In this episode, we sit down with John Koon, a veteran play-by-play announcer (and mayor of Soperton, Georgia!) With nearly 43 years of broadcasting experience, John shares his unique journey, from his early days at Treutlen High School to becoming the voice of the Vidalia Indians. Discover the highs and lows of calling games, the evolution of high school sports, and the passion that drives him. Tune in for wild football tales, insights into game day preparations, and the secrets behind crafting a captivating broadcast. Whether you're a sports enthusiast or a budding broadcaster, this episode is packed with inspiration and wisdom straight from the heart of Georgia's football fields.

Vidalia High School Football Field

Vidalia High School's Football Field

Credit: Facebook




John Koon: Looks at the four man front, turns. Runs the second man through. And that's Chris gay. Got a whole 35, 30, 25, 20. Chris Gay running to the end zone. Touchdown, Indians! Chris Gay, got a great block over here on the left side. And just went 41 yards for the touchdown. And Vidalia leads it 13 to nothing.

Hannah Goodin: Hey everyone welcome to Beyond the Lights here on GPB Sports I'm your host Hannah Goodin. Join us each week as we pull back the curtain to find out what really goes into making high school sports in Georgia so successful. From head coaches to concession stand operators, I want to find out how the magic is made. Today's topic is football announcing and what it's like to call the game from an eagle eye point of view. Here with us today to talk all about it. We're talking about broadcast prep, how the game has changed, wild football stories and much more is longtime Videlia High announcer John Koon. And John, I have to introduce you as the Soperton, Georgia mayor as well. So, Mr. Mayor, thank you for joining us today.

John Koon: Well, Hannah, thanks so much. It's still just John, I was blessed to, I told you earlier, you know, I guess I decided I didn't have enough to do so I, ran for mayor in November, and the city of Soperton, its citizens blessed me with the victory, and we've hit the ground running, so it's been very busy. But thanks for having me.

Hannah Goodin: Oh, you are so welcome. We are so happy to have you on. So I know you're a busy man when it comes to high school football. Tell me about what you do and how long have you been doing what you do?

John Koon: Well, I am the play by play announcer for the Vidalia Indians. Going into my 19th year, here in Vidalia, 43rd year overall as a high school, play by play announcer. Started out and they, are my hometown. Soperton with Treutlen High School back many, many years ago, in fact, we developed the broadcast of, Treutlen football, basketball and baseball when we had an old radio station, back there called Rock 102 back in the early 80s. And, that's where it all started. Actually in the AM side of that station. WB, WY-OK. I was in high school looking for a part time job on the weekends because I played football, played baseball, didn't have a lot of time. And, when, the station owner asked me, he said, do you want to come down and work weekends? And I've always been interested in that stuff. And long story short, he called me one day and said, I need somebody to go do a, state championship or state playoff, parks and recreation, football game. And record it and bring it back and we'll play it over the weekend. He said, can you do that? I said, I guess I can, and that's how it started at 17 years old. So, got full time, well, not full time, but, you know, doing it regularly. And, like I said, in the early 80s and then 23 years at Vidalia communications, working with them, and it's just continued over the years. It's one of the, one of the things that I love to do. I've always liked play by play, you know, just watch the guys from a very young age. And that's that's how I ended up here.

Hannah Goodin: And here we are. Well, you've seen a lot of football. What's the story that you tell at parties?

John Koon: Probably two. The first one. The first one's in Glenville, Georgia. Home of the Sharpe brothers. Shannon and Sterling. We were playing, truman was playing Glenville back in the, oh, I guess late 80s, early 90s, whenever it was. It's marble years run together. We were we had, guy by the name of David Underwood, who unfortunately was was killed in a tragic accident back years ago. Junior Sneed, who was one of the highlights of of my career being a broadcaster and he was a state record holder for a number of years. Long story short, we beat him pretty good. And that hook up was happening time after time after time. And the press box was very low, and we were right beside the Glenville people. And about the fifth or sixth time those two had hooked up. You know. I made my call. 'Touchdown, Junior Sneed. Touchdown! Treutlen. The hookup has happened again.' And before I knew it, the lady turned around and took a Coke and threw it right in my face. Oh, no! Yeah. You know, eye level right in the face. My my my color guy at that times name was Mitch Johnson. He was going out the window. I was pulling him back trying to make sure that, you know, we didn't have a I was like, hey, we're we're not home. We're we're in Glenville. So we don't want to do that.

