There was a time when Chris Healy dreamed of being a play-by-play announcer for the San Francisco Giants. Instead, he's had to settle for play-by-play for Bishop Manogue High School football on KHIM 920 AM Immaculate Heart Radio in Reno.
And you know what? That's a pretty good exchange, if you ask one of Northern Nevada's more recognizable sports and outdoors personalities, who works as western regional public information officer for the Nevada Department of Wildlife and also serves as Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA) Commissioner of Umpires for Northern Nevada.
And on Saturday afternoon, he was having a blast calling play-by-play with color man Mike Quilici for Manogue's home game against Carson.
"We have a guaranteed audience of 13 listeners - Christ and the 12 Apostles," Healy joked during a break in the action.
"I look forward to the high school football season," he said, adding with a chuckle. "It's a neat way to get involved, and I think you can tell we have a lot of fun. I know I get too excited when Manogue scores touchdowns. But I've been doing that for as long as I can remember, so I'm not going to stop now."
There was plenty of scoring last Saturday in Manogue's come-from-behind 34-25 win against Carson. And, among other things, Healy and Quilici spent a lot of time talking about the performance of Carson running back Bryan Maffei, who rushed for 231 yards on 30 carries and scored four touchdowns.
"I've yet to see a run where he doesn't have two or three good moves in the open field," said Quilici, himself a backup running back behind Frank Hawkins (later of the Oakland Raiders) at the University of Nevada in the late 1970s and early '80s. "He's a jitterbug type of guy, the way he can stop and go. I'll bet he has moves in his sleep."
The games are a fun way to watch any game on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon for a couple of guys who went to school together - Healy is a 1974 Manogue graduate, Quilici a '76 grad.
"That was a fun game to watch," Healy said, adding that to his best recollection, this was the first time Carson and Manogue had met in football since either 1970 or '71. "We always enjoy doing the games together. We went to Manogue together - and I grew up in the same neighborhood where the old school was - so it's like two friends going to the game and talking football."
Healy was a teen-ager himself when he was introduced to the world of umpires more than 30 years ago.
"I wasn't a very good athlete. I was always a wannabe, but I always enjoyed the competition," he said. "One day, it was in either April or May of my senior year, a friend told me they needed an umpire to work a game for Reno American Little League. So I did it and I was like, 'Wow! This is really cool. I get to be on the field instead of on the bench.' And I've been doing it ever since."
Healy became good enough to earn his position as Northern Nevada's chief umpire for high school baseball, and currently, he holds a position on the National High School Rules Committee. In recent memory, the only other person from Northern Nevada to hold such a position is former Carson High coach Ron McNutt.
"It's good for me," he said. "It's the only way I can diet. If you're busy at meetings, you don't have time to eat."
Healy has long marveled at the number of major league ball players that have not only come out of McNutt's program at Carson, but from the area overall.
"It really is amazing, especially when you consider the perfect time of year to play baseball here is June and July, not March and April, which is when the high school season is played," Healy said. "Our kids play under difficult circumstances sometimes. They have to be tough to play a doubleheader when it's 25 degrees outside. It's either get tough or get in the dugout. But I really believe that helps them when they get to the next level."
Like any other umpire, there is an element of heckling to endure. Given his position with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, Healy hears some unique lines.
"Some kids who know me will ask during the game, 'When are the deer tags going to be available?'," he said. "I've also heard, 'Healy, you can't call balls and strikes and you can't manage deer, either. Mostly, it's just good-natured ribbing."
After graduating from high school, Healy went to Carroll College in Helena, Mont., where he spent one year as a kicker on the football team. After that, he changed his mind about a career as a school teacher and returned home to take classes at the University of Nevada - to pursue his dream of becoming a television sportscaster.
"I wrote sports for the Sagebrush and even did some play-by-play for KNEV 95.5 FM, which was the first FM station to do games for Nevada," Healy said.
He did land a television job in September of 1980 with Channel 2 in Reno, where he worked for more than five years. Then came an opportunity to work for the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
"They were looking with media experience who knew how to shoot video tape, so I got lucky," Healy said, who will observe his 20th anniversary on the job 20 years in February. "It's a small agency so you pretty much get to know everybody. Our people are dedicated to what they do and I get to go on the air and talk about the work they do."
There's something to be said about having the outdoor spaces of Nevada for an office.
"I was born and raised here, so I'm a little biased, but with each passing year, I have become more and more thankful that I live in Nevada," Healy said. "You don't see hurricanes or anything like that, other than an occasional record snowfall or a drought, and we're always in a state of drought here. The people of Nevada have kind of an individual spirit about them, and I fit into that, you have a lot of wide open spaces, and there's a lot of good fishing."
Of course, this is exactly the way Healy expected his life would turn out.
"By now, I was supposed to be doing play-by-play for the Giants," Healy said with a laugh. "I feel very fortunate. I have a fun job, I have fun hobbies. I even have a great wife and kids who talk to me."
From Healy's point of view, this beats interviewing major league baseball players for a living.
"I know where to find all the good fly fishing spots."
n Contact Dave Price at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1220.