Back in 1968, Steve Albert was a freshman at Kent State who wanted to be a sports play-by-play announcer.
When the university opened its new ice arena in 1970, Albert put together a hockey team so he could gain experience in live sports broadcasting.
Forty-nine years later, he donated $50,000 to the Kent State hockey team. The gift came after he returned to campus last fall — the first time he's been back since putting together the hockey team — for a hockey reunion.
This donation is the largest donation ever given to a club sport at the university. Half of the donation will be used to reduce the player fees and half will be used to live broadcast the hockey games. Since every player pays upward of $2,000 a season to support the team, this donation was able to help purchase jerseys and equipment for the next two years.
“I owe so much to my beginnings at Kent State,” Albert said. “It gave me a launch pad into my professional sports career.”
Kent State hockey coach Jim Underwood said that this donation will go a long way to invest and grow the hockey program.
“We are incredibly excited and thankful,'' Underwood said. ”He was very adamant that part of the money would go to keeping player fees down over the next two years. We’re hoping that once Steve and everyone sees the success of that donation, it could lead to more.”
Albert grew up in a family of sports broadcasters. His brother Marv called Monday Night Football games, as well as the known “voice of the Knicks.” His brother Al was an announcer for the New York Islanders and the New York Nets.
“We grew up watching every sport,” Albert said. ”We loved doing this and had no idea where all this was leading. It was just in our blood.”
“The three of us would go into a little room in the house and set up a table with three chairs and made ourselves a press box,” Albert said. ”We would put on the Yankees game, turn down the sound and call the games ourselves.”
Albert came to KSU in 1968 as a broadcast student. One year later the University began building the ice arena. When the arena opened in 1970, Albert went to skating instructor and proposed creating a hockey team.
Albert said he came to Kent State with desire to share his love for play-by-play announcing and create a hockey program that the school could be proud of.
“I made notices about a hockey tryout and hung them everywhere I could around campus,” Albert said.”I was determined to get this thing off the ground.”
Albert successfully got 60 players to tryout for the team.
After graduating from Kent State, Albert went on to a successful professional sports broadcasting career.
Albert had a 45 year career in broadcasting being the voice of several sports teams including the Phoenix Suns and New Jersey Nets. He was the announcer more than 300 boxing matches on Showtime for several years, and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2018.
Albert spent 19 seasons announcing for the NBA with the New Jersey Nets, Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Hornets. He played a key role in New York’s sports announcing games for baseball, football and hockey.
After retiring from broadcasting for the Suns in 2017, Albert was finally able to return to campus last fall to attend a hockey alumni weekend. Albert said his return to campus was “heartwarming and emotional”.
A team of student broadcasters has been hired to announce and film the hockey games. Producer Brenden Celender, a senior digital media production major, said this will create more opportunities for students to get involved with a different aspect of student media.
“It's a big step for student media,” Celender said. “I really love this specific program because it was a donation, so that means that like there's potential to grow it into something bigger.”
Matt Butts, the assistant vice president of Institutional Advancement, has been working with Albert for several years to help him reconnect with the university.
“These are students who want to continue with their sport, love it, but they come with an expense,” Butts said. “It’s a great way to elevate the ice hockey program and highlight the student athletes participating in the sport, and provide a great educational opportunity for the announcers.”
Ian Hermann, a freshman player on the team, said the donation will help make the team’s games more accessible to fans and, he hoped, get more of a following for the hockey team.
“Everyone’s really excited about it,” Hermann said. “Who knows where we would be if he never came to Kent to bring the hockey team here. It’s really awesome to see that he’s coming back here and donating to try to grow the program from what he started and it and make it even better.”
Albert said he wanted to give an “awesome experience” to broadcasting students to students who were once just like him.
“Perhaps one day down the road one of these guys will make it to the big time,”Albert said.
Albert has plans to return to campus Nov. 15-17 for the eighth Annual Alumni Hockey weekend. This will be Albert’s opportunity to reconnect with the broadcasting students as well as the players.
“I want to share stories and talk with the players,” Albert said. “I’d like to see more announcers make it to the pros. It’s proven that it works, and that’s a great feather in Kent State’s cap.”
Contact Dana O'Black at firstname.lastname@example.org