Hannah Goodin: And that's why press boxes are at the top of the stadium. Everybody.

John Koon: Yeah, that's exactly right. And and they always weren't that way. Trust me. They weren't always that way. My second one happened over in Metter, Georgia. My long time, color guy and broadcast partner, John Purnell. Doctor John Purnell. We were doing, Metter-Treutlen. And we ran, just just to cut to the chase. We ran off a great play. It was back and forth. Touchdown Treutlen. Well, we were sitting on top of the old bathroom.

Hannah Goodin: Okay.

John Koon: That was connected to the press box. And of course it was just another step down. God turns around, grabs the crowd mic and says Treutlen right into the microphone. Of course, I just I just took off my headset, laid it down, walked over, got a police officer came back and that was history. But those are those are probably two of the most, memorable, funny stories that I tell a lot.

Hannah Goodin: Fans being fans in high school football, they are very passionate to say the least. You travel with the team, so obviously, what's that like? Are there places that you really look forward to calling a game from? And are there stadiums where you can't get out of there fast enough?

John Koon: Both.

Hannah Goodin: Okay.

John Koon: I can tell you some horror stories from some places that I called, we'll remain anonymous. I may have to go back. But, I have called a ball game with a press box centered on a telephone pole. So when the wind blew.

Hannah Goodin: Super safe!

John Koon: Yeah, the press box blew. I mean, I stayed gripped to it the whole time, just. Just waiting for it to come down. I have I broadcast games from the stands because the visiting team would not allow us into the press box. You know, but there are some great there are some great venues, to be able to broadcast games from. Never like going to Savannah to to to fight all the traffic and everything, but always enjoyed going to Savannah State. To be able to broadcast a game for, you know, when Vidalia was playing Benedictine, when I was doing West Lawrence football years ago, Perry was one of the great setups of all time. I mean, I just you really look forward to to going to Perry, Raven County, does it just as well as anybody. Really, really good set up. Laney in Augusta, their stadium is ideal for broadcasting it's very high. A lot of steps to be able to walk up. But it is, it is it is a great one. And of course, I'm a little partial. I helped design the one at Treutlen. Okay. It is, it's very it's very high, wide windows, you know, the, the whole deal. So I, I really enjoyed those. I've only been able to call one ball game out of there though. That's that's my home school. That's my alma mater, that's who I played for. Been able to call one ball game out of there. But yeah, those are the those are the ones that stick back in your mind a lot.

Hannah Goodin: In the greater Atlanta area. I love the Parkview Stadium in Lilburn. There's just a feeling when you when you pull up there, it's so nice. Minus the bathrooms. The bathrooms are so far away. You have to go all the way up, up the stands, over behind the concession stand. So that's a little inconvenient. But I do love the Parkview Stadium. What makes a stadium special for you or what makes it a good setup?

John Koon: Well, I think first of all, the view, I think if you have an unobstructed view of the playing field, that's high enough up. I love our press box here at Vidalia. It's just not high enough because it sits down too close to the to the stands that should have been raised probably 5 or 10ft would have been perfect. Accessibility. Make sure that you know its it doesn't have wasp nest flying or you know.

Hannah Goodin: Or flying objects.

John Koon: Yeah, flying. Yeah. Where fans can throw Cokes in your face. Air conditioning is a gets it gets a check. Or at least some good fans anyway. But, and yeah, I think the I think the view has a lot to do with it. And, and now obviously where we are today is internet accessibility. Yes. If you can get a good internet signal out, you can pull off a great broadcast. In South Georgia that doesn't happen all the time. So you'd have to go back to the old phone hookup. But yeah, it's a, that is what I look for. And if they don't have a ice, chest of water or something just to offer you. You know, I've been to games before, like, wow, I gotta walk down to the concession stand, and then I got to walk back and that's it.

Hannah Goodin: Southern hospitality goes a long way.

John Koon: That's exactly right. Exactly right.

