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Blind sports broadcaster Allan Wylie is in it for the love of the game

High school senior Allan Wylie is getting a lot of attention in the world of sports broadcasting. (Courtesy of Kim Wylie)
High school senior Allan Wylie is getting a lot of attention in the world of sports broadcasting. (Courtesy of Kim Wylie)

High school seniorAllan Wylie is getting a lot of attention in the world of sports broadcasting. The 17-year-old has done color commentary at his Cleveland-area high school. He also did a stint this summer in the broadcast booth of Cleveland’s high-A affiliate baseball team, The Lake Country Captains.

It’d be a remarkable feat for any teen, but Wylie also happens to beblind since birth. So how does he describe the plays?

“I try to call the games like when I’m a color commentator how I would want somebody to do it if I was listening,” he says.

Full interview transcript

Logan Potosky and Allan Wylie. (Courtesy of Larry Jacobson)

Robin Young:  Let’s now meet 17-year-old Allan Wylie. We need this. Here he is during an August seven-game stint doing color commentary for Cleveland’s high A affiliate baseball team, the Lake County Captains. Logan Potosky calls the play, and then Allan comes in.

(Soundbite of Allan Wylie doing commentary: Reed with a 2 2 to Watson. He’ll hit a ground ball, just past the second baseman, Spence for a base hit. Bartlett scores. Coming in is Fascia. And it’s a two-run single for Kahlil Watson, and we are tied at five. Well, we talked about this, Watson’s first home game. You want to get some momentum going and a great job, perfectly placed ground ball just out of the outstretched arms of the second baseman brings two home. My friends, we got a whole different ball game.) 

Young: It sure is. Not just because Alan is a senior in high school, but he’s been blind since birth and the sports broadcasting world is buzzing about him. Allan Wylie, welcome. Welcome.

Allan Wylie: Yeah, thanks for having me. This is crazy. 

Young: Well, crazy, you may think that you’re on NPR, but we think it’s wonderful that you are because you’re a broadcaster, a fellow broadcaster.

And we’re going to get some context for this, how you got to this place. But since we just heard you calling, you know, doing some color commentary. Can you take us through, how did this happen? It was a play that just happened. No one can, like, feed you any information. You just came in, right after Logan Potosky. How did you know it was a perfectly placed ground ball? How did you know just outside, outstretched arms?

Wylie: Well, part of it was because of Logan that he said it was just out of the reach of the second baseman. Another one is how I inferred it. So I’m like, ‘okay, well, it went this way.’ So that means the second baseman, or whoever it was, had the dive. This way to try and go get it and then I kind of inferred that and then honestly I try to call the games like when I’m a color commentator how I would want somebody to do it if I was listening. 

Young: Wow and you are picturing it in your mind a diamond. You’re hearing the play-by-play. You’re seeing in your mind the players make their moves. You’re hearing, tell me about what the hearing does too.

Wylie: You know, it’s not all the play-by-play guy. It’s the crowd. It’s the PA. It’s the referees, or umpire, if I can hear them. It’s the players. It really just helps me do what I do best, and that is picture what I think is going on, what I hear going on around me, and then describing that in the best way that I can to the viewer.

Like when the play-by-play guy is telling me what’s going on, I’m picturing myself being one of those players on the field. Like, drawing up the play. And so that kind of gives me a better idea of what I would have done differently versus what they did or, you know, what they did that I thought was a good idea or something like that.

Young: You literally feel yourself in cleats, I hear, or in lace up sneakers.

Wylie: Yeah.

Young: Wow. From all accounts, because you’ve been doing this at, you know, different games, different places, it’s completely accurate. You hear the crack of a ball. You hear the crowd in a certain way. Tell me about other moments where you might have felt something, and you just know something’s happening in a certain moment when you come to do the color.

Wylie: So, you know, I do high school football games for my high school. So, let’s say that there’s a fourth and ten, and the other team’s going for it. And they’re going back to pass. I can tell when the defense is getting there, because the home side starts to get excited, and then you can hear them cheering or yelling at the players to get them, get them, do this, do that, and then you immediately know when the pass was caught because you hear a big eruption on the away side, or you hear the coaches in the booth, because we’re not that far away from some of the assistant coaches in the booth, their reaction. And so really for me, it’s just like what I’m hearing and then how my mind interprets that.

Young: Tell us about another play.

Wylie: I know Westlake versus Normandy was a good one because we had one play where Normandy had it on Westlake’s side of the field and their quarterback threw it up for his receiver and at the time we all thought he caught it. But our D back broke up the play at the last second.

Young: Part of it is that you have almost total recall. A photographic memory, if you will.

Wylie: Yeah.

Young: But not from photos, you know.

Wylie: Right.

Young: We understand your blindness came from a genetic disorder pretty much at birth.

Wylie: Yeah, pretty much at birth, if I did have any vision, I was too little to remember it, so we don’t think I did, but if I did, it would have gone very quickly. So yeah, it’s from birth.

