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PAXTON — Rocky Marron admits he has trouble hiding the Paxton-Buckley-Loda football fan in him when he is on the air every Friday night.
But the last few PBL games he has covered as a color commentator for WPXN-FM Radio have brought it all out.
“Now that we are getting a taste of success again and the excitement level is starting to pick up, I think that contributes to a more interesting broadcast,” said Marron, who was a member of Paxton High School’s state-qualifying football team in the mid-1980s.
Winning, in recent years, has not been an expected result for PBL. Despite this, Marron has tried to remain optimistic with his radio commentary as his play-by-play partner, Jeff Pribble, provides a more realistic perspective.
“Jeff is very to the point, very analytical and very thorough,” Marron said. “He is very professional in how he wants things to run. I am the fan, the ‘homer.’ He calls me the eternal optimist in that I will try to find a bright spot in a pretty bad performance. I think there is a good balance between our two types.”
Marron said he is enjoying the sight of this year’s PBL team returning to the glory days of yesteryear.
“I feel great for the kids and the coaches and the fans,” Marron said. “I really want these kids and the community to experience that (winning feeling). There is nothing like it. Football brings people/communities together like no other sport in smaller towns.”
The past few years had made Marron’s job as a commentator less fun. The Panthers won a total of 10 games since its 2006 playoff appearance, including 1-8 seasons in 2007 and 2008.
“For me, it’s been tough,” Marron said. “I had seen the program disintegrate first-hand over the years, something I thought I would never see happen to Paxton/PBL football. I won’t fib to you. It’s tough to broadcast a blowout. Those games seem to take forever. It’s not fun to watch, and I am sure they are not fun to listen to.”
There was a time when winning was a little more commonplace in Paxton.
Marron played for the Paxton Mustangs, prior to the PBL consolidation, as a member of the class of 1986. In his junior year, Paxton went 11-2 and advanced to the Class 2A state title game, where it lost to Amboy 16-7.
The Mustangs returned to the state semifinals in Marron’s senior season with a 9-3 record, only to lose to Ottawa Marquette 14-6 in overtime.
“I remember what Paxton was like when winning 10 to 11 games a year was commonplace, along with yearly deep playoff runs,” Marron said.
Following the PBL consolidation and the hiring of coach Jerry Zimmerman, the Panthers made it to the playoffs nine times from 1990-98, including 2A semfinal appearances and 12-1 records in 1993 and 1995 each.
Marron was hired as a commentator for WPXN in 1999.
After a brief absence from the playoff scene, Marron watched as coach Jeff Graham returned PBL to its winning ways. The Panthers made the playoffs three times under Graham, from 2002-05, and in 2006 under Jim Zenner.
Along the way, Marron has been with numerous play-by-play personalities on Friday nights.
He started out working alongside Don Shields.
“He was very patient with me,” Marron said. “I learned the most about radio from him. We had a lot of great discussions to and from football games.”
Marron would later be joined in the broadcast booth by the likes of Mark LeClair and Dave Lithgow.
“LeClair and I had a lot of fun on the air,” Marron said. “We are two absolute fans of PBL football. We were basically a couple of Ron Santos trying to keep our excitement or disappointment off the air long enough to actually convey a broadcast.
“Dave Lithgow is one of the best speakers I have ever been around. I really believe that guy could do play-by-play for a major college/pro game tomorrow and sound like he has been doing it for years.”
Right now, and over the past four years, Maroon provides his color commentary along the play-by-play talents of Jeff Pribble, who started with WPXN in 1994 covering playoff games for St. Joseph-Ogden and Fisher, among others.
Pribble said he is impressed by Marron’s football knowledge.
“I thought I knew a lot about football until I met Rocky,” Pribble said. “He knows the game as well, if not better, than anyone I have met. He makes doing play-by-play so easy because he is so prepared with the information he brings about the teams involved.”
Marron said Pribble has conveyed an even-keel persona during the dark years.
“Jeff is very solid,” Marron said. “You get the same thing every week with him, regardless of the situation. He does not get too high or too low.
Despite his even-keelness, Pribble said doing play-by-play for PBL football games has been a tough task.
“I am very animate about the team concept,” Pribble said. “Over the past few years, it has not been about the team, but the individuals on the team. This year, it’s totally different.”
Due in part to the change in the team concept, PBL has won its last three games.
“I think we finally have the coaching staff that can put PBL football on the map and glad I am allowed to be a part of it,” Pribble said. “I am just ecstatic for Rocky. He is all about the kids and the hard work they put in and bleeds blue and gold.”
Youth movement paying off
According to Rocky Marron, who has coached the PBL Youth Football Senior team since 2004, over 60 percent of this year’s PBL High School football roster is made up of players who previously played in the youth football program.
Marron said he is pleased to see his former players perform on the gridiron at the high school level from the broadcast booth.
“It makes me proud to see the kids that participated at the youth level,” Marron said. “The coaches at the youth level take a lot of prode in seeing the kids who played at their level continue on to coach Jeff Graham’s level.”
Marron also said he enjoys seeing those former youth players make an appearance at the younger players’ practices.
“It means a lot to the youth football kids to see the young men at practice who are the same young men playing at the high school level.”