ABC's Chris Schenkel dies.
Hoosier sportscaster Schenkel dies
September 11, 2005
Chris Schenkel, an Indiana icon and one of the founding fathers of sports broadcast journalism, died early today at Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne, Ind., after a long battle with emphysema. He was 82.
Schenkel's radio and television broadcasting career spanned more than 60 years and included virtually every major sports competition.
Known for his smooth, deep baritone voice, he was the first to cover the Masters Tournament on television, in 1956; the first to call a college football game coast to coast on ABC; and the first to serve as live sports anchor from the Olympics, in Mexico City in 1968.
Other highlights include calling gymnast Nadia Comaneci's perfect 10 at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, and announcing the 1958 NFL Championship game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants, considered by many the greatest football game ever played.
He was also the longtime voice of the Professional Bowlers Association.
Schenkel had a long association with the Indianapolis 500, including a scary moment. He, astronaut John Glenn and Tony Hulman, the late owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, were passengers in the Dodge Challenger pace car at the 1971 race when it skidded into a bleacher section full of photographers. Twenty-two people were injured, including Schenkel, though not seriously.
Schenkel was born Aug. 21, 1923, on a farm in Wabash County, one of six children. His parents, second generation German immigrants, managed a grain and feed business.
He attended Bippus High School in Huntington County and later Purdue University.
He fought in World War II in the Philippines, then Korea, as an infantry platoon leader. He came home to find a radio job in Richmond, Ind., then moved into television in Providence, R.I.
In 1947, he assumed television play-by-play duties for Harvard University football. Five years later, he began a 13-year run as the TV voice of the New York Giants.
Though he lived in Manhattan during those years, Indiana remained his home. In 1971 he and his wife, Fran, bought a home on Tippecanoe Lake, near Leesburg, where he lived until his retirement in 1997. As his condition worsened in recent years, he spent most of his time in Fort Wayne or Indianapolis.
Schenkel's many honors include honorary doctorate degrees from Purdue, Ball State and Rose-Hulman Institute. He has been inducted into 16 halls of fame, including the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters and College and Pro Football halls, and he won an Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1993.
Recently 50 letters were sent to President Bush nominating Schenkel for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Among the nominators were Indiana senators Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh, former Indiana senator Birch Bayh, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, former Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight and golfer Arnold Palmer.
All of the letters spoke of Schenkel's many philanthropic works in addition to his broadcasting acumen. He was heavily involved with the Boy Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Clubs in New York and Chicago and Catholic Charities, among other organizations, and he was a supporter of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and one of the founding board members of the Eiteljorg Museum of Indian and Western Art.
Many of the letters also cited Schenkel's work on behalf of American Indians, for whom he raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. Jack Thorpe, Chief of the Kickapoo Indian Reservation and son of legendary athlete Jim Thorpe, wrote: "This great man has given so much to others, that it is time for us as citizens of the United States to honor My Chief, Mr. Chris Schenkel."
Steinbrenner wrote that Schenkel "is a man who despite all of his fame has never lost that boyish Indiana backwoods charm. ... He is deserving of any medal this country could prescribe for him." Figure skater Peggy Fleming, who covered the Olympics with Schenkel, wrote: "I believe much of his kindness and generosity comes from those simple roots."
Last summer Jim McKay, who worked with Schenkel for many years at ABC, said of his partner: "Chris is one of the friendliest, nicest people you would meet anywhere. He likes people. He loves people. He's very forgiving about people even if anything happens in a bad way."
Schenkel is survived by wife Fran, sons Ted and John, daughter Tina, sister Florence, and grandchildren Michael, Christopher and Katie. The funeral will be held at the Mishler Eastlund Funeral Home in Syracuse, Ind. Arrangements are pending.