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February 27, 2013

Ferndale community pays tribute to longtime announcer

By Christian Davis
C & G Sports Writer

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Ferndale High honored Joe Mahan Feb. 15 during halftime of a boys basketball game. Pictured, Mahan’s family surrounds his son, Peter, and his daughter, Tracey, as they look at the plaque given to their father.
Thankful friends
Ferndale High paid tribute to Joe Mahan “The voice of the Eagles” Feb. 15 during halftime of the boys basketball game against Rochester High.

Up until this year, Mahan had served as the public address announcer for Ferndale since 1947. During that time, he was also a teacher and principal in the Detroit Public School system for 38 years.
Here’s a look at what some of Ferndale’s community had to say about Mahan in a program passed out to fans.

“Joe Mahan will always be ‘Mr. Ferndale and the Voice of the Eagles’ to me. He has dedicated his life to giving area students the opportunity to learn life’s lessons in a school setting, on the athletic field and in the community. He is a mentor to many — including me — and is the ultimate humanitarian. I thank Joe for all the fond memories we shared.”
— Michael Kownacki, former Ferndale schools athletic director and principal

“Anybody who has played basketball for Ferndale High during my generation and prior had the honor of having Joe Mahan announce their games. Joe has been an inspiration to us and a true representation of a ‘Ferndale Eagle.’”
— Herb Goliday, current head coach and teacher, former player and 2001 graduate

“From the time I moved into Ferndale with my family in 1968, Joe Mahan has been synonymous with Ferndale Eagle basketball. He was the voice of the Eagles when I was a young fan, he was our scorekeeper when I was a player at FHS and he has been the historian of the sport as I pursued my coaching career in Oakland County. Through it all, he has been (a) friend and the greatest ambassador of high school basketball in the history of the sport in Michigan.”
— Kurt Keener, 1974 graduate, current coach of Beverly Hills Detroit Country Day boys basketball

“We are so fortunate Joe and Barbara Mahan chose Ferndale to be their community. Not only has Joe been our legendary announcer, but with Barbara by his side, they have served our neighborhoods and our students for many years. It is fitting that, after a life of creating unique opportunities to honor and recognize others, Joe is being honored in turn for his legacy by the Ferndale Schools. I personally extend my appreciation to Joe and Barbara Mahan for their service to students and our district.”
— Gary Meier, Ferndale Public Schools superintendent

FERNDALE — Joe Mahan lights up with a smile just thinking about it.

Days earlier, on Feb. 15, friends, family and fans gathered at a Ferndale High boys basketball game to pay tribute to the longtime announcer.

This is the first winter season in 65 years that Mahan is not a permanent fixture at the scorer’s table.

The celebration at halftime culminated with the presentation of a permanent sticker for the scorer’s table reading “The Joe Mahan ‘Voice of the Eagles’ Scorertable,” and a plaque being presented to Mahan’s family in attendance.

Though Mahan was unable to attend the event for health reasons, he was grateful all the same.

“When you get honored, people play it down and don’t want to make a big deal about it. But secretly, really within their heart, it means a lot because your compatriots are honoring you, and when you think about it, there is no better honor than from your friends and neighbors,” he said. “My mom and dad would be very proud. My whole family is proud.”

A natural fit
Soon after graduating from Ferndale Lincoln High in 1944, Mahan found himself a seat at the scorer’s table.

“I played basketball in high school, so I thought it would be natural to get into announcing,” he said. “Time went by, and I’ve been doing it a long time. Longer than anyone else.”

Mahan said it was the camaraderie that he enjoyed most, but it was the basketball state championships in 1963 and 1966 that stand out.

“Those were some really special games,” he said. “I always felt we would win, internally, but you don’t dwell on it or else you sound like a blowhard.”

Ferndale Athletic Director Shaun Butler said Mahan is a consummate professional.

“He would go to every coach, and the first thing he would do is go through the names. You’d see him taking notes on pronunciations. He did it right. Every name was pronounced correctly,” Butler said.

Mahan also found time to share stories with the kids he’d be announcing.

“That was the coolest thing with Joe. He’d get to the game an hour early and just talk to the kids. He’d share stories of other successful athletes. He would tell kids what it was like. There were things that we went through, the struggles, the desegregation, all of the things that we went through. He was there,” Butler said.

Butler came to Ferndale in 1990 and was the girls JV basketball coach. He said when he first met Mahan, a couple of thing struck him. Firstly, he was surprised the game had an announcer. Secondly, the announcer wanted to know every name of the girls on his team.

“I was hired late, and I remember thinking, ‘Uh-oh, I don’t even know how to pronounce all my kids’ names,’” Butler said with a laugh.

In it together
Mahan married his wife, Barbara, in 1950, and she’s been at his side, often literally next to him in the press box and on the sideline, ever since.

“You can’t talk about Joe unless you also talk about Barbara. They were a team,” former Ferndale Principal Herb Ivory said.

And they also had the chance to watch their children grow at Ferndale. Peter, Tracey and Mark are all graduates.

Tracey Mahan was a cheerleader and remembered seeing her parents at all the sporting events.

“Everybody loved them so much,” she said. “It was a passion and something they enjoyed together.”

Peter Mahan’s main sport was baseball, but he also had a humorous memory from his short stint with the basketball team.

“I played basketball in my early high school career, but I wasn’t tall enough. I remember sitting on the bench with the JV team being embarrassed with my father right there. When he was in high school, he was shorter than I was, and he was his team’s top scorer. He still reminds me of that, ‘You know, in 1944, I averaged 12 points a game, and I was 5 foot 6,’” Peter Mahan said with a laugh.

“With all of his accomplishments, being at Ferndale all these years, I’m just very proud of him and his dedication to Ferndale and high school sports in the state of Michigan.”

Joe Mahan said his biggest supporter is always by his side.

“Her husband, to her, could do no wrong,” Joe Mahan joked about his wife.

On Valentine’s Day, Tracey Mahan visited her dad and noticed a sugar cookie in the shape of a heart next to his bed. When she asked why he hadn’t eaten it, he said it was for her mom. Upon turning the cookie over, Tracey Mahan saw writing that said, “Love, to Barbara.”

“Well, she is my cookie. I’ve really been blessed,” Joe Mahan said about the gift. “We have a great love, really.”

Fitting tribute
Though Joe Mahan may be retired from full-time announcing for the Eagles, his memory and name will always be close.

Along with the scorer’s table, the football press box was named The Joe Mahan Press Box in 2005. It’s a legacy that brings the 86-year-old happiness.

“It’s been a long journey, and one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. Heck, it’s not over yet,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of reasons to smile.”

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Christian Davis at cdavis@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1062. Twitter Follow Christian on Twitter.