you never knew you were back on.
"So that's why I'm always "…freaking out about stuff at games, always fussing with the nobs."
There are no more alligator clips to fuss over these days, but there's still plenty for Belcastro to worry about as he describes the action. This season, Table Rock Sports began streaming live video of games, a service Belcastro calls a game-changer in the world of prep sports coverage.
While he won't miss lugging two bags of equipment up and down stadium stairs every Friday night from late August into November, there is plenty about being the voice of the Grizzlies that Beclastro says he will have a hard time saying goodbye to — the exciting plays, the great players that come and go, the excitement of the playoffs. And most of all, the magic of Friday night football.
"I think the thing I'll miss the most is a big game in the second half, and the crowd yelling and really getting loud and making a difference in the game," he said. "And this place is one of those few places in high school football that can actually do that when it's exciting. That's the coolest part. I love broadcasting that."
But pretty soon, he'll be watching games with the rest of the Ashland High faithful, in a reserved seat he paid for seven years ago but has yet to actually use.
Not that his view will ever be better than what it's been.
"I have the best seat in the house," he said. "Walter A. Phillips Field is the only place that I can broadcast from that I don't need binoculars, because it's so close. It's so intimate and it's so special."