The job was handed to Mark Fitzpatrick almost by coincidence. He was a last-minute fill-in as the public address announcer for the 1982 Big Eight Tournament, a wide-eyed Mizzou graduate student who probably was in over his head.
But 36 years later, while his beloved Missouri Tigers have since departed the Big 12, Fitzpatrick is yet to give up his gig.
Why would he?
He describes the basketball tournament as the pinnacle of his year. It presents a lifelong banker the opportunity to be a part of the game.
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“See this view?” he asks, pointing toward his seat at the scorer’s table in the Sprint Center. “I’ve got the best seat in the house.”
Fitzpatrick has announced 34 of the past 37 tournaments for the Big Eight and Big 12, all except the three played in Dallas.
He had never planned to make this a permanent gig. In his first season, when he was asked to substitute, the interview process considered of one question. “Can you remain neutral?” Back then, the opening rounds were played on school campuses, and Fitzpatrick was asked to announce a Missouri game. It was difficult, he admits.
A lot has changed.
But some things haven’t. On Thursday, between sessions of the Big 12 quarterfinals, Fitzpatrick whipped out his cell phone and watched the final minute of Missouri's loss to Georgia in the SEC Tournament in St. Louis.
“I really miss them here,” Fitzpatrick said. “You can argue whether or not they should have gone to the SEC. But when this week rolls around, you feel like there’s a big party, and they're not invited.”
He insists it’s not awkward to call the tournament without the Tigers involved, even matchups like Friday’s first semifinal between Kansas and Kansas State.
As soon as the schedule for the event is announced, he puts in a request for time off at his job.
And then he goes to work. He has a neutral, toned-down style, reminding himself to remain impartial and refrain from showing excitement. That’s a sharp contrast from his previous gig as the public address announcer for the original Missouri Comets soccer team. He continues to serve as the PA man for the Rockhurst High School football team and the MIAA basketball tournament.
“I’ve liked them all, but this tournament is special,” Fitzpatrick said. “I haven’t been to other conference tournaments, but I can’t imagine there are any better than this one. Kansas City supports it so well. It’s just an electric atmosphere.”
As you can guess, there have been some memorable ones. As a Missouri fan — Fitzpatrick is president of the Tiger Club of Kansas City — many of his favorite games involved the Tigers. There was the 1983 championship game, in which Oklahoma State, led by Leroy Combs, defeated Missouri, led by Steve Stipanovich, by one point in double overtime.
But there are plenty others. He recalls the 2008 championship between Kansas and Texas. The Jayhawks went on to win the national championship, and the Longhorns had Kevin Durant. Fitzpatrick calls Durant and Danny Manning the two best players he has seen in the past three-plus decades.
“At some point, the games are start to run together,” Fitzpatrick said. “But you still have some that you remember more than others. I’ve seen a lot of great college basketball in my 34 years.”