Willimantic Chronicle on Wayne Norman’s 1000th UConn Broadcast
Wan-O enjoys a grand career
October 16, 2004
By MIKE SYPHER
Chronicle Sports Editor
Countless marriages have survived throughout the years in the Willimantic area in spite of either or both of the spouses waking up with Wan-O.
In fact, anyone who has lived in the Thread City area for any appreciable amount of time knows full well how a close relationship with Wayne Norman, WILI 1400-AM’s morning personality and sports director, can add spice to any coupling, flavor to the blandest of days and a delicious jolt of radio caffeine for bleary-eyed locals headed to work.
Simply put, Wano-O has put Willimantic on the map and stands tall as its most recognizable hero in town.
So when 40,000 fans cheered loudly and blanketed Willimantic’s Wan-O with throaty cheers during the halftime break of the Big East Conference football game between the University of Connecticut and visiting Pittsburgh at Rentschler Field on September 30, a smile came easily to my face when I thought of what Wan-O means to so many locals on a professional and, more importantly, personal level.
Norman was standing on the 50-yard line that night alongside UConn Director of Athletics Jeff Hathaway and Suzanne McDonald, the vice president and general manager of WTIC Radio in Hartford, after UConn Associate Athletic Director Mike Enright brought Wan-O from the press box high atop the field down the elevator and onto the turf.
Hathaway was there to present Norman with a beautiful framed aerial photo of Rentschler Field from the very first game played at UConn’s new stadium, a 34-10 victory over Indiana on August 30, 2003, as well as a plaque with a microphone. An inscription on the bottom of the photo noted that though Norman is the consummate professional, he’s an even better person.
McDonald presented Norman with an authentic Boston Red Sox jersey with his name on the back. WTIC also surprised Wan-O with an all-expenses paid trip to Orlando, Florida.
Just under Norman’s name on the Red Sox jersey, which came directly from Boston’s front office, was the number 1,000. Enright, Hathaway, McDonald and 40,000 friends who knew the voice of Willimantic on a first-name basis were there to commemorate Norman’s 1000th broadcast on the UConn Radio Network.
That grand accomplishment includes 717 men’s basketball games, 28 women’s hoop games and 255 Husky football games, 256 after including Wednesday night’s 31-19 loss to Big East rival West Virginia.
That the Huskies secured their first-ever Big East victory over a talented opponent in front of a packed house and ESPN2 national television audience just made Norman’s big night even sweeter.
“I didn’t really know what was going on because no one said anything before or during the first half of the game,” said Norman. “But then Mike came into the booth after I finished my first-half recap and said, “Come with me.”
“Next thing I know I’m on the 50-yard line. I might be heard by more people than that during a broadcast but to actually see them looking down at you and cheering is an incredibly humbling experience. The first Big East win, all the kind words from members of the media and the UConn people, it would not have been as special had they not won the game. If I could have picked a game to commemorate the 1,000 games, I could not have picked a better one.”
And the UConn Radio Network could not have picked a better color man to handle the action courtside or in the press box at football games.
Scott Gray, now the morning personality at WTIC 1080-AM, was working at WPOP in Hartford, an affiliate of the UConn Radio Network, back in 1979. When Gray was unable to make it to a Husky football game against Navy in Annapolis, Maryland on September 22 of that year, Norman got the call.
But he almost did not make it to the game to call UConn’s 21-10 loss to the Midshipmen.
“Scott had to work Saturday mornings and he couldn’t go on the long road trips so I was going to fill in,” recalled Norman. GÇ£But we were in big trouble because there was a big rainstorm that day, Rick Benjamin, Woody Anderson and I were waiting at Bradley [International Airport] for our twin engine Piper Seneca but it never left Cape Cod. So we flew commercial and finally got there. Rick was driving and we’re in traffic but when he sees this chain link fence separating the parking lot from the stadium. He turns left. It’s 10 minutes before the kickoff and he tells this guy about the situation we’re in. The guy looks over his shoulder and we see this vacant spot. We park and, as I’m going in, I look at the placard in front of the spot and it says, “Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
In September of 1981, Norman called the football action alongside legendary play-by-play man Marty Glickman. “Being from California, I really didn’t know much about the legacy that was Marty Glickman,” said Norman. I worked with him for 4+ years, five seasons in football and four in basketball, and learned so much. He taught me to say what I feel, to bring the listener into it. Then I was with Bob Heussler for three years, including the season where Tate hit The Shot. The way his voice ranged from desperation to celebration that night was perfect. And ever since WTIC got the rights in 1992, Joe and I have been together ever since.”
“Joe” is Joe D’Ambrosio, one of the finest college play-by-play voices in the country today.
“Joe, I think, is the best when it comes to setting the stage and telling the whole story, including the listener in all of the action right in front of us,” said Norman. “He’s the one guy I’d choose to make the dramatic call, to bring that moment home.”
What Norman has brought home to Willimantic during his 33 years at WILI as the host of the state’s longest running morning show is credibility, honor, accessibility and an easy-going, professional nature that makes the listener feel important.
Join Wan-O’s Birthday Club and you will be a member as long as you’ve got enough breath in your lungs to blow out the candles on your cake. Wary of the New England weather? Wan-O has the latest info at his fingertips and has enough, as he calls them, “weather weeniesÖ to guarantee a summer picnic or warn of an impending storm.
Norman was, rightly so, chosen as Willimantic’s first-ever Cupid in 1982 and proudly leads the Thread City’s annual Boom Box parade up Main Street each Independence Day.
Then-Lieutenant Gov. Jodi Rell honored Norman by naming him a Connecticut Treasure last year, validating something Willimantic natives have known for decades — this man is special.
Norman has also called all four of Eastern Connecticut State University’s NCAA Division III national championships and about 300 Warrior games overall since 1973.
All of those memories must have warmed Norman’s heart on September 30 as he waved to all corners of the stadium at Rentschler Field.
“To have the university and the flagship station come alongside me in such a grand display of support was incredibly gratifying for me,” said Norman. “To be able to continue this close association with the programs today and, given the success they’ve created for themselves, who wouldn’t want this job?”
With 1,001 games under his belt, does Norman have another goal in mind?
“I never gave it much thought. I just want to go about my job and I want to keep this job for the rest of my life,” said Norman. “Maybe there’s a 2000th game down the road.
“I’m a city boy from Hollywood but ever since I came to Willimantic, I’ve liked the community here. I like the accessibility to the big cities and I like having trees in my backyard and living just two miles from work. I have a good life.”
And thanks to the hardest working individual I’ve ever met, a man who consistently reminds you of the value of friendship and a commitment to ideals, the lives of thousands of greater Willimantic residents are made a bit better as well.
Congratulations, Wan-O, on a job forever done well.