If you’ve been to a Rome Free Academy Black Knights football game in, oh say, the last 40 years, there’s a very good chance you’ve seen some great football. Also, as consistent as Rome has been on the field, there’s been a cornerstone of the program that you probably haven’t seen, but definitely heard.
The public address announcer behind the microphone at RFA Stadium has been the same man since 1973. That man is Ray Tarkowski. For all of Ray’s dedication to the Rome community and the professionalism he displays through the loud speakers at the stadium and beyond, Mr. Tarkowski is our latest, Adirondack Bank 12th Man Award Winner.
Having already done some color commentary with his good friend, Carl Eilenburg, on some high school games on radio station WRNY in Rome, Ray welcomed the PA job at the Stadium and as the saying goes, the rest is history.
“My brother in law, Tom Myslinski, was an assistant coach at the time. He was one of the people who first asked me to announce a game. I guess I did ok because they have never asked me to stop,” Tarkowski told MHTS in a recent interview, from his seasonal residence in Florida.
Since then, Ray has spent quite some time in the press box at the Stadium, as well as behind the microphone for several years of what was the carnival like atmosphere of Stan “Buddy” Evans and Black Knights basketball at Strough Jr. High. “Those were some crazy nights,” Ray recalled. He added, “They had everything going on in that little gym. There were unicycles, the band and crazy uniforms. Some nights the opposing team didn’t come out of the locker room for warm ups.
Mr. Tarkowski also remembers, vividly, some great players and plays that he has had the pleasure of witnessing in action over the years. One of those players was Andy Van Slyke, who went on to play professional baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals. One of Ray’s fondest memories was the night a young Van Slyke, then a member of the New Hartford Spartans basketball team, sank a half court shot at the buzzer, against RFA, in the Strough gymnasium, back in the days of the old Central Oneida Basketball League.
A sports fan his entire life, Ray Tarkowski probably couldn’t have escaped football if he wanted to. His wife, Susan is a Myslinski, which is about as close to RFA football as the color orange. Susan’s nephew Tom, was an RFA star in football and track and field, before playing four years at the University of Tennessee. “Those were some great years. We’ve been to a Sugar Bowl, a Cotton Bowl and a Fiesta Bowl with Tennessee. We were also at games in the old Meadowlands and out at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. They were really great times,” Tarkowski reminisced. Tom Myslinski went on to play in the NFL for numerous teams and is now a coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The passion for the airwaves and public speaking, likely date back to Ray’s grammar and high school days at RFA. When he was a kid growing up on Craig Street, across from our very own Dave Peroni, he would go to bed on summer nights listening to Vin Scully call his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers games. Later, in the 1970′s Ray and his father actually attended a World Series Game at Yankee Stadium, where he proudly wore his Dodgers cap. He was told by an usher, “Root for whoever you want kid, that’s your right.”
The public speaking talent, which would serve Ray well throughout his career as a prosecutor, came about during his senior year of high school in 1964. “We had an elective called Speech my senior year, so I took it. We would have to do a speech each week in class for a grade. When the person giving the speech made a mistake, the teacher would ring a bell and subtract 20 points from the grade. I never wanted to hear that bell, so I did the speeches right and in so doing, I learned to speak well in front of people,” Tarkowski explained of his lifelong skill.
Mr. Tarkowski graduated from Colgate University before heading to law school and back to his native Rome, where he still resides most of the year with his wife, Susan.
As for the best memories of his public address duties, he has many. However, he stated, “It has been the people that I have gotten to know over the years that are the most special to me. “Media people like Les Diven, Lloyd Walsh, Carl Eilenburg and Ron Moshier come to mind quickly. In fact, Ron Moshier labeled Mr. Tarkowski the “Iron Man” for announcing every single mens’ and scholastic basketball game during a week of the Empire State Games.
People like Buddy Evans, the Myslinski family, Tom Hoke and all of the coaches and volunteers of the Rome Black Knights football family also come to mind for Ray when he thinks about the past forty years.
Last, but certainly not least, the players are the reason that everyone is there. Tarkowski told MHTS, “I love announcing the game, getting the player’s names pronounced correctly and trying my very best to give the games a first class feeling.” Tarkowski added, “I can also tell you that I make it a point to announce as many players as humanly possible that get on that field, because I know how important that is to the player and his family after working so hard to get in there.”
Ray Tarkowski was honored this past season at the rivalry game against Proctor, for forty years of fantastic service. He has no plans of stepping away from the microphone any time soon. “I plan on being up there as long as I can read the numbers,” he said. It should be noted that Ray has never used a spotter to help him call a game. That includes the years and years where he did the team’s statistics at the same time!
On behalf of My Hometown Sports and Adirondack Bank, congratulations to Ray Tarkowski on becoming our latest 12th Man Award recipient. Thank you for your selfless dedication to the students and families of the Rome community and please, by all means, keep up the great work!