Hannah Goodin: So all broadcasters know that food is very important on game day. Are there along the same lines, are there certain cities or towns you like to go to because they have some good restaurants? Do you have any good hidden gems that you like to stop at that you can share? I can put it on my my restaurant list.

John Koon: I will tell you, there is a place in Homerville and I can't remember the name of it. It's, it's their version of a sports sports bar in Homerville, Georgia, and I, we went down there for a playoff game one time. A bunch of us were working for the GHSA, and we stumbled upon this place, and they had the best steak and fried shrimp combination that you could get. Of course, I'm always partial going to towards Douglas Pearson in that way, right outside of Douglas. In between Douglas and Pearson is the country cabin. I'm a steak guy, and if you look at me, you can tell why, but I just a good steak or, you know, is real good. And then, you know, of course, all the quick foods, because bottom line is, I don't eat a lot before a meal. And the older I get, which is going to be older and another month, I'll be 63 in, in, July. So I found out that if I eat before a game, I get real sluggish.

Hannah Goodin: Yeah. Kinda sits on ya.

John Koon: So wait till after the game. And when when I went after the game. It's nothing but fast food. You know.

Hannah Goodin: You sound like John Nelson. Okay, I'm looking it up. Is it LL Creek Bar and Grill? That's it. Oh, yeah. Number one spot in Homerville. There we go, everybody.

John Koon: Yeah! It's awesome. I'm telling you. Clinch County, you know, they do football real well down there. They do baseball real well. And they sure do that real well, I can tell you.

Hannah Goodin: Oh, yeah? Yeah.

John Koon: Of course, a lot of barbecue joints along the way, too. So, you know, what? We just find out, we try to leave early enough where it doesn't rush us. And then, we, you know, we just pig it out as we go.

Hannah Goodin: So when you've been calling games for as long as you have, how have you seen the game changed when it comes to players and coaches? Rules. Just the entire atmosphere of a high school football game. How has it changed since you started?

John Koon: Well I obviously in South Georgia football is is king. And you know a Friday night in South Georgia means the whole town is shut down. It's ready to do one thing and I just pull for the home team. The way I've seen it change, though, is, I'm afraid that a lot of the times, what we're doing right now bringing network coverage into the games, for smaller schools, like the, like the NFHS, which I'm a, you know, I do a lot of broadcast for those guys, but, you know, there's a lot of people who stay home and watch it on TV rather than coming to the game, and I think it affects that a little bit. I don't think it affects the ticket sales. I think it affects the the crowd noise and different things like that. The coaches, it's, you know, when I was playing and this was back in 1975, 76, 77, 78, a coaching staff may have had 3 or 4 people at the most. Now it's 12 and 13 and it's become so specialized. As far as the rules change, you know, I haven't seen a lot of the excuse me, a lot of the big things go, one way or the other. You know, the one thing that bothers me, the first one is everybody. And, college pro, if you touch the facemask, it's 15 yards. Most of those guys in the pro are full time, or they make it pretty. You know, they may call all the time. College the same way. In high school. These guys are coming home from work. They're getting off work early. They may or may not get some video time or whatever, and they are having to determine whether it's a five yard incidental face mask or a 15 yard face mask. My opinion, and I've written the NFHS on this, they get tired of seeing my letters. We talk about safety all the time. You put your hand on somebody's face mask, it ought to be 15 yards. Whether that will ever happen, I don't know. But that, you know, I'll get off my soapbox now, but that is that that's the one rule change that I really wish they take a look at.

Hannah Goodin: Yeah. And you're talking about officials, tired officials that are doing this extra and they're having to make that call. Yeah. Yeah. That's that that's not always fair. I tend to agree with you there when it comes to calling games, what's your philosophy on being a homer? Are you a homer when you call the games?

John Koon: Absolutely.

Hannah Goodin: Yes, I love that.

