LaFayette's Pressbox Pit Crew

After nearly 20 seasons of working together in the LaFayette High School football pressbox, the "Pit Crew" of longtime friends Rick Jones, Mark Oliver, Gary Leckie and public address announcer John Webb worked and called their final home game for the Ramblers on Nov. 6.

Fans at high school football games hear one voice over the loudspeakers every Friday night. It's the voice of the public address announcer, who keeps the crowd informed with school and athletic department announcements, special presentations and especially more football-related things, such as down and distance, the updated game score, other scores from around the area, and - most importantly to some - the names of the players involved in each play.

But those who sit the stands on Friday nights may not know that it takes a well-oiled team of folks to make sure things run smoothly on each play. And for almost two decades, the LaFayette Rambler announcing team - a.k.a. "The Pit Crew" - has been fine-tuning itself to make sure fans are both informed and entertained.

Friday, Nov. 6 was the final Rambler home game for public address announcer John Webb and fellow crew members Mark Oliver, Gary Leckie and Rick Jones as the quartet have made the mutual decision to step down together, saying the timing just felt right.

Webb has been at the job the longest, having started as the Voice of the Ramblers some 24 years ago, even before the current high school was built in 1998.

"Tony Tucker and Terry Chance were up here and they sort of talked me into coming up to the pressbox," he explained. "I was over at the old high school for a while and then over here at the new high school ever since it's been open."

Webb says he's never received any payment for doing the games, nor did he want any as it was simply his way of giving back to the school and the program that has been a big part of his life.

He said he wasn't sure yet who would be taking over the microphone, but he had advice for whomever ultimately got the gig.

"Have fun, but be professional," he said. "The job of the PA announcer is not to be a play-by-play guy. You're not a cheerleader. You're up here to do public address and try to be as impartial as you can. That's what I've tried to do that.

"I'm sure there's been times when (hometown excitement) as come out a little bit during touchdowns and first downs and things like that, but I've always tried to call out as many players' names for the visiting team as I do for the home team because, to me, that's what the public address announcer should be doing."

He said it's important to him to announce names, not just jersey numbers.  

"I don't care too much about the numbers, but I try to call out kids' names because I figure grandparents and parents know the numbers. Everybody sees the numbers, but I want to call out at least a couple of kids' names every single play."

But Webb is quick to point out that while it's his voice coming over the speaker, he is only a small part of a larger group working on every play.

"Rick, Mark, Gary and I have been friends for years," he added. "Our kids played baseball and football together and they've been up here in the pressbox with me for about 20 years. They do the hard part and I do the easy part. The hard part is looking for all the numbers and finding all the kids on the field. All I have to do is talk.

"There's a lot of laughs (on Friday nights). Sometimes I can't even call the play simply because we're too busy laughing. We try to have a good time."

Jones has been another fixture at LaFayette games for nearly 20 years. Health issues have prevented him from being in the pressbox in recent years, but he made his return to the box this past Friday to hang out with his friends one final time.

"It's great to be here," he said. "I just regret that the last three years I haven't been able, physically, to be here, but it's good to be back tonight. I hate that it's John's last game. I'm going to miss hearing him and I'm sure Rambler Nation will too."

Jones was Webb's spotter for several years before taking over the duties of running the scoreboard and clock.

"It was just a great honor to be able to do it for the football team," he added. "I really enjoyed it over the years. Being up in the pressbox with friends and getting to watch my son play down there on the field, it's really been a good time and it's really been a blessing to me."

Oliver sat to the left of Webb on game nights as one of the spotter, binoculars in hand, calling out player numbers on both offense and defense, but his job on Fridays required him to arrive at the stadium more than two hours before kickoff to track down rosters and starting lineups for both teams to make things easier.

He is also the official BBQ chef of the Pit Crew and has spent many a Friday (and sometimes on a Thursday) preparing a wide variety of delicious food for the crew and others in the box, including fall-off-the-bone ribs and succulent tender pork chops.

He said being able to "give back" has been the most rewarding part.

"I'll miss just getting here early and getting with the coaches before the games and stuff like that," he added. "And being around friends has made it easier. We have a good time up here every Friday night."

The fourth and final cog in the machine has been Leckie, who's primary duties have been to help Oliver with spotting numbers on carries, catches and tackles and to quickly figure out the down-and-distance based on where the ball is spotted at the end of each play.

"I just love being up here and having fun with these guys," Leckie said. "It's always been a blast being up here with them and we've always had fun just working together. We always just kind of know what others are thinking."

Leckie laughed when recalling a time when they got Webb to call out "the 52-yard line" as the spot of the ball.

"That was pretty awesome," he chuckled. "But I'm going to miss the camaraderie and being up here together, hanging out and having fun, especially the time in between plays. It's just been a lot of fun."

The families of the Pit Crew gathered in the pressbox to take photos before the final game began and more memories were made on the field afterward. Webb and the crew were also honored with an announcement and standing ovation from the home crowd during the game, while the pregame banner from the LHS cheerleaders also thanked them for their service.

While Pit Crew won't be high atop Jack King Stadium come the 2021 season, the group said they still plan to be at the games to support the program that has been a part of their lives for many years.

"I guess we're going to move down a few rows and just enjoy the football games," Webb added. "When you're up here, you really can't enjoy the games because you're always watching the ball and you don't get to experience a lot of the football atmosphere and what's going on. I won't be missing any Rambler football games, I'm just going to be watching from a different seat."

Scott Herpst is sports editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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