SIOUX CITY | Ken Clemens, a radio announcer, finds himself a bit on the speechless side when I ask him about leaving the NAIA Division II Women's National Basketball Championship, which started Wednesday.
Clemens has been a fixture at this tournament for nine years, all of which have heard him calling play-by-play action for the Davenport Athletics Network serving the university in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Next year, however, Davenport makes the jump to NCAA Division II. The Panthers, twice a runner-up in this tourney, won't be back in Sioux City. If they make the NCAA national tournament, they'll play in regional sites scattered around the country.
"I get emotional talking about Sioux City," said Clemens. "That's how much this place, this tournament, the people here mean to us."
At 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Davenport opened the 20th edition of the tournament in Sioux City by defeating the University of Saint Francis, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, 80-73. The game was Clemens' 29th behind the microphone at the Tyson Events Center, his favorite venue.
"I've called games at the Breslin Center at Michigan State and at the Crisler Center (at Michigan)," said Clemens. "And this place is my favorite. The lighting is bright, the arena is welcoming, and there is so much enthusiasm here. Our kids (Davenport players) talk every year about coming back here."
Hearing Clemens go on about Sioux City and the Tyson Events Center is why I relish this event. It's a shot in the arm to hear visitors talk about making Sioux City their destination. And then hearing how Sioux Cityans deliver the goods in a fantastic tournament year after year.
Pharmacist Gary Maly, owner of Thompson Dean Drug, and Dr. Tod Knopik, of Knopik Dental, have rolled out the proverbial red carpet for Davenport for years, working with their wives, Carolyn Maly and Anne Knopik. These local Davenport boosters feed the team and cheer them on. Each summer, Clemens said, the Knopiks visit Grand Rapids and spend three to four days with Davenport folks, like Clemens.
"These people have become like family to us," said Clemens, who also mentions Mike Skaggs, tournament co-director, among his best Sioux City pals.
"There are also two fans who sit behind us every year," Clemens added. "It's a father and son and they cheer us on. I make a point to greet them and shake hands with them every game, because their support means so much to us."
Clemens paused, his voice shaking with emotion. "People like that," he said, "will be hard to say goodbye to."
How Clemens, 74, said hello to broadcasting is a bit unique. The Central Michigan University grad (he played basketball for the Chippewas for two years) spent 16 years as a teacher and 16 years as an administrator before retiring from education 21 years ago. He also coached high school boys basketball for 19 seasons.
In retirement, a friend mentioned that a start-up Internet enterprise sought someone to announce high school football games. Clemens lent his voice and worked several years in that capacity with his son, Chad Clemens. Ken Clemens then expanded into collegiate athletics. For two years he called the action of both the women's and men's basketball teams at Davenport. For the past nine years, though, he's worked exclusively with the women's program, calling home and away games.
"Nobody is better at it than Ken Clemens," said Ed Keating, Clemens' broadcasting partner for the past five seasons. "Ken will know where the 14th girl on the other team attended high school. He does his homework because he wants every game to be his masterpiece."
"Ken's scouting reports are as good as mine," said Coach Robyn Scheer-Wells, who leads the 31-3 Panthers into second-round action at 8:30 a.m. Friday. "We'll be talking and he'll give me some statistic that I didn't know. He's very passionate and devoted to Davenport basketball. Our players love him."
Clemens said the feeling is mutual. His "second career" has been an utter joy, thanks to his being around the game, surrounded by student-athletes committed to their sport and their academic pursuits.
And the best place to be, he concluded, is in Sioux City, where 32 teams gather this week, all working toward the same goal, all encouraged by an incredible group of tournament workers, volunteers and fans who turn out year after year, intent on making this a memorable experience.
How memorable? Enough to leave one man who talks for a living a bit speechless.