John Koon: Yeah, I unless and now if I'm calling the game for the NFHS. Yes. Or or for the Georgia News Network. You know, if I know the team, I can throw some extra stuff in there. But I'm down the middle on those broadcasts when I'm doing Vidalia. Yeah, I'm a Vidalia guy and I make no apologies about it. I grew up, you know, I grew up listening as a young kid by the we'd listen to a guy by then Bob Prince, who was the play by play announcer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I grew up watching, or listening to Larry Munson, to Al Ciraldo, to those guys. They were homers. Yeah. And they let you know when you turn that when you turn that radio on, you knew whose broadcast you were listening to. And I feel like that's the way it ought to be. You know, there's a philosophy that says, oh, you ought to call it right down the middle. And if if you're wearing something like, I'll have to stand up so you can see.

Hannah Goodin: Oh, yeah, let's see it.

John Koon: If you can, if you're wearing that, if you're wearing that and you're calling it straight down the middle, while Vidalia while Vidalia is involved, you probably ought not to be calling.

Hannah Goodin: Amen! I agree.

John Koon: Because bottom line, they're tuning to that station to hear the Vidalia broadcast. Yeah. They're not they're not tuning to. And being in this county, you know, I've taken a lot of heat over the years, you know, because of. The guys down the road there. We we, have such a big rivalry. People will listen and then they'll complain and say, well, you know, you didn't say enough about the other team.

Hannah Goodin: Well, they're listening to the wrong broadcast, right?

John Koon: Change the channel. Yeah.

Hannah Goodin: There's another time and place to be objective. Have you ever had the opportunity to move up and move on? Or have you just. This is your passion and this which is what you love to do?

John Koon: I've had several occasions. And I look back and, you know, maybe one of them was, I wish maybe one that I would have made a move towards. But at the time, it just it just wasn't the right timing. I have very good friend who is going to be the, president of the GACA this year. His name's Britt Engle. Coach to Treutlen is now coaching with us here in Vidalia. Dear friend, he's always said the philosophy, mister. He always called me Mister John Koon. He says 'Mr. John Koon, timing in life is everything.' And and I believe that. And I just don't believe it was the right time. Had a chance to move back up north to, to be able to broadcast and, to do a couple things. And like I said, it's just timing in life is is everything wasn't the right thing. I had the blessed the privilege to be able to, do Georgia Southern basketball with with Chris Blair, who is now at LSU. Did couple years with him and like I said, had a chance to be able to probably do some other things. I was happy doing what I was doing and where we are. This is this is home for me. It's home for my wife and my my twin daughters. And you know, I have no regrets. You know, if I get the call one day now at 63, which I doubt if I will, I may think I'll think about it different. But, you know, up to this point, I knew I was where I was supposed to be.

Hannah Goodin: I can relate so much. I've had some opportunities, some big opportunities that I've turned down to stay here in Atlanta, because this is where my family and my twin daughters need to be. So I have identical twin two year old daughters. So how how old are yours now?

John Koon: You're you're in for a great journey. I can tell you our our girls will be 40 September the 22nd.

Hannah Goodin: That's a special birthday.

John Koon: They were identical. Or they are identical. One is an occupational therapist and works inside the school systems. And the other is a pharmacist in our hometown. Soperton. So yeah. Yeah, I'm. I'm where I needed to be.

Hannah Goodin: Yeah. I couldn't agree more. Well, just a couple more questions for you. What's your game prep like? How long do you spend prepping for each game? How do you memorize all the names? Give us some insight on your workflow.

John Koon: I start Sunday afternoon for a game that's on Friday. I give myself Saturday to take a breath. I'll start watching the opponent through our, huddle information that we have. By Monday, I pretty much know, how the broadcast is going to flow. You know, talking about different players, researching the other team, getting all my numbers down. And by Wednesday, I have my spotting chart done with all that information on there. Somebody asked me about a spotting chart the other day and how long it took me to develop the one I had, and I said, I'm still developing it.

Hannah Goodin: It's never ending.

John Koon: Honestly just, there's little things that you put in there, and I put too much on there sometimes, but at least I have it. So, yeah, I start Sunday afternoon. And by Friday morning, hopefully I've got it all done. The big thing about it is I'm also as the communications director for the Vidalia city school system. When we have a home game or even an away game, I got to provide the the rosters. I got to provide the lineups. I got to provide the, you know, if we're home, I got to make sure that the pregame is all done. So everybody knows exactly when they're supposed to do what. So that's all involved in it too. So yeah, the prep work is is very is ongoing. And I hope people can tell the difference when, when they listen to my broadcast as they do somebody else who's just reading it for my program, drives me nuts.

