Jerry Fisher’s career winds down

Sentinel photo by STEVE MANUEL
Jerry Fisher, the voice of Penn State women’s basketball for four decades, will call it quits at the end of the season.

UNIVERSITY PARK — At the age of 22, having grown up at the knee of a Penn State broadcasting legend, Jerry Fisher saw an opportunity and thought it would be cool to do the play-by-play for the Penn State women’s basketball team.

He approached Rene Portland, who quickly agreed.

Forty years later, Fisher will wind up the nation’s longest tenure for a women’s basketball play-by-play announcer when the Lady Lions end their current season in March.

His last game will mark the first time since 1966 — 53 years — that a Fisher will not be broadcasting Penn State sports as Jerry followed his father Fran, the beloved former voice of the Nittany Lion football and basketball teams.

When he heads to retirement in Arizona, Fisher will leave a million blue and white memories in his rear-view mirror.

His first heart string will be pulled, of course, by his late father, Fran.

“Growing up, the son of Fran Fisher was probably one of the most fascinating things in my life — watching all the things he did, and trying to follow in his footsteps to some degree,” Fisher said during preparation for this season. “Needless to say, I saw Dad having so much fun broadcasting. There’s no doubt I’m very proud of that legacy and the advice my father gave me. He was always the rock … my biggest critic.”

And his biggest fan.

“He constantly told me and my friends that I had the perfect face for radio,” Fisher said, laughing. “Our whole family had a great relationship.”

When Jerry broke in on the women’s beat, his father was still broadcasting men’s basketball in the old Eastern Eight. They only worked together once.

“Dad did the color for me for a game at West Virginia,” Jerry said. “It was the only time I talked more than him.”

Fisher, 62, began by doing a couple of playoff games at the end of Pat Meiser’s tenure in 1979 for WMAJ radio in State College.

Then he carried the idea to Portland, and at first, he only called the home games. Soon after, he took on the entire schedule and eventually, when Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1990, he became part of the Lady Lion travel contingent.

In addition to his play-by-play duties, Fisher hosted news and sports radio shows in State College for decades.

“I’ve worked for just about every radio station in town — WMAJ, WRSC, WBLF,” he said. “I give a lot of credit for any success I’ve had to my father and Bob Zimmerman. Bob was hard to work for, but you learned so much from him, and he made you better.”

Fisher left State College once — to take a radio sales job in Richmond, Virginia, “thinking I was going to make a big name for myself.”

It lasted three months.

“I hated it,” he said.

He returned to State College and has been comfortable since. At one time, he thought he could possibly succeed his father as the football play-by-play announcer, but he respected the selection of Steve Jones.

“I knew that Steve was the logical choice,” Fisher said. “He had been doing (men’s) basketball for many years and, rightfully so, the PSU hierarchy wanted the same voice for football and basketball. I did apply, and I didn’t want to get the job based on being Fran Fisher’s son but on my own merits. The administration was probably leaning (to Jones).”

Penn State women’s coach Coquese Washington, now in her 12th season, has appreciated Fisher’s commitment and found him to be an invaluable resource. He’s also been an integral part of the Lady Lion Booster Club.

“Jerry’s so entrenched in the program,” Washington said. “He travels to every road game and home game. More importantly, he’s at all of our events. He’s part of our family. He’s so supportive of what we do, so supportive of the players. Our fans love him. He’s does a great job being prepared and makes the games and our play come alive.

“Not many programs have had the same (broadcasting) person as part of their program as Jerry has. We’re definitely very fortunate to have him.”

According to Penn State, Fisher’s tenure of 40 years is currently the nation’s longest, leading Tennessee Martin’s Tom Britt, now in his 38th year.

Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour is “grateful” for Fisher’s longevity and ccontributions.

“Jerry played a significant role in the growth and awareness of the program, and he and his radio broadcasts were an especially important link when there were so few games being televised,” Barbour said. “Jerry’s enthusiasm and passion for women’s basketball and Penn State are well known and appreciated. We will savor his last year behind the mic and look forward to celebrating Jerry and wishing him all the best and safe travels in the next chapter of his life.”

Penn State will address Fisher’s successor after the season. Currently, he works with Joe Putnam.

Fisher’s favorite career moment was calling Penn State’s trip to the Final Four in 2000.

“I now realize what Rene Portland meant to not only Penn State basketball in its fledgling years but what she means to women’s basketball across the country,” he said. “Her fight for Title IX and her staunchness that the women’s program should get the same thing the men got (were instrumental) … It was unfortunate the way things ended, needless to say.”

Portland was fired for alleged homophobia in 2007 and passed away from cancer this past July. Fisher attended her viewing in Philadelphia.

“My wife (Andrea) and I went, and it was great to see about 40 former players and coaches to pay their respects,” he said.

The Portland controversy and Sandusky scandal were especially difficult for Penn State pillars such as Fisher.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I have always said as time goes by people forget or don’t have the connections with coaches, players and even announcers like in the old days. The lifers were closer to Sandusky emotionally because they felt they knew him.”

Fisher also endured his own personal challenges. His first wife, Kim, was killed in a car accident in 1997. His daughter Casey, three years old at the time, was in the car and was flown to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville. She survived.

Fisher is the father of three children — Jaclyn, Casey and son Alex. He has four grandchildren and two stepsons, Jarrod and Ryan Prebola.

With his career winding down, he’s become nostalgic.

“Looking through the media guide, it gets to me a little bit,” he said. “My life has been pretty crazy growing up. I’ve gone through a lot of stuff. The women’s basketball has been a constant throughout. No matter what twists and turns my life has taken, Lady Lion basketball has been a great constant for me.”

A scratch golfer, Fisher considered retirement options and picked Arizona for its climate.

“We basically did a month-long vacation a couple years ago and fell in love with the place,” he said. “My wife has had a desire to go to the southwest for a period of time, and she convinced me and that’s where we’re headed. I don’t plan to do any broadcasting work unless something comes up. I plan to play a lot of golf and maybe work at a golf course.”

He’s proud of his career and his legacy.

“I guess the ability to continue to do the games (is most satisfying),” he said. “They didn’t fire me so I must have been doing a half-decent job. One of the most satisfying things in doing the games is the same thing my father used to say: The relationship you build with the athletes and the people who follow the sport is very satisfying and a neat feeling.

“(It’s been) the greatest job I could possibly have. To be able to sit down with a microphone and describe the game I love so much for a university I love so much, I couldn’t ask for more.”

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