This week’s story should be called “The Voice of Friday Nights.” You know the one. It’s that warm, courtly tenor that welcomes visiting teams and fans to the Cougar Dome and asks the Red Army, “Are you ready?” It’s the one that calls the Quince Orchard Marching Band “The Best in the East, the Best in the West, and the Best in the State of Maryland” as they scramble onto the field for their pregame routine. It’s the voice that reminds “Gentlemen” to “remove your caps” before “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And each year, when a particularly worthy QO Cougar makes a play, it’s the voice that honors that young man with the appellation “Mister.”
It’s the voice of Lee Faris, the orchestrator, conductor and master of ceremonies of “those Friday Night Lights,” and the man who, for the past 19 years, has been called “The Voice of the Cougars.”
If you think he sounds like he’s enjoying himself in the announcing booth, he is. “This is the most fun anyone should be able to have while they’re living,” said Faris before the recent regional final between QO and Northwest, adorned for the big game in a tuxedo with a Cougar red tie and cummerbund.
Faris’ career started simply enough. A QO parent who was there when the school opened in 1989 and saw four daughters graduate, he heard that former Athletic Director Michael Lanahan was looking for someone to handle the public address announcing for the home football games.
“I’d known Mike for a long time,” Faris said, “so I gave him a call and went by and talked to him about it. He said, ‘Great, no problem.’ He only had one condition, and that was that I be scrupulously fair to both teams.”
And that he’s been doing, not only welcoming visitors to the Dome but also acknowledging good plays by opposing players.
“I think there are so many games where our players are not recognized at all by the opposing announcers—not in a good play, not in a tackle, not anything. And that galls me,” said Faris. “A good play is a good play, and that should be recognized.” He said with pride that he has had parents from the other side walk over while he was cleaning up in the booth at the end of a game and thank him for mentioning their son.
Faris’ professionalism would suggest a background in announcing. But most of what he’s learned, he’s learned on the job. He went to the Columbia School of Broadcasting a number of years ago “just on a whim,” but he had no desire to pursue voiceover or other announcing work. “It wasn’t me,” he said. What is him is retail management, where he spent 35 years. He now works as a kitchen designer at Lowe’s and is a substitute teacher on his days off.
In running the announcing booth, Faris coordinates the music that underscores many of the familiar routines at Cougar football games. For some time, the night’s proceedings opened with the theme from “Monday Night Football.” In recent years, Faris has favored the more dramatic “Ride of the Valkyries.”
“Next year I might do something different,” he said. “I try to keep it different from what anyone’s going to experience at any other stadium.”
Like the “Mister” thing. Not every year, but in most years, Faris selects one player whom he honors with the title of “Mister.” Fans may remember “Mister” Terrence Stephens. He played at Stanford and made it to the last cut this preseason for the Cincinnati Bengals. Then there was “Mister” Marcus Newby, a redshirt freshman linebacker this season at the University of Nebraska.
This year’s “Mister” was senior quarterback Mike Murtaugh, who recovered this season from a severe knee injury that ended his junior year prematurely. “To come back and do what he’s done this year is remarkable,” said Faris. “That’s my respect to him.”
Faris also pays his respect to the Red Army. He remembers its early years. “We had a gentleman who was the leader or mascot or whatever, who had a Russian uniform with a long pole and a red flag. It was a little strange. I thought, hmm. I didn’t think that was the Red Army, but it came to that. So I think they’re great. I have people all the time saying, ‘Well, can you have the student body sit down?’ And I say, ‘I spent 10 years trying to get them standing up.’ So no, these guys are the twelfth man.”
Faris said, “It’s so much fun to be here where my daughters went to school.” He likes helping the school’s staff by running the booth and giving them the peace of mind that the voice in the booth “won’t say anything idiotic.” He said he will continue to serve at the pleasure of the principal and athletic director.
“I think we just have a great school here,” he said. And that, perhaps, speaks for all the parent and former parent volunteers behind those Friday Night Lights.