Hannah Goodin: Well, there's there's a reason we have you on today. So I think.

John Koon: Listen Tommy Palmer and I developed the, state radio championship network.

Hannah Goodin: Rest his soul.

John Koon: Back. Many, many years ago, and Dr. Ralph Swearingen was so kind of us to allow us to do that. And, we started with, we started on the internet, and then we moved to GNN, and of course, now the guys at 680 The Fan have that. But long story short, we could always we would invite people from around the state on recommendations and we would look at them and to see how much preparation they had done to go in, you know, if they hadn't done any prep and we could tell it. I mean, if they're reading, you know, or they're asking for rosters ten minutes before the game.

Hannah Goodin: Yeah.

John Koon: I guess I can say it now. That's why you didn't get asked back the next year.

Hannah Goodin: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's not good. I've called many games with Tommy. I've also called a lot of games with Eli Gold at Alabama. So those are some.

John Koon: Oh man. Yeah man. What a jewel. Yeah. What a jewel. Oh he's one of my favorite guys to listen to. no I'm not a big Alabama fan, but I do love to listen to Eli Gold, the 'touchdown Alabama' is is is iconic I mean and everybody develops their own delivery. But yeah boy Eli Gold, what a what a great play by play announcer. Personally, I think he got handed a raw deal. But, you know, I know how business is nowadays. It's just it is what it is. The younger people work for less, and then you gotta. You gotta make a decision sooner or later and I understand that.

Hannah Goodin: Yeah, yeah you do. I did a radio show with him. So, last question for you, and this is my favorite one. What is your advice to future broadcasters? Maybe something you wish you hadn't done, wish you had done? Just just some good old, good old advice.

John Koon: Practice. Take, take a football game a basketball game, baseball game whatever you're going to call, soccer, hockey, whatever it may be. Turn the volume down. If you're going to do radio, turn the volume down on the TV. And practice your play by play into a tape tape recorder. Prepare. Make sure that the that you prepare every game for every game. Never, never, never put down a high school athlete. They're not getting anything out of this other than a letter on their on their jacket and maybe an opportunity to go on to play later on. And and number and number four. Passion. Have passion. Yeah. You don't have to go over the top, but you need to have a passion for what you're doing. If it's just a job. It. I think it has to be a calling. I really do. I think that we are called into this business. And from the time that I was 16 to now, I know, knew that I was going to be in this profession full time one day. And and I prepared for that. So yeah, that's that, that's that's my advice. And lean on the people that have been there before. You know, John Nelson, you know.

Hannah Goodin: My buddy.

John Koon: You know, those guys, you know, that that have been there. Forever. You know, Tommy Palmer and I. We used to. We used to lean on some guys. Way back, I mean, you know, and, it was a, it was a blessing to be able to know that. We had guys that go in front of us that paved the way. And hopefully we have done that for the younger generation, too.

Hannah Goodin: Well, speaking of passion, before we let you go, we have to hear a touchdown Vidalia call.

John Koon: Oh, man. That's, that that's that's probably that's probably, another three months away. No, I.

Hannah Goodin: Get a little *clears throat, laughs*

John Koon: Yeah, I guess I could. My my voice growls anyway, a lot. Let's see if I can. I can get one in my mind and just just give, give the end of it. Down to the ten to the five goal line. Touchdown, Indians!

Hannah Goodin: Woohoo! John thank you so much for being on today. This has been so much fun and we can't wait to cheer on Vidalia. And from a different perspective now, now we have some insight. So now I'm really cheering for the Indians this year.

John Koon: Hannah, thanks so much. I respect what you and John do a lot. Watch every week and appreciate what you do for high school athletes.

Hannah Goodin: Well, thank you so much. We'll be back with another episode of Football Fridays in Georgia: Beyond the Lights and our regular football podcast with Jon Nelson and I in just a couple weeks. Don't forget, you can watch this video version on all of our podcast streaming networks, GPB Sports' YouTube channel, and follow us on social media @GPBSports. Thanks so much for listening. We'll see you guys soon.