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YSU’s Robb Schmidt reflects on two decades behind the mic for Penguins men’s basketball

YSU’s Robb Schmidt reflects on two decades behind the mic for Penguins men’s basketball

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Youngstown State broadcaster Robb Schmidt calls a game last Friday at the Beeghly Center during YSU’s contest against St. Thomas. He serves as the Assistant Director of Athletic Marketing and Promotions, but has spent the last several years serving as the voice of the YSU men’s basketball team.

YOUNGSTOWN — It’s a cold winter’s night in the Mahoning Valley, and the Youngstown State men’s basketball team is tipping off. Eager for the matchup, Penguins fans tune their radios and listen in for the familiar voice of Robb Schmidt.

It’s a ritual two decades in the making now, as Schmidt enters his 20th season behind the mic for YSU. He began his career with a Friday night road trip to Indiana State on Nov. 22, 2002, a 63-56 loss to the Sycamores.

Since that night, the Penguins have taken the court 587 more times with some highs and lows along the way. Schmidt, a Warren native now living in Girard, says outside of minor tweaks to the game, not much has changed over the years aside from the student-athletes taking part.

“The best thing is getting to know the players every year. Really, that’s the only thing that changes are the players,” the Harding alumnus said. “The game itself is still pretty much the same.”

Schmidt, who attended Kent State, began his career at WRRO, a radio station in Warren for which he sold advertising for about a year before being elevated to sports director. He broadcasted area high school football and basketball games until 1995, when he left the station to work for Med Star, an ambulance company, for two years as a marketing director.

At the same time, he was working part-time for WKBN. In 1997, he departed Med Star to take a full-time gig with WKBN as a sports director, before eventually becoming a news anchor.

Finally, in 2007, he joined Youngstown State on a full-time basis, where he serves as the assistant director of athletic marketing and promotions in addition to his play-by-play duties.

He began his time behind the mic for the ‘Guins in the 2002-03 season, a proposition brought to him by YSU associate athletic director Rick Love. Schmidt took the idea back to WKBN’s news director at the time, Nick Matesi, and received his blessing to do so.

“When I asked him if I could, he thought it’d be a good idea to kind of help the exposure of the TV station,” Schmidt recalled.

Since then, the Penguins have had three head coaches: John Robic, Jerry Slocum and now Jerrod Calhoun. Each of them, Schmidt said, has made him feel like he’s part of the program.

“That’s important,” he added. “You want to feel like you’re part of the program. I think you have to believe in what you do. I believe in the university, and I believe in the basketball program here. When you do that, you have a vested interest, and I think that’s what leads to the excitement when you call a game.”

There have been plenty of exciting moments for Schmidt, too.

In 2007, Schmidt traveled with the team as the Penguins took on Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and the 2007-08 UCLA Bruins, then ranked No. 2 nationally, in the first round of a multiteam event. In 2019, he traveled with the team to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam Summer Tour.

But the moments that truly stick out to Schmidt are the heart-stoppers.

Among them, he highlights the 2011 Butler game. A year after their first national title appearance the Bulldogs came to the Beeghly Center and left with a 62-60 defeat. It wound up being the last time Butler lost until its defeat against UConn in the national championship in April.

A couple seasons later, the Penguins faced Loyola-Chicago three times, and each of them was a last-second YSU victory. In the first, Kendrick Perry drilled a jumper to lift the Penguins to a 68-66 win. The second was a Blake Allen 3-pointer in a 60-59 win. Finally, in the first round of the Horizon League Tournament, DJ Cole sank a layup to send YSU past Loyola a third time, 62-60.

And, of course, the thrillers against Oakland came to Schmidt’s mind, too. Jorden Kaufman’s last-second layup in 2017 sent the top-seeded Golden Grizzlies packing in the Horizon League quarterfinals, and Garrett Covington’s putback in 2018 was one of the highlights of that campaign.

“Those are the games that always stick with you, the buzzer beaters,” Schmidt said.

It’s not all fun and games, though. Schmidt says he puts in three or four hours of prep work for each game, and recommends anybody on a radio call do at least two hours of that.

It’s easier now than it used to be, he added.

“I was old school when I first started. I didn’t have spreadsheets or computers to log stat pages, so I would handwrite everything,” Schmidt said. “And I had to go through newspapers (to research). We didn’t have the internet at the time, so I had to go to the library and go through old newspapers. It was an arduous task.”

On road trips, Schmidt says it’s not uncommon for him to call a game on a Thursday night and then be up until 3 a.m. afterward doing prep work for the next game.

It’s also not uncommon to see him with his usual pop of choice on those road trips. A connoisseur of Mountain Dew, Schmidt says the caffeine doesn’t get to him anymore, he just likes the taste.

Through it all though, Schmidt says the program “has always been enjoyable to me, whether it’s John Robic, Jerry Slocum or now Jerrod Calhoun.”

He added, “I want to thank the coaches, and the best part of this job is getting to know the student-athletes. Even when they graduate some come back and visit, like Kendrick Perry or Kam Belin. I was invited to Danny Reese’s wedding. That bond is special when you get to travel with them and go through the highs and lows. I really appreciate that part of the job.”

jwhetzel@tribtoday.com

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