Husband, father, grandfather and Hall of Fame announcer Nate Hirsch, the original "Voice of the Georgia Southern Eagles," passed away Sunday morning at his Statesboro residence. He was 68.
A New York native, Hirsch grew up in the Bronx before earning a broadcasting degree from Indiana State University in 1970. He worked briefly in Atlanta before a job opening at the radio station brought him to Statesboro in the fall of 1970. He eventually purchased the stations in 1980 and sold them to Communications Capital in 2004.
Hirsch was a four-time hall of fame announcer: He is in the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame, the Georgia Southern Athletics Hall of Fame, the Statesboro High Sports Hall of Fame and the Georgia Southern Baseball Hall of Fame.
The funeral service is set for 11 a.m. Thursday at Connection Church on Cawana Road in Statesboro. Visitation is Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Joiner-Anderson Funeral Home.
Hirsch was best known as the 'Voice of the Eagles,' which he became when he started his career in Statesboro in the fall of 1970, continuing until 2006.
"When I got to Georgia Southern from Vanderbilt in 1981, I listened to a radio broadcast of a basketball game and I said, 'What in the world is this?'" said Bucky Wagner, who became athletic director at Georgia Southern in 1981. "I didn't know Nate, but we had an announcer that was as good as anyone in the SEC or anywhere. Nate gave us a level of talent and enthusiasm that established credibility immediately with our football broadcast."
Wagner said Hirsch's business acumen in working with then marketing director John Ratliff helped establish Georgia Southern's radio network across Georgia.
"All the radio stations knew that if they bought the program, Nate would bring a quality broadcast to their market," Wagner said. "Almost immediately, we had the biggest 1-AA market in the country, and Nate was primarily responsible for that. And nobody knew more about Georgia Southern sports or cared about Georgia Southern sports than Nate Hirsch. Boy, we will miss him."
Radio Hall of Fame
During an interview with the Statesboro Herald in 2012 upon his induction into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame, Hirsch listed some of his best memories in the radio booth: He called six football national title games, two trips to the baseball College World Series and three trips to the NCAA's March Madness men's basketball tournament.
Hirsch called Frankie Johnson's legendary touchdown catch from Tracy Ham against Furman in the 1985 national championship game, but he believed that two years prior, when the men's basketball team made it to the NCAA tournament for the first time, is right up there with the greatest moments.
"Everybody always asks me, 'What's the biggest call?' Obviously the Frankie Johnson touchdown," Hirsch said. "But Eric Hightower's shot (an 18-foot buzzer beater in the Trans-America Athletic Conference championship game) in Little Rock that beat them was probably as dramatic. It sent us to the NCAA tournament for the first time."
Hirsch was set to start his third season of calling Statesboro High School football on the Statesboro Herald's "Friday Night Live" broadcast Friday night at Womack Field.
"It was an honor to get to work with Nate the past few years," said Jim Healy, operations manager of the Statesboro Herald. "He was a true professional, a gentleman and so gracious in working with us. He was a pioneer in bringing Georgia Southern football and all sports, along with local high school sports, to our area. We will miss him greatly."
'Upon Further Review'
Hirsch also had just started the 10th season of his Northland Cable show, "Upon Further Review," with his friend and co-host Josh Aubrey. Aubrey is a show host and lead sports videographer for the Statesboro Herald.
"Nate and I were friends and colleagues for over 25 years," Aubrey said. "I will miss my dear friend, and my heart goes out to Pat, Jennifer, Sandi, Mandy and Shannon, as well as all the grandkids.
"Nate was one of a kind. He was there for me during the loss of my son and will always have a special place in my heart.
"In 2006, we had the idea of bringing our conversations to the airways and started a show called 'Upon Further Review.' It has aired for 10 years now on Northland Cable and has been one of the most fun and rewarding things I've done professionally. Nate had more knowledge of our local sports than anyone I know and was a walking encyclopedia for all things Georgia Southern. Eagle Nation has lost its greatest historian and cheerleader."
In 2012, Hirsch told the Herald that he always had an emotional attachment to the teams he covered, an attachment that extended to SHS and Bulloch Academy, too.
"Before BA had lights," Hirsch said, "I'd do the BA game on Friday afternoon and the Statesboro game that night. I was very immature those days. I couldn't go to sleep on a Friday night after a tough loss. The first time (SHS) beat Benedictine - I know this sounds crazy - I was in tears. We finally beat them down there. I thought we'd never beat them down there."
Hirsch realized very early in his career that his work was all about the community.
"I grew up in New York City," Hirsch said. "I went to school in the Midwest, Indiana State, and I come south in 1970, and the first thing I'm doing is reading the feeder pig sales. But it was local. Everything was local."
Don Heath, who just retired after working as a sports writer for 28 years with the Savannah Morning News, remembers a gesture by Hirsch that he said showed Hirsch's caring nature.
"I was a young reporter, and Georgia Southern was playing East Tennessee State in basketball," Heath said. "It's a long way to Johnson City, and Nate offered me a ride. His daughter also was going along on a college visit. He was kind enough to help a young reporter and allow me to be with his family as well. That truly touched me. And even though we were competitors for information, Nate will always share his insights and tips. That was very uncommon in journalism."
'A great man'
Charlton Young was a 17-year-old freshman guard on the Georgia Southern basketball team when he first met Hirsch in 1989, and he made an immediate impression on the teenager.
"You could tell he was a caring man from the moment you met him," Young said. "And I want people to know Nate was a great person who cared deeply about his family. He was a great ambassador for Georgia Southern University, Georgia Southern athletics and the Statesboro community."
Young also was impressed with Hirsch's talent as an announcer.
"He could make a Georgia Southern basketball game sound like the L.A. Lakers and a football game sound like the Chicago Bears," Young said. "I hit some game-winning shots for Georgia Southern, and my grandmother still listens to Nate's calls of those games. He could paint a vivid picture with his words on the radio.
"He will always be special to me, and he is a man I truly respect for the way he was committed to his family."
Perhaps Hirsch's biggest professional accomplishment came in 1973, and it wasn't because of Georgia Southern's first trip to the College World Series.
The radio network became the first ever to broadcast the entire college baseball schedule, both home and away - but it wasn't always easy. Schools like Jacksonville weren't exactly set up for radio.
"They ran a wire all the way through the trees, and they didn't have a press box or anything, so I had to turn over a trash can to have a seat," Hirsch said. "I remember I was broadcasting, and the umpire turned around and said, 'Can you tone it down a little bit?'"
Larger programs also took notice of Hirsch's dedication.
"Everybody said, 'Georgia Southern can do it. Why shouldn't we be able to do it?" he said.
'I had to be there'
Long after he stopped calling Georgia Southern baseball games for the radio, Hirsch continued to attend home games on a regular basis. And for Georgia Southern baseball coach Rodney Hennon, Hirsch's personal connection with his family is what he will remember the most.
"Nate means a lot to me and my family," Hennon said. "I lost my dad (Lamar) a year ago, and Nate and my dad had become real close, talking all the time. Nate's friendship extended to everyone in my family. He called my mom last week just to check on how she was doing a year after Dad died. That's the kind of man he was, always thinking about others.
"I'm going to miss him. The whole community is going to miss him."
Hirsch said he did his best to make sure everybody in the community was on the radio, whether that meant hustling from the Statesboro game on Friday to the Georgia Southern road game on Saturday, going back and forth from a playoff football game in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to a basketball tournament in Chattanooga, or even attending his daughter's graduation at Georgia Southern in 1998 and hurrying to Chattanooga for a national championship game later that evening.
"I always felt like I had to be there," he said.