Sunday, September 23, 2018

Meet Voice of the Hawks, and Armwood super fan, Bruce Burnham


The man known as "The Voice of the Hawks" sat Monday night in the press box where he has called hundreds of games over the years — and his voice shook.

Memories floated up. Tears welled.

The Voice of the Hawks, Bruce Burnham, said you must understand "that coming to this press box this season helped save my life."

Friday nights gave him something to look forward to and gave him energy to fight through radiation and chemotherapy that left him ragged after 40 treatments over three months. Treatments that followed a 10-hour surgery in the spring that cut out parts of his stomach, liver, gall bladder and pancreas, where a walnut-sized tumor had grown.

Burnham, 65, paused and looked over the football field, then thought back to 1985 when he sat across a desk from Armwood principal Lyle Flagg. He told Flagg that he needed a job as a teacher because he felt that teaching was his calling.

He said he also believed teaching would help him heal from post-traumatic stress disorder, which had plagued him for "10 lost years" following brutal fighting in Vietnam.

Flagg answered that there was a hiring freeze, and Burnham said okay but he had nine more meetings with different principals scheduled that day.

When Burnham walked to the parking lot he heard Flagg’s voice behind him. Flagg held out his hand and said, "I have a feeling about you. All I can give you right now is a handshake and a promise that you’ll have a job in three weeks."

Burnham, who said he had such a strong feeling about Flagg, cancelled his other nine interviews. Three weeks later he started teaching history at Armwood, where he spent the next 30 years until his retirement in 2015.

Along the way he created a Vietnam history class in 1997, then began announcing every baseball game from 1998 and every football game from 2002.

Like everything else he did for Armwood, he gives his announcing 100 percent, going over with the coaches and players for correct pronunciations, keeping up to date on records and getting hip on twitter with sidekick Tony Pirotta @Armwoodpressbox, which has more than 2,000 followers.

And then, of course, there is Burnham’s famous announcement every quarter when he promotes the concession stand with his trivia contest, which always includes the line: "More importantly, I’m going to make you famous in the Seffner metropolitan area when I announce your name from the press box."

He follows by announcing the trivia question, which he and Pirotta research, then he watches dozens of kids race to the front of the press box door. The first to answer correctly gets a concession-stand free-ticket item from Burnham.

On the field, Armwood coach Evan Davis said he doesn’t necessarily hear Burnham’s exact words, but he definitely hears "The Voice of the Hawks," and it is a most welcome sound, a cornerstone, a comfort.

"He is a big part of the tradition here," said Davis, who played for the Hawks in 2003-04. "But he’s also much more.

"When I was a student here I took all of his history classes because I loved everything about his classes. He inspired me so much that one day I said to him, ‘I’m going to come back here and take over teaching your classes.’ "

A few years ago, Davis did just that.

On Monday in the press box — with the name Lyle Flagg printed in bold letters across its top — Davis sat next to Burnham, who said, "I remember him telling me that. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it?"

It is.

On Friday at 8 p.m. inside Orlando’s Camping World Stadium, "the Voice of the Hawks" will not be calling the game behind his microphone, but he most certainly will be there for the Class 6A state championship against Miami Northwestern.

He will be there as he has been for every Armwood game, home or away, for decades.

The best news for him, and for the entire Armwood family, is that he will take his seat with renewed energy and cancer free, a clean bill of health — "Like a miracle," he said — that he received Nov. 20.

Thinking on it, again, the voice shakes.

"This season really meant so much to me," Burnham said. "Sometimes I didn’t feel the best or very strong, but when I came to the games on Friday night I always felt better. Seeing the people, my friends. Calling the game.

"I was so happy that we played all four playoff games at home. It helped me so much. I am so grateful."

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