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House on the Hill: The Voice

June 1, 2015

It's four hours before tip-off, and Jim Finnen reaches into his closet to pick out a shirt. Any one of the few dozen maroon ones will work.

Once Finnen arrives at Lafayette College's Kirby Sports Center, he's on a mission. He has to track down the opposing team's sports information director. There are a few names on that school's roster that are tricky, and he's got to double-check how to pronounce them. He jots down some notes on the lineup card he has and adds phonetic spellings of each name that might cause him trouble. Mistakes are not something he accepts well.

About an hour before game time, Finnen makes his way into the media room. He shakes hands with everyone and gets in a little basketball small talk.

As the clock ticks closer, Finnen strolls into the gym, smiling at the many familiar faces eager to exchange a few words with him.

Finnen finally gets through the crowd and takes his seat at midcourt, the place he has called home for 50 years. With his glasses slid partway down his nose, the microphone in one hand and some paperwork in his other hand, he is ready.

Seconds later, as the Leopards men's basketball team takes the court, Finnen's deep, distinctive voice booms over Kirby's PA system one last time before Lafayette beats defending-champion American to win the 2015 Patriot League title.

"What we had to do to get to the basketball championship was miraculous," Finnen said. "When we played Army, we had to beat them on the final day of the season. Two other teams had to lose in order for us to get that fourth-place seed and have a home game. We won that one. We went into the semifinals and beat Bucknell out there. Two other teams had to lose in order for us to host the championship game. It was a great script."

And it's been a great career for Finnen, who after leaving WEST Radio in Easton, became Lafayette's public address announcer for football and basketball in 1965.

Before the 2014-15 academic year started, Finnen, 82, sat down and talked with Lafayette's sports administrators and announced that he'd be retiring at the end of the school year.

"I had thought if I made it to 50, that would be a good time to retire," Finnen said. "What the future holds I don't know. But I do INTEND to retire, stressing the word INTEND."

Jim and wife Bea no longer will have to look at Lafayette's basketball or football schedules when making plans with family or friends or simply when it comes to going out to dinner. They intend to travel, specifically to Florida, but Easton will still be their home base. That means the Finnens will be at Kirby Sports Center and Fisher Field. A lot.

Although Jim has seen more games in those athletic facilities than anyone, sitting in the stands will be a whole new experience.

"Fifty years of friendships. That simple phrase will do it. They are deep friendships. They are abiding friendships. and that's been the most important part of my Lafayette experience."

-- Jim Finnen

"He better discipline himself," Bea said. "I'm sure he'll be a very ardent fan, and he'll be a very loud fan at games."

Walking away from Lafayette sports all together was never a consideration. The couple, married 58 years, don't know anything else. During his time with Lafayette, Jim missed only three football games, with the last one coming in the late 1980s. And Bea was sitting just behind him for most of those games.

But didn't he ever get sick?

"He wasn't allowed to get sick," Bea said with a smile.

Jim added, "I was fortunate in that regard. There were never any lingering illnesses that kept me away for any period of time."

During Jim's time at Lafayette, he has made as much of an impact on Lafayette, its players, coaches, fans and even opponents as Lafayette has made on him.

He still gets emails, cards and phone calls from players who graduated 20 years ago. He stays in touch with former members of the sports information office. And he even received a plaque from Bucknell University honoring his five decades of service.

"Off the bat, the thing about Jim that sort of struck me the most and I appreciated the most, was right away when you show up as a freshman, he knows your name from the first game," said Rob Delaney, who graduated in 2012. "As a freshman and sophomore, I didn't play at all. But when you would see him somewhere, he would call out your name and shake your hand and would make you feel important. I don't think he realizes how much the less heralded guys appreciate that. He knows them; he knows their game. It's kind of a rare thing for a PA announcer to be that invested in each individual kid. They know the stars, they know the seniors. But for a kid trying to make a name for himself, he gave me a boost.

"Amidst the helter skelter, he was a calming influence. We're stressed, coaches are stressed and then you'd see him stroll into the gym and he has this smile on his face and his deep, friendly voice and he'd come and shake your hand."

Jim admits he made some blunders during his career, with perhaps his most memorable coming years ago when Lafayette played Penn at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. Walt Doleschal, one of the first soccer-style kickers, attempted a field goal.

"I found myself blurting into the microphone, 'Get legs,'" Jim recalled.

He's also had his fair share of tough names to pronounce. The most difficult Lafayette name he's ever had was Stefan Ciocisi.

"How do you pronounce that?" Jim said rhetorically. "When I looked at his name for the four years he played at Lafayette, I saw CHOSITCH, and I would spell it out to make sure."

That one tough name didn't compare to the season the men's basketball team opened the year with an exhibition game against the Czechoslovakian national team.

"There were 13 tough names that I practiced long and hard and did all right with that," he recalled.

Jim always did everything more than all right.

"Part of his greatness was he didn't make it about himself," Delaney said. "He seamlessly fit in. He wasn't overbearing during the game, but in big moments I would hear his voice.

"There is definitely some nostalgia that will be missed."

For Jim, he will miss so much more than announcing starting lineups, rushing totals and free throw attempts.

"Fifty years of friendships. That simple phrase will do it," Finnen said. "They are deep friendships. They are abiding friendships. And that's been the most important part of my Lafayette experience."

And ours was just being lucky enough to know you.

By Mandy Housenick | House on the Hill