ACKERMAN: Blind, Driven, Inspiring
ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – I picked up Chris Judd at his St. Louis home on April 27, a little over an hour before the Blues-Blackhawks game.
It was a rainy, cool evening as the two of us drove down the highway. Downtown was bustling. While a Cardinals game was just letting out at Busch Stadium, Blues fans were cramming into Scottrade Center for Fan Appreciation Night. An event at the Peabody Opera House further slowed the traffic.
We found a parking spot, entered Scottrade Center and made our way up to the broadcast booth. Judd was handed a pair of headphones and took a seat. He cupped them over both ears, closed his eyes and listened as play-by-play man Chris Kerber opened the broadcast.
It would be his direct line tonight, the only way to follow the action on the ice.
Chris Judd is completely blind.
Throughout the game, Judd sipped on a Pepsi and listened to Kerber’s description. He heard the crowd’s eruptions and felt the vibrations in the countertop. He smiled whenever the foghorn blew. He chuckled at a Kelly Chase one-liner. Judd would later celebrate a Blues victory, clinching home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Then, as Judd took my elbow and unfolded his cane for our walk back to the car, I asked him a question.
“When was the last time you went to a Blues game, Chris?”
“This was my first one,” he said.
Judd, an avid listener to Blues games, e-mailed me during the season, requesting a visit to the radio booth. While indicating that he was blind, he mentioned that he’d always wondered what went on behind the scenes of a broadcast.
Three hours after being picked up at his doorstep, he had his answer.
As I returned Judd (@announcer1980) to his home, he had something to hold onto now. An experience he could share with his close group of friends, some of whom are visually impaired. I imagined him describing the action to them, which made me smile as I pulled out of his driveway.
Ever hear of a blind man working in the competitive world of sports? You will. Remember the name Bryce Weiler.
“There are two things I hope to be able to do,” Weiler, 22, told me this week during a visit to Busch Stadium. “Hopefully, be able to see at some point. And then be able to have a job in sports.
“I know that’s going to take some hard work for me, to outcompete other individuals who might be trying to obtain those same jobs.”
Weiler, a Lawrenceville, Illinois native, is well on his way.
He attends the University of Evansville, majoring in sports management. Weiler was born blind, but holds on to his dream of someday being able to see.
“If I’m not able to see,” Weiler says, “then I hope to find a job in sports, so that I can show other players and coaches how great it is for them to be able to see and play sports.”
Louisville’s Rick Pitino has already taken notice of Weiler. It was through Evansville coach Marty Simmons – an invitation to sit on the Aces’ bench — that gave Weiler the freedom to connect with coaches.
“(Pitino) was the first BCS coach that I ever talked to,” Weiler said.
Weiler and Pitino became close, talking over the phone and eventually meeting up at Louisville home games.
“Coach Pitino has always been willing talk basketball with me and teach me about the game,” Weiler said. “He’s also counted me in on some of their celebrations of the Final Four and the national championship.”
Last season, upon reaching the Final Four, Pitino gave up his opportunity to cut a celebratory piece of the net. Instead, he told center Gorgui Dieng to snip a piece for Weiler, who keeps it with him at all times. Along with the pieces of net from Butler’s two Final Four appearances. Weiler and Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens are friends, too.
But it doesn’t end there. As Louisville began another Final Four run this season, Pitino told Weiler he’d present his Evansville pal with a national championship ring, should the Cardinals win the title. (He’ll be receiving his ring when the players do.)
“That’s something that I’ve always wanted, to be a part of a championship,” Weiler said. “And not being able to see, I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to make it to that point.”
Thanks to Simmons, he has – and then some.
“Sitting on the Evansville bench has changed my life,” Weiler said, “to witness players overcoming the odds of making it and being successful. Listening to players grow over their four years.”
Overcoming the odds? Weiler did that a long time ago. Now, he’s entering the big leagues.
Before a recent Cards-Reds game at Busch, Weiler exchanged stories with left fielder Matt Holliday about a mutual friend, CBS analyst Doug Gottlieb. Weiler shook hands with Red Schoendienst and laughed with Marty Brennaman, both Hall of Famers.
Then Weiler settled into the Cardinals radio booth and calmly slipped on a pair of headphones, one ear uncovered to take in the stadium ambiance. He listened to Mike Shannon and John Rooney and chatted up the broadcasters during breaks in the action. Weiler was in his element.
“Without the broadcasters, I wouldn’t have the interest in sports that I do,” Weiler said. “It’s the broadcasters who truly paint the picture of baseball and enable me to experience pictures happening on the field.”
What Weiler doesn’t realize is the significant impact he has on those broadcasters (including this one), who continue to be amazed by his drive and relentlessness.
Or maybe he does. Maybe it’s all part of the plan.
Don’t be surprised to see Bryce Weiler, in the near future, handing out business cards — complete with team logo — at a sports venue near you.
Tom Ackerman is Sports Director at KMOX Radio in St. Louis. Follow him on Twitter: @Ackerman1120