Thompson announcer Jerry Young remembered by friends and colleagues

Published 12:17 pm Friday, January 19, 2024

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

While Jerry Young was with his family at his beach house celebrating his 67th birthday on Sunday, Jan. 7, a round of storms along the Alabama coast knocked out the power at his house.

The Warrior Nation Network play-by-play commentator was scheduled to be off for Thompson’s varsity basketball games against Tuscaloosa County on Tuesday, Jan. 9 and let his longtime color commentator Seth Hagan take the assignment while Young enjoyed time with his family at the beach.

However, when the storms hit his house, he called Hagan to tell him he was making the drive back to Alabaster to call the games.

It became the last time the duo broadcasted a game together.

Young passed away suddenly on Friday, Jan. 12 at the age of 67, and in the six days between his death and his funeral on Thursday, Jan. 18, the many people whose lives he touched remembered him as a man of character who cared deeply for those around him as well as for high school sports.

To Hagan, nothing better exemplified Young’s selfless personality than his final broadcast, and he feels blessed to have gotten one more conversation and call another game with the man who was by his side for his entire career at Thompson.

“That’s not a short drive, that’s a four-hour drive, but that was who Jerry was,” Hagan said. “He loved to call games. He loved to be a broadcaster. And he didn’t have to do that. He knew that I was already going to cover him, but that was his character showing through.

“And so, to be there for just those circumstances to happen right at that time, that brought him back up to Alabaster, where I got to see him one last time, we got to have another great talk and to get those last couple of games in and the fact that we won, it was just one last blessing that God gave me one last memory with him and I’m so thankful that I just have one last great memory with my friend.”

His career as a broadcaster took him many places, from his start as a radio broadcaster for T.R. Miller High School in Brewton to Milton, Florida to the biggest games in Alabama across all sports for the NFHS Network, but his most recent tenure as the “Voice of the Warriors” for Thompson’s Warrior Nation Network cemented his legacy as the man behind the microphone for some of the most memorable moments in school history.

“I can’t overstate just what he meant for our program,” Thompson High School athletic director Vincent Pitts said. “I appreciate his friendship, but more than anything, I just appreciate what he did to serve our community, serve our student athletes, serve our coaches, serve the network, (and) serve our athletic department.”

Most notably, Young served as the play-by-play announcer for Thompson’s home football games during the Warriors’ streak of four straight state championships, from their first state title in 37 years in 2019 to the legendary championship game against Auburn in 2020 to the biggest plays from Thompson’s All-American, Back of the Year and Lineman of the Year-winning players.

Along the way, he built friendships with people at Thompson and beyond, including Warriors varsity football coach Mark Freeman, who broke down every matchup with him in their weekly meeting.

“I always looked forward to Tuesday afternoons seeing Jerry come out to practice, and at the end of practice, we always did our Warrior Nation preview,” Freeman said. “For several years now, I’m just used to him coming out there on Tuesdays and doing the interview and seeing him a little bit and chatting about the last game and having to tell him, ‘don’t say too much about this week’s opponent’ in a joking way.”

As their friendship grew beyond their professional relationship, Freeman could clearly see Young’s heart for Thompson and everyone at the school.

“I just loved being around Jerry, and I loved the enthusiasm and the love he had for not only Thompson High School, but our program and all the kids and coaches who were involved in it,” Freeman said.

While some broadcasters around the state were determined to call college and professional sports and left to pursue those opportunities, Young’s lifelong passion was high school sports. He made it his mission to advocate for the athletes, coaches and teams at the high school level.

As written in his obituary, “Jerry loved promoting all high school sports in Alabama. He always wanted it to be about the players.”

Pitts and Young’s other colleagues and friends said that his love of high school sports defined him among other members of the media.

“You’ve got to have a true passion and enthusiasm for high school athletics to be successful, legendary, all those adjectives,” Pitts said. “You’ve got to have a specific passion. And that’s what he had. That’s what Jerry had. He had a passion for high school athletics. And that’s what’s going to set him apart from other professionals.”

In an era of automated livestreams without announcers on the NFHS Network, Young’s personality set Warrior Nation Network’s broadcasts apart. He cared about telling the stories of each athlete and brought a passion that, in Pitts’ eyes, will be hard to replicate.

