The Voice of Track and Field
There is none like him when it comes time to announcing a track and field meet. With his extensive knowledge of the sport of track and field, and his penchant for telling track stories, Dale Yellowlees keeps fans glued to their seats waiting for the next historic reference. Not only are they entertained from what they see happening on the track, but they will also be educated about all that they are witnessing.
In The Beginning…
My announcing career began sort of by accident but I was actually well prepared for it. The preparation part came from my mother’s strict standard about clear, correct speaking and, later, from strong direction by Ed LeGars in big high school plays at Mount Royal Collegiate. He pushed me to project, articulate and inflect … speak up, speak clearly, and put feeling into it. What great training it was for a future announcer.
High school life at Mount Royal included football, basketball, track, student council and drama. Football and basketball took me nowhere as an athlete though I later would coach both. But as a runner and actor I got better with age. Going to the U of S introduced me to Doc DuWors and Lyle Sanderson and the wonderful adventure of Huskie Cross Country and Track and Field. Their leadership helped me to progress as an athlete and as a student of running at a time when the sport was about to leap forward in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan.
1965 saw the arrival of serious indoor track and field in the form of the Saskatchewan Jubilee Indoor Games (soon to become the Knights of Columbus Indoor Games). World-class events on a 125-meter banked wooden track in a small hockey rink filled to capacity became the fiery volcano that spewed the lava of enthusiasm and inspiration throughout the region. I ran in those games and later became an official as my wife Jae and I went through official training and certification. Hundreds of others followed the same path.
A surprise opportunity for internship in 1968 began my teaching career at Aden Bowman Collegiate and thrust me into history teaching, formal coaching and the tutelage of more great mentors in Bob Adams and Ron Perkins. At the same time I maintained my dramatic interests by acting in productions of Gateway Players and coaching with Saskatoon Track Club.
Coaching let me work with many great athletes at the high school, club and university level and resulted in induction into the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame as a team coach with two U of S Huskie national championship teams.
Somehow in the late 70’s somebody thought I could contribute to the K of C Indoor Games so I joined the Board of Directors. Since then I’ve had two stints as director for Invitational Events with the first being in the 1980’s and the second beginning in 2018 and continuing as we plan for a return to action in 2023.
One April in the early 70’s as Head Coach for the Saskatoon Track Club I was doing the usual coaching things at the Saskatoon Indoor Championships on the board track in the Kinsmen Arena when Judy Peddle asked me to do a favor. Whoever was announcer for that afternoon couldn’t stay at the event so they had to grab someone to fill in.
I had always been an admirer of the good voices of experienced announcers at events like the Knights of Columbus Games but felt that even the good ones lacked enough knowledge of the sport to completely fill the bill. So, I had fun for a couple of hours that afternoon at the Kinsmen Arena and, somehow, it led to more and more chances to announce at other meets.
Within the next couple of years I got into the ‘big show’ of the K of C Games and the giant operation of the Sled Dog open. Dealing with big-time stars with world-class reputations was new to me and the K of C Games required professional preparation. It was really laborious way back then (wow… almost 50 years ago) since there were no computers!! But I developed a system for doing the research and applied it consistently for every major competition over the years.
Introducing the Competitors...
Dale takes great pride in diligently preparing the audience for the next event on the track or in the field. He goes to great length researching the athletes that will be competing in the events. Dale actually talks to the athletes inquiring about how they got started, their training, their struggles, their successes, their hopes and dreams of a future in track and field. He gets to know them on their level and they appreciate his incredible attention to detail. Dale’s career as a teacher has definitely benefitted him in his role as an announcer.
At the 1977 Sled Dog, Ken Porter from the Edmonton Olympic Club came up to me at the microphone and stunned me with an invitation. With a straight face, he said, “I like the way you do this, so, since I’m going to be the Meet Director of the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton next year, I’d like to consider you to be one of the announcers.” He said I’d have to work with a team and would have to do the preceding Canadian Championship and other preparation meets.
The Commonwealth Games was a fantastic experience giving me the chance to announce the record-setting, gold-medal performance of my friend, Diane Jones Konihowski, in the Pentathlon along with Daley Thomson’s victory in the Decathlon. I described Henry Rono’s easy victories in the steeplechase and the 5,000 meters in the same summer when he had set more than one world record.
