Feature: Veteran broadcaster relishes role as “voice of the Tribe”
Jay Colley wanted to call sporting events as early as 1980, when he graduated Middle Tennessee State with a degree in mass communications. 34 years later, Colley is still realizing that dream.
Colley’s path to William and Mary began with back-to-back two-year broadcasting stints with the Nashville Sound and the Charlotte Orioles, both Double-A minor league baseball clubs. Determined to make it to the majors, Colley took a job with a Triple-A club in Rochester, N.Y.
In retrospect, working alongside a young Cal Ripken, Jr. seemed a positive sign for Colley’s major league aspirations. While Ripken launched his professional career, Colley unknowingly began his turn to the Tribe.
“I was with Cal Ripken, Jr. in Double-A, and then he went up to the Major Leagues and I didn’t,” Colley said. “I stayed nine years in Rochester and got out of baseball in 1990, 1991.”
Rochester proved beneficial, however, as Colley met then-Tribe broadcaster Bob Rathbun.
“One time I wore cowboy boots to a game up in Rochester,” Colley said. “[Rathbun] said, ‘Cowboy, I got a job for you.’ I said, ‘What do you have?’ He said, ‘I’m going to be leaving William and Mary as broadcaster next year, and I’m going to introduce you to the station owner.’”
That meeting cemented Colley in Williamsburg. Still, Colley wanted to work in the majors. He agreed to call College games in the fall and winter, but reserved the spring and summer to work minor league baseball games. A single man, the chance to travel the country and work the radio waves was alluring. However, it wouldn’t last indefinitely.
“I got married and we wanted to start a family and so I needed to make a decision of whether to stay in Rochester … and pursue major league baseball broadcasting, or make my home in Williamsburg and do college broadcasting,” Colley said. “I picked Williamsburg, and I don’t ever regret it, truthfully.”
Five presidents, four athletic directors and one Jimmye Laycock later, Colley still calls the College’s football and men’s basketball games. Whether working alongside Matt Ridjaneck ’06 in the press box at Zable Stadium or scribbling down stats with Charlie Wollum in Kaplan Arena, Colley has become the voice of the Tribe.
Today, Colley juggles the duties of broadcasting with his love of Tribe athletics, fighting the urge to call games as a fan in the bleachers.
“My hope is that Tribe fans do listen. I hope that I bring the emotion that they feel, because in the heart — in the very essence of a broadcaster, is a fan,” Colley said. “But they have to be a fairly objective fan.”
Colley recalls moments from seasons past in the blink of an eye. From plays decades ago to junior guard Marcus Thornton’s buzzer beater at Drexel weeks ago, Colley eagerly sketches each play.
“Marcus Thornton hitting the jumper at the buzzer at Drexel — I understand they may have used that call on ESPN,” Colley said. “I was particularly proud of that. I’ve watched it a thousand times … I was fairly close. The dribble, the cut right, the jump and hitting it. That’s nice when you’re accurate, and it was exciting.”
While the job ends soon after the action on the field or court comes to a finale, Colley enjoys a level of access to student-athletes usually reserved for coaches and trainers. Senior guard Brandon Britt, a “personal favorite” of Colley, has gotten to know Colley’s children.
“I do think [Britt] is a remarkable young man. He’s had his trials and tribulations. From afar, I think this will make him a stronger person,” Colley said. “This university has given Brandon a lot, and Brandon has given [to] this university. That’s what collegiate athletes are all about.”
More than the give-and-take of student athletes and their universities, Colley draws particular pride from the level of commitment from the College’s student-athletes.
“We had just won a huge game against Drexel. I went back to tell [Britt] good game. He looked up and he had his book out. That’s a classic picture of a William and Mary athlete after a big win,” Colley said. “Getting back on that bus and pulling out a book. And this is Saturday night. I don’t think students here at William and Mary would be surprised about that because they’re doing the same thing. But I think the fan base may be surprised that this is a common aspect.”
The other job
With a stable broadcasting job, Colley settled in Williamsburg.
“I knew this is where I wanted to be, as long as they didn’t fire me,” Colley said. “It truly is a unique place to live. I had a job here, so I stayed around.”
With the thought of kids and supporting a family, Colley realized a broadcaster’s salary wouldn’t cut it. Running into Tommy Smith ’65 proved another fortunate turn of events.
Smith introduced Colley to the real estate profession, a career Colley still maintains today.
“It’s been a wonderful profession. I can say a large amount of my success is because of the broadcasting,” Colley said. “You meet people, you see people coming and going. You meet alums that come and go. It’s worked.”
A quick Google search brings up scores of pages dedicated to Colley’s real estate practice. After beginning his career in 1988, Colley has worked his way to the top three percent of relators since 1992.
Perks of the job
Colley can claim the distinct honor of working alongside the “shining light of broadcast partners” — Bob Sheeran ’67.
Sheeran spent 16 years as the College’s sports information director before turning his attention to athletic boosters and broadcasting. An icon in his own right, Sheeran left behind a legacy impossible to surmount after passing away in February of 2013.
For his part, however, Colley has fulfilled the gap left by Sheeran. While working to fill the void, Colley has partnered with Ridjaneck for football games.
“Matt and I are getting a repertoire,” Colley said. “We step on each other’s toes occasionally, but you have to do that. Otherwise you’re facing dead air.”
Aside from working alongside both veteran broadcasters and young talent, Colley enjoys a unique perspective of the Tribe’s athletic programs. Unlike students, whose stay lasts four years on average, Colley has experienced a wealth of seasons.
“I would tell you that over the span of 32 years now, football has been the shining star for this athletic department in terms of broadcast because it’s won more championships, its won more games, it’s been incredibly competitive,” Colley said. “What [Laycock] has done has been nothing short of a miracle, in my opinion.”
While football may allow for more exciting calls, Colley finds as much enjoyment in the College’s basketball program.
“I think Coach Shaver has turned this basketball program around to where we are no longer going to be in the bottom half of the league. We’re going to be in the upper echelon year in and year out,” Colley said. “If not, games will always be very competitive. That hasn’t always been the case.”
Colley’s continued run of class and dedication earned him an honorary degree from the College in 2003. While Colley recognizes his Middle Tennessee State degree, the honorary degree from the College strikes a more sentimental chord.
“I’m a class of 2003, that’s my new mantra. It was a great honor. I was shocked at the time,” Colley said. “Hopefully what it means is that I’ve carried myself in a way that shows one of the most prestigious universities in the world has looked on my services and see that I’ve done it with class.”
Despite Colley’s on-air success, he remains humble and focused on the reason he continues to call College games — the student-athletes.
“Nobody has ever come up to me and told me what to say or what not to say. I’ve tried to be as first-class as is capable of me to be,” Colley said. “I treat these young athletes with the respect they deserve. They truly are a special lot.”