Young: Yeah. And we read in accounts of you, and this is such a rare genetic disorder. It affects one of every 50,000 babies. And we read from accounts of you that doctors at the time said to your parents, ‘he’s going to have a special gift.’

Wylie: I don’t know how they thought that. Maybe because other people with the same gene have gone on to do great things. I mean, that’s certainly a possibility, so. 

Young: Yeah. Well, and you do have a gift. I mean, you…

Wylie: Yeah, yeah. 

Young: You do. Talk about, you started playing piano when you were tiny. Listening to games as a toddler. Talk about your earliest memories of something going on for Allan Wylie.

Wylie: Well, so I started listening to games when I was about two. And I’d always fall asleep to the Cleveland Indians, now Guardians, baseball announcer Tom Hamilton’s call of the game. So, in fact, I think my parents have a picture of me with my hands on a radio that we had in the kitchen because I was listening to the game.

And then it branched out into basketball with Joe Tate. And that was when the Cavs had LeBron and Antoine Jamison was on the team. And then it got to the point where I would go to high school football games. Um, to listen to the bands, because I love marching bands. But as I got older, I got interested in the game itself.

And it wasn’t until I was about 11, when I was listening to Dan Dierdorf, who retired now. He’s a Michigan football analyst, or was anyway. I was listening to the radio call of the Michigan football game, and I’m like, I could do this. I could do the color commentary. And so I told my parents, like, that’s what I want to do when I grow up.

And it took some time, but, you know. 

Young: Well, here you are.

Wylie: There we are. 

Young: Well, and part of it is, I guess you have this, you know, again, this total recall. Well, I love some of the anecdotes along the way. You and your dad went to games. There you are in the stands, you know, being the play-by-play and the color announcer.

Wylie: Yep, dad would tell me what’s going on. He was a linebacker too, so that kind of helped with his football knowledge. 

Young: When you got to be an older kid, someone who had a lot of faith in you was Neil Hartman. He’s the longtime Philadelphia sportscaster. Just in awe of you, you went to, his play-by-play broadcasting camp where you got to do play-by-play and I guess blew everybody away because everybody else needed their scripts and stuff and you just memorized your stuff.

Wylie: Yes. So What really I guess got him was we were doing some sports anchoring like where, you know, I have to look yeah, I gotta look down at the teleprompter to see what’s on there And then you got to read it off to the fans. So and then Neil went to my dad’s like, how are we gonna do this? And so dad read it to me, and I tried to write it down on my Braille device, but for some reason, it wasn’t computing correctly.

So, I’m like, ‘just read it to me.’ He’s like, ‘Allan, this is long as heck. You’re not going to be able to remember.’ I’m like, ‘just read it to me.’ So he did. I’m like, ‘alright, let’s watch the NBA finals.’ Cause it was the Bucs and Suns in game six. I want to watch the NBA Finals. He’s like, ‘you gotta practice.’ I’m like, ‘I’ve got it. Let’s watch the game.’ 

So, that next morning, we practiced one more time in the car. And then I guess dad thought it might not go well. And then Neil kind of pulled him aside. It’s like, ‘how did he do that? How much time did he take rememberizing that? I didn’t want you guys to stay up until past midnight.’ And dad’s like, ‘he didn’t. He just did it twice.’

Young: Allan, first of all, how much does it mean to you that sportscasters like Neil Hartman and many others have applauded you, want to work with you? I mean, you have to have a partner to do this.

Wylie: Absolutely.

Young: So how much does that mean to you? Yeah.

Wylie: It means the world. I mean, just to think that there’s probably a little kid out there like me listening to somebody like a Neil Hartman or like a Rich Eisen or the Celtics broadcasters and the Cavs Tim Alcorn does the Cleveland broadcasters he mentioned me once and it’s just like I was that little kid once. And now to be brought up by somebody or a team that I had listened to and idolized for a better part of my toddler into elementary school childhood. It’s amazing.

Young: So are you. [laughter] Allan Wylie, it doesn’t sound as if you’re going to take no from here on out. Do you foresee a major league color commentary slot, or what do you think you’ll end up doing?

Wylie: Either that and or a sports talk radio show, which is something I’d really like to do.

Young: Yeah.

Wylie: And a lot of it is just enjoying the ride, you know If somebody would have told me five years ago, this is where I’d be at the age of 17 I would have thought they were crazy You know, it’s just, it’s crazy, it’s fun, and, we’ll see where it goes from here.

Young: Yeah. Allan Wylie, Cleveland high school senior and sports broadcaster. And he happens to be blind. Allan, thanks so much. Take care.

Wylie: Yep, you too. 

(Soundbite of Wylie doing commentary: Strausky, stiff arms, a man dies for the pile-on. Touchdown, Demon! Wonderful job by Will Strausky. That, my friends, was power and speed.)

Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.