“We’ve always strived to have a personal touch,” Pitts said. “That’s what we had with Jerry, and that’s what we’re going to miss so deeply is his ability to add a personal touch, (and) the enthusiasm he had for calling the games. It’s going to be tough to match.”

That enthusiasm was another one of Young’s defining traits. His friends and colleagues in the media often said that he called every play like it was a championship-winning play and every game like it was the Super Bowl.

It was evident to his longtime color commentator on the Warrior Nation Network Seth Hagan and is something that Hagan admires about Young.

“I will always remember the energy and the professionalism of his broadcasts,” Hagan said. “He always came in prepared. When he would get on the microphone, this energy and enthusiasm would plainly come across. You could not mistake it. When you heard Jerry, you knew that you were listening to somebody who really loved what he was doing, and that is something that I will always try to add into my broadcasts as well. Just having the enthusiasm and vigor to where people know that I love this, and we all knew that Jerry loved it and he loved the players and the coaches, and that always was very obvious when he was broadcasting.”

Young’s relationship with Hagan was emblematic of the way he treated anyone he met. He took Hagan under his wing and taught him how to improve as a broadcaster.

In addition, Young gave him opportunities to call Thompson’s biggest games, including some of Hagan’s first playoff games, alongside the man he looked up to who he said influenced his style in many ways.

“Jerry was my mentor in play-by-play,” Hagan said. “I took so many things from him and applied them to what I do every week. He gave me my first opportunity to call state playoff games in sports other than football, one of the great times was this past fall doing a couple of volleyball state championships, and that wouldn’t have happened without Jerry.”

Young being quick to offer a helping hand was counter-cultural to much of Hagan’s experience in the broadcast industry, but he said it speaks to the person he was in broadcasting and beyond.

“In this business, there are a lot of guys who are paranoid of the new guys coming up who want to kind of protect their spot,” Hagan said. “And Jerry was never that way. He was always looking to give a hand up if he could, especially when he needed help. He was never hesitant to reach out. He gave me some amazing opportunities, and he really prepared me to move on from Thompson.”

Beyond anything Young accomplished, he was first and foremost a friend to all who met him. Many of his friends and family in the days leading to his funeral said that he “never met a stranger,” and had the same passion for people that he had for his faith and for sports.

“He was just a friend who I could call when I had any kind of questions at all,” Hagan said. “I will miss our talks. I love the way that he shot me straight when there was something I needed to learn. Any way that he could help, he wasn’t hesitant to give me that and to give me some tough love when I needed it. He was always very honest with me, knew that I wanted to do some good things in this game and he saw to it that he gave me that wisdom.”

While the show will go on at the Warrior Nation Network, starting with Thompson’s varsity basketball games against Hoover on Friday, Jan. 19, his colleagues acknowledge that his void will be difficult, if not impossible, to fill on-air.

“Somebody who does it with that level of enthusiasm, with that level of passion, that drops what they’re doing to accommodate a schedule change or something to that effect, that’s hard to replace,” Pitts said.

Young’s impact was not limited to Thompson or sports. He owned a business with his father, ran a car dealership, was a devout Christian and cared for everyone around him.

Some people at Thompson, like Freeman, have discovered in the past week things like that which they never knew about their friend but have only deepened their respect and love for him.

“Unfortunately, when people pass away, you start finding out a lot more about the lives that they touched along the way than you realize when they’re alive here with you,” Freeman said. “And so, when (Young passed) away, a lot of people that have contacted me said, ‘man, I love Jerry, me and Jerry did this, me and Jerry did that.’ I knew Jerry had a wide base of comrades in the business and friends, but I’ve had so many people tell me how much they loved being around Jerry.

“Jerry had a big reach and a lot of people loved Jerry and his attitude and his love for what he did,” Freeman said.

It’s for those reasons that Hagan and others believe are why the outpouring of grief in the community is so great and why his memory will live on.

“Jerry was multitalented,” Hagan said. “He did so many things in this life. And his imprint, it goes beyond sports. And that’s certainly what we’ll remember him for on this side. But there’s so many people who know Jerry Young in other aspects of life, and that’s why his impact is so widely felt.”