Sue Gulas called it her dream pairing.
Terry Gannon and Mark Grant demonstrated why she felt that way.
Gulas and Sue Bebar, the Joliet Catholic Academy director of alumni relations, were primarily responsible for bringing together the pairing of 1981 Joliet Catholic graduates for last Thursday night’s Hilltopper Banquet at the JCA Student Activity Center.
Gannon, the featured guest, is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to sports television broadcasting. Grant, who annually serves as master of ceremonies and conducts a back-and-forth exchange with the featured guest at the Hilltopper Banquet, is the color commentator for San Diego Padres telecasts.
In some ways, they are night and day. Put them together, and you have a free-and-easy exchange in a night loaded with laughs, many involving their coaches and teachers while they were in high school.
Grant, of course, always has material, and he certainly does not mind using it even when it means ripping into himself, over things that happened in high school and beyond.
Gannon attended North Carolina State, where he played basketball for Jim Valvano and was a contributor on the Wolfpack’s 1983 national championship team.
He came armed with material about his late father and true character Jim Gannon, a former Joliet Catholic basketball coach, plus Valvano and much more.
Before the program began, Jeff Phelan, president of the JCA Alumni Association, said he thought this banquet was as good as or better than any such banquet in the area, and that’s because this one has Grant as the master of ceremonies.
Then Ryan Quigley, the JCA director of admissions and communications, informed the audience of all the academic achievements and building improvements that are ongoing at JCA. Grant wasn’t about to let that go.
“Ryan, don’t you have an update on the bathrooms? I heard there’s new porcelain,” he joked. “Sue [Gulas] said this was her dream banquet. Any time you get Ryan Quigley and Jeff Phelan to go on and on like that, it’s a dream banquet.”
The night was off and running.
Gannon and Grant shed their suit jackets and donned some old Joliet Catholic garb – Gannon a hoodie, Grant a beanie that Gannon told him he had to wear along with a jacket.
“They don’t make these things as big as they used to,” Grant said as Gannon tried to help him get the jacket snapped.
“How about this one,” Gannon said as he pulled out a tiny Joliet Catholic shirt that he received from his mom, Mary Fran, when he was a year old. “It was 1964, when a Joliet Catholic team my dad coached was Suburban Catholic Conference champion.
“It all started with my mom and dad.”
Ah, yes, Gannon’s dad.
“Let’s see a show of hands,” Terry said. “How many of you had my dad for history? How many learned any history? How many of you got sent to the corner store to buy a carton of cigarettes? How many got sent there to buy a racing form?”
That brought laughs, especially from those who knew Jim Gannon.
Terry Gannon was not all basketball. He also was an excellent baseball player.
“I remember stopping at your house on the way to practice one day,” Grant said, “And there’s this phone on the wall with a weird wire running out of it down to something on the floor, a recorder or whatever it was.”
“When people make bets, you gotta remember ’em,” Gannon responded. “He may have made a wager or two. He may have taken a bet or two. He lost a bet one time when Dick Van Dyke was on. After that, we knew not to click on Dick Van Dyke, or he would kill us. He was superstitious.”
ROAD TO VEGAS
Then there was the time Terry was 15, not yet in possession of a driver’s license.
“I get home and my dad tells me to get the car, we’re going get Uncle Kenny and we’re going to Las Vegas,” he said. “I asked why. He said because Uncle Kenny has to get out of town.
“So it’s 2 in the morning. We’re out in the middle of the Nebraska cornfields and the gas gauge is on ‘E’. We pass a station and the sign says it’s 30-some miles to the next one. Dad says to Uncle Kenny, I’ll bet you a hundred we can make it. We did, and we went on to Vegas.”
During Valvano’s visit to the Gannon home to recruit Terry, he made himself right at home.
“My dad was sitting at the dining room table, and [Valvano] walks in there and sits down with him,” Gannon said. “My mom and I are alone in the living room, and those two spend 45 minutes together – with him telling dad everyone to bet on that night.”
And, when Valvano left, his dad told him he was going to N.C. State.
That was a godsend for Gannon, who always had dreamed of playing at Notre Dame.
The Irish were recruiting Gannon but instead decided to give their last available scholarship to Dan Duff of Lincoln.
“We were at every Notre Dame football game from the time I was 5 until I went to N.C. State,” Gannon said. “When they took Duff, it was a crushing blow. I threw out all my Notre Dame stuff.
“Years later, I walked into the television studio for a game I was working with Digger Phelps. I said, ‘You’re not wearing your ring today ... Oh, you don’t have a ring.’ He didn’t like that.”
ACC & BEYOND
Gannon relayed stories about playing against the likes of Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and Ralph Sampson in the ACC, and against Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in the national championship game.
“Drexler had jumped over the top of a guy and I said I’m not going to let him do that to me, I’ll tackle him first. So I did,” Gannon said. “Years later, I saw him, went up to him and said, ‘Remember me? I’m Gannon.’ He remembered me and said, ‘You are still all those things I called you.’ ”
When his playing days were over, Gannon was a grad assistant for Valvano.
“V was the smartest, most energetic guy I’ve ever known,” he said. “I went to talk to him. I said I have an offer to play professionally in Europe, could stay on and help him at N.C. State and had an offer to do TV work. What should I do?
“He told me, ‘Go do the TV work and if you don’t like it, you’ll always have a job here coaching for me.’ I thought, this is my big life decision and he talks to me about it for 30 seconds. That’s it?”
The end result, though, has been a dream life for Gannon, who among other assignments will be in Seoul, South Korea, in February to serve as NBC’s play-by-play man for figure skating at the Winter Olympics.
We will present more of that and more Terry Gannon in Monday’s Herald-News.
• Dick Goss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.