A crisp wind brought rain droplets from the Pacific Ocean swirling through the Gulf of Alaska, across Sitka Sound and up Katlian Street, where it pushed a crowded stadium’s cheers to the corner of left field.
“Someone is going to hit one out today,” announcer Bob Barger said. “It is a perfect day to be hitting in the high school state tournament, maybe not playing in the outfield, but it is always a good day to be playing baseball.”
Barger was taking part in his final Alaska School Activities Association State Baseball Championships recently at Sitka’s Moller Field. Officially it was his last ASAA and National Federation of High School Sports contest, unofficially he will always be welcomed back.
On the tournament’s last Saturday, with his alma-mater Sitka Wolves on the field against the visiting Eagle River Wolves, Barger — considered the voice of Alaska high school sports for the past five decades — was honored and acknowledged in a retirement ceremony.
“It just really touches my heart,” Barger said in the announcing booth following the ceremony. His eyes welled up with emotions, and tears smeared his cheeks. “Because to be back home, and the people I love and the friendships, not only in Sitka but you know, like you Klas, growing up and living in Petersburg and having a chance to do Petersburg Vikings basketball, and just to be back home in Southeast Alaska.”
Barger graduated from Sitka High School in 1971, but he called his first sports game as a junior on February 5-6, 1970, when the Wolves traveled to Wrangell.
“The floor of the visiting broadcaster’s booth had fallen out of the bottom of the booth,” Barger recounted. “The floorboards were placed up in the rafters over the basketball floor. I had to obtain a longer power cord from the principal at Wrangell High School to power up my broadcast gear and had a long phone line with me to plug into the phone line to broadcast back to the station in Sitka. I had to lay on the sheet of plywood with my broadcast gear and scorebook, and broadcast the two games. That’s the only time I had to lay down while broadcasting sports.”
Before that, Barger kept score for announcer Howard Bradshaw, the owner of a Sitka men’s clothing store, who was a state senator. Bradshaw would do election returns on television and the old Sitka Lions Club basketball tournament when Sheldon Jackson was a high school. Mt. Edgecumbe high school was under U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs control at the time and hosted the tournament. The three local high schools played and Barger kept tally sheets for Bradshaw, listening all the while. That sparked his interest and he followed San Francisco games on the air. In the summer he visited relatives in Seattle who had better radio reception and learned his craft from announcers in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.
“I learned professionalism and I wanted to do that,” Barger said. “As I got older I got a chance to get on the mic, and got some good breaks, met some wonderful people and eventually became full time, and I just loved it.”
After high school Barger attended the Ron Bailie School of Broadcasting in Seattle, where he got his FCC broadcast license. He also attended Seattle University and earned a journalism degree in broadcast communications.
Among his many career highlights are calling the American Legion Baseball World Series in Memphis, Tennessee. Having lunch with NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell in Seattle while going to college. Calling Alaska Baseball League games featuring future Major League Baseball players.
“And of course making those friendships,” he said.
Barger noted there were mistakes and mispronunciations over the years.
“You have to choose your words carefully,” he said. “I always learned that before the game you go down and talk to the coach, talk to the parents and get the correct pronunciation and that has been a big plus for me, and they really appreciate that you took the time, too.”
One gaffe he remembers didn’t involve the microphone at all. During a basketball game in Metlakatla, while his wife was coaching against the Petersburg Vikings, Barger’s two-year old daughter got loose on the court during a pivotal steal attempt by Petersburg.
“They would have stolen the ball and gone down and scored but the referee waved it off because my daughter was on the court,” he laughed. “So embarrassed. Metlakatla wound up winning.”
Two things Barger noted as being influential in Alaska sports was the growth of women’s sports through high school and into college, and the reclassifications that gave smaller schools the chance to earn state tournament berths.
“Those smaller villages near Nome, or the YK Delta, or southeast Alaska didn’t have a chance before,” he said. “Kake won in 1A this year, 30 or 40 years ago they wouldn’t have had a chance. Now we have 1/2/3/4A, that is a big thing for all of Alaska sports.”
Barger’s career has been recognized more than he lets on. He has received a “Goldie Award” from the Alaska Association of Broadcasters for 53 years broadcasting high school sports around Alaska, and another for 23 seasons of broadcasting Anchorage Glacier Pilots Baseball in the Alaska Baseball League; the Milken Award from the Sitka Rotary Club for outstanding service of broadcasting sports on radio and television, running community sports programs and coordinating a variety of community sports programs while employed by Sitka Community Schools; the Sitka Sportsmen’s Association Award for 25 years of broadcasting coverage of the Sitka Salmon Derby on KIFW-AM and KCAQ-FM Radio in Sitka; and most recently Barger was inducted into the Alaska School Activities Association Hall of Fame in 2020 as a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for his sports broadcasting career.
When his all-too-brief ceremony ended before the start of the Sitka/Eagle River game for 4th/6th place in the state tournament, players from both teams lined up to shake his hand.
ASAA Executive Director Billy Strickland joined coaches as they expressed their gratitude. Umpires shared smiles and hand clasps. Athletic directors walked with him through the adulations.
And the fans raised their voices into the wind and it carried his name swirling from the infield into the outfield, touching the right field foul pole, across the center field scoreboard, and finally out over the left field corner where parked cars flashed head lights and car horns blared.
Barger raised his hand and waved.
“It is a beautiful day to play baseball,” he said.