Editor's note: This was written and published before Steve Shondell announced his retirement.
About eight minutes before a match against Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne is set to begin, the men's volleyball team lines up at the edge of the court.
“We can't start until 7:35,” a graduate assistant reminds Steve Shondell from the court-side seats. “Take up time.”
Shondell sits with a stack of papers in front of him, pen in left hand and a tiny black box in his right. He shifts his legs in front of him, rocks forward and presses a button on the tiny black box to turn on the mic.
“Numberrrr seven.... The Skipper... Mike Scannell,” Shondell announces over the loudspeaker at Worthen Arena.
Shondell has been the announcer for the men’s volleyball team for about six years. Even before he became the announcer, he only missed one home men’s match in the program’s 52-year history. That night he was doing his job as head coach of the Ball State women’s volleyball team.
It’s a safe bet that no one loves Ball State’s volleyball program more than Steve Shondell, except maybe his father.
“Ball State volleyball made my life, really,” Shondell said. “I still enjoy it today every bit as much as I did when I was little.”
When he was as young as 5 or 6 years old, Shondell was already practicing for his future. Back then, he was unofficially the first manager for the men’s volleyball team at Ball State.
His father, Don Shondell, started the team in the 1960s, and even in elementary school Steve was constantly around the players.
In those days, Worthen Arena didn’t exist. The men’s team practiced at Ball Gym, immediately following the gymnastics team, and it was Steve’s job to mop up the white chalk they left behind.
“Dad would always have me sweep the floor with a mop because it was slicker than a cat’s rear end,” Steve said. “I was really kind of like the hero, sweeping that floor getting all of that chalk off.”
After practice, the team would playfully stuff “the hero” into the lockers.
He also traveled with the team, squeezing into the already tight station wagons or gray Chrysler limousine, if the players were lucky.
“I was just dying to go on all of the trips, but I always felt like whenever I would squeeze in the car, the guys really didn’t like it because I would take up room,” he said.
Of course, having an elementary school-aged child hanging around had a few disadvantages for the team. He once caught one of his dad’s players smoking a cigar in the Field Sports Building at a basketball game and reported it to his dad. Not surprisingly, the player was upset.
Later in his life, Steve would become one of those players — this time as more than just an acting team manager. From 1974-77, he was a setter. During that time, the team won three Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association championships and had the longest winning streak in Ball State history in 1976. In 1977, he was named Co-Most Valuable Player.
Steve left Ball State in order to coach and teach at Burris Laboratory School, but he never stopped attending the Cardinals’ home matches.
Steve Shondell would have been happy just spending the rest of his career coaching at Burris. During his 34 seasons, the Owls won 21 state championships, marking an undefeated record in his last season.
During that time, Steve was already announcing for the men’s volleyball home matches.
He originally wasn’t going to apply for the Ball State women’s coaching job, but when the athletic director reached out in 2009, he eventually agreed, making three requests:
1. He would continue announcing for the men’s volleyball matches.
2. The pep band would be at every match.
3. The Code Red dancers also needed to show up.
For Steve, the environment can have as much to do with winning as the players’ performances.
“If you put any sport by itself without any entertainment, without pom pom girls, cheerleaders, music or [an announcer], the fans aren’t going to come back,” he said. “If you don’t have entertainment, you don’t have crowds.”
He’s still announcing, and the Code Red dancers attend the matches, but the pep band played for only one match the whole first year.
He was disappointed. The team even wrote a letter to the school’s paper this past season, thanking the pep band when they played at their match.
“We’ve never lost a match when they’ve been here,” he said.
A different person
“The rain man with the sprinkle,” boomed Steve’s voice over the speaker at the Feb. 11 men’s volleyball match against IPFW.
Junior outside attacker Brendan Surane just hammered the ball across the net, resulting in an 8-7 lead for Ball State in the second set of the night.
Those who attend the Ball State games usually notice the nicknames Steve gives the players — and his odd phrases.
“The Biggg Wheel calling in the squeal,” he bellowed in response to a kill by sophomore outside hitter Mitch Weiler.
Mike Dodrill, who runs the music at the games, said Steve is completely different behind the mic than he is in person. Dodrill has known Steve for years, as the two coached at Burris together.
“It’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Dodrill said. “You put a microphone in front of him, and he’s a whole different personality. It’s like a hidden person in there.”
Head men’s volleyball coach Joel Walton said Steve is normally soft spoken.
“When you go and watch his practice, he’ll be talking to his girls and he might be issuing a challenge, but he’ll be issuing it in a way that he doesn’t raise his voice,” Walton said. “It’s just going to be very calm and to the point. When you see somebody who is that way in a large part of their life get behind the PA and come up with all these nicknames and do all of these funny things, and kind of draw the crowd into what is our match environment, it’s an interesting switch for you to see [Steve] make.”
The same emphasis that Steve places on the environment of women’s games is also one of the reasons he got involved announcing at the men’s games.
One of his brothers announced for years, after that a former Ball State player did the job, then it was someone who “just didn’t know anything about Ball State volleyball,” Steve said.
It was then when he volunteered to take over.
“It was just my pride,” he said. “I just felt uncomfortable with the environment, because you want to have a really good announcer.”
He announces because he wants to create an environment that keeps fans coming back.
“I just like it to be fun,” Steve said. “That’s what sports should be.”
It certainly has been fun for Steve this season, as Ball State’s only home defeat came at the hands of Stanford University, which is currently ranked third in the country for men’s volleyball.