By Blake Ells
On Friday, Steve Bendall will call his final game for the Vestavia Hills Rebels.
Bendall has been the voice of his alma mater for 20 years; he graduated high school in 1982 and currently serves on the school board.
“Some people have poker nights or pool nights or golf,” Bendall said. “This is my hobby. In the fall, this is what I do on Friday nights. My wife has been very understanding. We’ve had to change birthdays, anniversaries, Halloweens and things like that because on Friday night, I’m at the Vestavia game.”
Bendall’s last game is the season finale and homecoming, with the Rebels hosting Huffman.
His avocation began when his longtime, now retired, partner Snapper Lancaster approached him about doing a broadcast. He started on stats before moving to color commentary for the tape-delayed television broadcast in his second season.
Over the past 10 years, the tape-delayed broadcast evolved into an Internet broadcast that has grown to include YouTube and Facebook Live.
“Technology changes every year,” Bendall said. “Thank goodness John is on top of that. I couldn’t hardly put a plug in the wall without electrocuting myself.”
That’s John Virciglio, who is his producer and cameraman. Steven Gil is the stat man, Alan Hardwick is the spotter and, for the first time in 2018, the crew has teamed up with Vestavia’s student-operated VNN to give young, aspiring sports broadcasters a chance to hone their skills. Thomas Wade, a junior at Vestavia Hills, served as color commentator under Bendall’s direction this season.
“Our idea is to turn this into an all-student broadcast and let the school take it over,” said Bendall. “That’s something that John and I have been trying to do for several years, and it has just kind of finally taken hold this year. Morgan Palmer, a teacher at Vestavia, heads up VNN and a broadcast club. She has been very instrumental in it, as well.”
There’s much that has been rewarding for Bendall: watching each team find its own identity, watching the kids who have grown up with his daughters grow into Rebels’ uniforms, interacting with viewers on the web broadcast.
“I get to go back to high school every Friday night for the best part, which is the football games,” he joked. “I don’t have to go to class and do any of the work.”
But lately, with the internet broadcast, it’s been especially rewarding for him when he hears from soldiers stationed overseas, from grandparents in New York, California and Texas, who are able to connect with the team in innovative ways.
A Voice From Home
“When you do the time difference and realize that it’s 4 a.m. over there when we are kicking off, you wonder, ‘Why in the world are you tuning in?’” Bendall said of a Vestavia Hills graduate serving overseas who has become a regular viewer. “But it’s a voice and it’s a piece of home. It’s what they’re fighting for. When somebody tells you that, it’s like, ‘Holy cow. This is more than us just having fun doing this on Friday nights.’”
When this began, he didn’t know that it would last this long, but he did know one thing: Buddy Anderson would outlast him.
“There was no doubt in mind that Buddy would outlast me,” he joked. “I grew up with coach Anderson. He’s like a father to me. I love the man. He’s very good with the kids. He’s a great influence, not just with the football players, but through his work with FCA and things like that. His office door is always open, and he’s willing to talk to anyone. There are a lot of us that really love and appreciate coach Anderson for everything that he has done.”
Bendall still has 3½ years remaining in his term on the school board. He’ll remain available to the crew he leaves behind with hopes of helping steer “one of the longest high school broadcasts around” into its new student-run format.
“We’ve got some great and talented kids,” he said. “They’re doing production, camera, on-air; they’re doing it all. It’s a very exciting time. They’re going to take this thing to a whole other level from what we have done over the past 20 years.”