The ‘78 Games led to an invitation for our team to continue on together in ‘79 at the World Cup in Montreal. Even as one of the premier sports events in the world it managed to draw only a sparse crowd to the Olympic Stadium. Our voices reverberated as if we were shouting into a giant, concrete rain barrel!! But it proved the value of the detailed preparation I had learned to do for the K of C Games and Commonwealth Games.
Our announcing team was told that we were not allowed to provide any detailed athlete introductions or to comment much about races in progress. Image being limited to….. “The next race on the track will be the Men’s 800 meters. The start list is displayed on the scoreboard.” Maddening. But we had to comply so, on Day 1, we did as we had been told.
At the beginning of Day 2, we agreed that we should push it a little to see if we could make things more lively. We didn’t have to worry because a technological disaster turned us into heroes. The scoreboard crashed and couldn’t be coaxed back into life! We didn’t miss a step since we had the paper start lists and had prepared full color bios on all the athletes. We roared along through that day just like the good old K of C Games!!!
We arrived at the usual time for the start of Day 3 and were greeted by the announcing coordinator who asked, “Were your ears burning last night?”
“Uh. Why? Were they (IAAF people) upset?”
He snorted “Are you kidding. In Dusseldorf (at the preceding World Cup) the scoreboard crashed and the announcers froze. It was a disaster. They couldn’t believe the way you guys rolled on yesterday as if nothing had happened and saved the meet. Today you can do it any way you want.”
At the 2019 Games, Dale introduces Cordero Gray from Arlington, Texas, as both a competitor and as the Jack Wells Testimonial Award Winner for his consistent support and superb achievement. This was Cordero’s 8th consecutive year as a K of C Games competitor.
Announcing the Race...
Dale Yellowlees has an incredible instinct to ad-lib at just the right time. A race can go by very quickly and yet he has the ability to stay on target educating the crowd about the different nuances of the track event taking place. His training as a high-level coach also allows him to legitimately speak of what an athlete is experiencing during the race, or throwing an implement, or jumping long and/or high. The fans become immersed in the events. They get to experience track and field, not just watch it.
Those two years of adrenalin-filled action (’78 and ’79) led to a decade of invitations to do events like the Ottawa Citizen International Games and numerous Canadian Championships. The most memorable was announcing in Ottawa at the 1988 Olympic Trials as Cyprian Enweani waited on pins and needles for announcement on the wind reading for his 200m victory. He had won the race and met the Olympic standard but it would be meaningless unless the wind was legal. I did the usual announcer thing of milking the moment for drama as I read the information with several hesitations. HE HAD DONE IT. Cyprian was going to Seoul!
Over the years there would be the ‘88 World Junior Championships in Sudbury, the ‘91 Pan Am Junior championships in Winnipeg, the ’94 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, and many K of C Games, Sled Dogs, Canada West university championships, Western Canada Games, Canada Games, Saskatoon high school championships and Saskatchewan high school championships.
High profile international games offer elaborate electronic systems for displaying field event results but smaller competitions have to rely on manual display systems. To make the most of this I worked with others to develop a system for spotting and recording field event performances so we could provide almost live throw-by-throw and jump-by-jump commentary about events in progress. Appreciation from many has confirmed the value of this approach so I have to thank my wife and so many other volunteer spotters for making it work so well.
Travelling extensively for recruitment of international students after 1996 (Saskatoon Public Schools and U of S ) reduced involvement in track meets but I managed to stay involved locally. I was grateful that supporters allowed me to be selected as Kinsmen Sportsman of the Year in 2007 and to be inducted into the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. Now 2022 has arrived and we’re all hoping to get back to normal. At 75 I’m hoping that my vocal cords will stay in shape and my mind for details will stay sharp enough that I can enjoy doing my bit to make track meets meaningful for spectators.
The Legacy Looms on…
Whether it be the scary looking crew of announcers (above) that Dale co-ordinated for the 50th Canada Games in Winnipeg, or his grandson, Evan, and many others who have worked as spotters or assistants, one cannot help but wonder if a legacy of new talent can emerge from Dale’s 50 years of rich experience. Thank you Dale, for continuing to entertain and educate all of us about the sport called Track and Field. The noise you make is music to many ears.