(This is the second in a large series of profile stories planned for 2023 to introduce the Chelsea community to the folks who keep it humming each day. We want you to learn more about the community and its folks — as told through the eyes, ears and voices of many different people.)
By Lisa Allmendinger
If you attended the University of Michigan men’s basketball games on either Dec. 29 or Jan. 1, you heard the familiar voice of Chelsea’s own Jason Morris on the public address (PA) system.
Morris’ fascination with announcing dates back to his childhood when he spent summer evenings listening to Ernie Harwell on his transistor radio. He attended Tigers and Red Wing games, and while he enjoyed watching the action as a fan, he was even more fascinated by the public address announcers.
“I just liked listening to them,” he said, adding that he made sure he arrived early enough to hear the call of the starting line-ups.
Over the years, Morris practiced his hobby, noted the nuances of many sports announcers, and waited for a chance to perform in front of an audience.
As an adult, he never lost this passion for announcing, and after mentioning this to then Chelsea Athletic Director Wayne Welton, the opportunity fell in his lap. He got a chance to announce to a home Bulldog football crowd in 2000.
Morris took over as the voice of Chelsea Friday Night Lights after Akel Marshall, longtime assistant baseball coach and the voice of Bulldog football and basketball, decided to retire.
Morris and Jon Bentley, AKA, Bulldog Clock Guy, have been side-by-side above Jerry Niehaus Field on Friday nights ever since.
“He has been the voice of Chelsea for so long I cannot imagine anyone else doing it,” said Brad Bush, Chelsea High School athletic director and former head football coach.
(Little known fact – Morris pays tribute to Marshall by saying, “That’s good enough for a Chelsea first down,” which was the longtime PA announcer’s catch phrase.)
“Jason is a dynamic educator who fills many roles and wears many hats not just at Chelsea High School but also within our district,” said Nick Angel, Chelsea High School principal.
Morris is the Dean of Students and the Assistant Athletic Director at Chelsea High School
“He is a valuable member of our administrative team and it is neat to hear, or should I say listen to, him chasing his boyhood dream,” Angel said, adding, “I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in the box alongside Jason for many athletic events over the years and it’s impressive to see him in action.”
Although Morris will tell you he loves being the voice behind the mic for Chelsea High School football games for hundreds of fans, he’s also the voice of numerous University of Michigan sports for thousands of Wolverine fans.
“He is professional and outstanding at what he does,” Bush said, “I am very happy for him to have the opportunity he has at U-M.”
His beginnings at U-M are also due to a good word put in for him to U-M administration from Welton, who at that time was the Director of Baseball Operations at U-M.
In 2015, he got the call, and was given an opportunity to fill in as the announcer for some U-M baseball games when the full-time voice, Bobb Vergiels, was unavailable. (Ironically, Vergiels was announcing home Tigers’ games and had conflicts.)
For three years, Morris became the part-time baseball announcer for about 10 games a year until Vergiels retired in 2018.
Since then, Morris was given the full-time baseball gig. And thanks to Jake Stocker, director of event presentation at U-M, Morris has been asked to be the voice on the PA for additional U-M sports – including hockey, gymnastics, lacrosse, wrestling, soccer, water polo and field hockey.
He is also the full-time announcer for Michigan men’s gymnastics.
“Serving as the announcer is stressful and requires dedication,” Angel said. “Jason bleeds Blue and Gold and he carries this same level of enthusiasm, preparedness and passion in his duties with the Maize and Blue. It is very rewarding to watch him continue to be successful and climb the ladder in the announcing world.”
Then last month, he got the nod to fill in as the announcer for two men’s basketball games, his highest profile U-M gig to date, which he characterized as “amazing.” And, to make it even more special, he was surprised by family and friends at the first game, and they videoed his team introductions.
“These are the people who knew I had this passion as a kid,” Morris said.
Angel added, “There were many Chelsea folks in attendance at his first U of M basketball game this past month and they are staples at U of M baseball and hockey games as well. It is fun to see our very own Jmo in action. We are all so proud of him.”
Although Morris won’t admit which sport he enjoys announcing the most, he will tell you that he’s a big fan of baseball, hockey, football, and basketball. And yes, while watching at home, he gets just as hyped up as any fan.
Morris will say that there’s something very special about Yost Ice Arena – a unique atmosphere with an unusual student section and a somewhat intimate arena filled with ardent hockey fans.
“I love them all,” he said of sports, adding that he’s had to pass on a few other U-M gigs on Friday nights, so as not to miss announcing a Chelsea home football game.
Surprisingly, he does more leg work before a high school football game than for a sporting event on the college level.
For instance, correctly pronouncing the names of players for both teams is very important to Morris. So, before a football game, he meets with a representative from the visiting team to learn the names and then practices them.
On the collegiate level, he’s provided a script – days ahead of an event and included are line-ups with phonetic spellings of any difficult to pronounce or unusually pronounced names, and he does make personal notes about names as well.
He said he practices not only saying what’s on the script at home, but also while driving to Ann Arbor. Morris gets to an event at least 90 minutes early to make sure he’s prepared and that there aren’t any last minute changes.
While announcing for University of Michigan, he’s provided a tight script with exact times that each item is to be read (and he rarely goes rogue and or off script).
He keeps his own stats at games, but he’s provided detailed information about the athletes and teams for each sporting event.
Morris says he doesn’t eat much at the games, but he does drink a lot of water. Think about it, he’s speaking on and off for between 2-3 hours, more than that for a double header in baseball – so keeping a clear throat is important.
“Less is more,” Morris says about being a PA announcer, and “Be yourself, don’t try to be someone you’re not. Be clear and understandable while speaking.”
The only sport at U-M Morris hasn’t announced for U-M is football – yet. He says he was a big fan of Howard King, the longtime Voice of Michigan Stadium during his childhood, as well as Carl Grapentine the current football PA announcer.
With his track record at U-M, who knows, one day he might get called to be on the PA for a football game in the future,too.