NEW PALESTINE — Before the opening puck is dropped on game nights in the Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, Indy Fuel public address announcer Andrew Smith often finds himself skating through time as he saunters across the ice.
Trained not to trip over his words — nor his steps — when he occupies his seat behind the glass at center rink, Smith, like many professionals, avoids clichés.
But given his journey from small-town newspaper writer to entrepreneur to the voice of the city’s ECHL’s Eastern Conference minor-league hockey team, there are exceptions to the rule.
“I do pinch myself at the good fortune I’ve had to be a part of this game and to be able to fulfill some dreams and goals I’ve had since I was very young,” said Smith, an Indianapolis native and New Palestine High School teacher, whose career and life have spun full circle the past few decades. “That’s the cliché I use all the time. Every time I walk out on the ice to get to my spot, I look up at the empty arena, and I’m amazed at how a little more than 30 years ago I sat in the stands here and fell in love with this sport.
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“Now, I get the opportunity to be the guy, announcing for this crowd. Who knows? Maybe there’s some kid that’s going to his first game that might fall in love with the sport like I did. Because of that, I have a great responsibility to do it well.”
From humble beginnings
“I am maybe the most non-athletic person alive,” Smith said with a laugh while reminiscing on his youthful stabs at playing sports. “That never panned out.”
His passion for sports hardly faded due to his lackluster 40-yard time or inability to conquer hand-eye coordination. Instead, it took root in the building he now calls his second home.
Going to see the Indianapolis Checkers take on the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, Smith’s fascination for sports and especially hockey grabbed hold.
“Since I went to my first hockey game in 1983 when I was 7 years old, I immediately fell in love with the sport. There was something about the speed, the physicality, there was something about the atmosphere,” said Smith, who will turn 40 next month. “Everything about it I really enjoyed and wanted to be a part of.”
With age came diverse appreciation for all sports. At Pike High School, he worked for the school newspaper and became the student-manager for the basketball team after being recruiting by head coach Ed Seigel, one of Smith’s mentors. Encouraged by Seigel and head football coach Bob Gaddis to pursue a career in sports, Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Indiana University with hopes of becoming a broadcaster.
“When I was in college my senior year, I tried to get a job in hockey. I sent a résumé to every single team in the minors, trying to get hired on somewhere,” Smith said. “I didn’t really find anything with my experience, but I always wanted to be involved with hockey.”
Smith decided on the next best thing, working as a sports journalist for nearly a decade from 1997 to 2006, with stops in Greencastle and Greenfield.
Time for a change
While working in Greenfield at The Daily Reporter, Smith enrolled in “transition to teaching” courses at Indiana Wesleyan University and by 2010 obtained his master’s degree. At the same time, Smith and his wife, Anne, were working toward adopting their first son, Aaron, (now 8) from China.
By August 2006, he became a teacher full time at New Palestine, where he continues today, teaching government and economics while also advising the student newspaper and yearbook staffs.
“It’s wonderful when you look out and there are 25 teenagers relying on you for knowledge, guidance, input, and relying on you as a leader and a role model,” Smith said of the education field. “That’s the one thing I’ve really enjoyed about teaching; it’s rewarding to see you’ve had a very small impact on their journey and path.”
Smith coached girls basketball at New Palestine at various levels from 2006-11. After a few more years, he became the school’s sports information director while getting back to his roots as the public address announcer for a host of varsity sports.
Getting back into the game
Though Smith turned in his notepad for a syllabus, he never strayed too far from journalism and his broadcast dream.
While juggling several responsibilities at New Palestine and becoming a father in 2008, Smith routinely freelanced as a writer on the side, including with Paul Condry, owner and operator of the Regional Radio Sports Network and the Indiana Football Digest.
“He’s a versatile guy, and that’s something you have to be,” Condry added. “I think his contributions, whether it be the Indy 500, hockey or basketball and football, he’s just a really good talent and a guy that can juggle a lot.”
Often alongside close friend Tim Adams, Smith broadcast local high school football on WJCY-FM (91.5) and picked up opportunities to work Bethel College basketball games and the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star Series.
In 2008, Adams started the CrossCom Sports Network, which later became Hancock County Sports, broadcasting high school sporting events over the internet, with Smith on the mic.
When Adams unexpectedly passed away in June 2010, Smith assumed operations of the company with a heavy heart.
“He was a good friend, and I miss him a lot,” Smith said.
Right place at the right time
Hockey is in Smith’s blood. An avid fan, he spent as much time as he could covering the Indiana Ice as a newspaper man, sometimes to the surprise of his bosses.
“To the extent that we would cover the minor-league hockey scene in Indianapolis, he was enthusiastic about it,” recalled David Hill, former Daily Reporter editor. “I would ask him, ‘Andy, is this important?’ His answer was always, ‘Yes.’ He would usually write a big preview every year. But I didn’t know it would lead to this kind of a job for him later on. It’s pretty cool.”
With more “free time” after leaving the newsroom, Smith volunteered with the Indiana Ice, serving as an off-ice official, a goal judge and videographer.
Then, came his big break.
“After I left the paper, I would still show up at games and help the stats crew. Over time, I became a regular part of the crew where I was working as many games as I could,” Smith said. “At the end the 2011-12 season, the Ice’s regular PA announcer wasn’t available for every game, so they needed someone in a pinch and asked me to do it for a game.”
Smith performed well enough that the next two years he was part of a PA rotation with two other announcers.
Of course, there were a few learning curves.
First, Smith had to adjust to the acoustical nuances of the old Coliseum, which was built in 1939.
“It actually was probably the best thing for me being an announcer because the sound just bounces all over the place. You really have to concentrate and enunciate all of your words to be understood,” Smith said. “That really forced me to work really hard to be a good public address announcer.”
No looking back
While with the Ice, Smith played a key role as the team captured the Clark Cup championship in 2014, conducting radio interviews on the ice and announcing at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in front of 12,000 people.
He also added play-by-play announcing of Franklin College football and basketball for GRIZtv’s video webcasts to his already elaborate list of ventures, which includes occasional writing for the Daily Reporter, often focusing on the Indianapolis 500 and motorsports, one of his other passions.
Smith, who authored “Indianapolis Hockey” in 2004 for Arcadia Publishing chronicling the history of hockey in the Circle City, got the full-time PA job with the Indy Fuel last fall, where he can be heard echoing throughout the newly renovated Coliseum.
He’s also the proud father of two boys with the adoption of Casey, 3, from Korea last fall, which required him to miss some time with the Fuel — a choice Smith says he would make every time.
“I did have to miss a couple of games earlier this fall because I was in Korea adopting our second son. Our emcee Scott Allen (one of the former PA announcer with the Ice) filled in for me for one game. On opening night, Gene Honda, the voice of the Chicago Blackhawks, the Chicago White Sox, Final Four and several other teams filled in that night,” Smith said with a laugh. “How many people can say they’ve had Gene Honda, the best PA announcers in the business, fill in for them?”
Someday Smith might be the one filling in for the new guy as he continues to seek new opportunities whenever possible.
“I’m not sure I have the greatest pipes, but to be able to do this is really out of a stroke of good fortune. Every game is really the fulfillment of a dream,” Smith said.
“I’m not sure I have the greatest pipes, but to be able to do this, is really out of a stroke of good fortune. Every game is really the fulfillment of a dream.”