The simple welcome that became iconic at the Oklahoma state basketball tournament

The simple welcome that became iconic at the Oklahoma state basketball tournament

In 25 years as the PA announcer during games at State Fair Arena, Steve Daniels has welcomed hundreds of teams and thousands of fans.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Mar 5, 2024, 6:00am CST

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Mar 5, 2024, 6:00am CST

Steve Daniels doesn’t remember when he started using his signature call to welcome folks to the high school state basketball tournament at State Fair Arena.

It’s championship Saturday, and you have made it to The Big House!

But he also doesn’t remember not using it.

For 25 years, Daniels has been the voice of state games at State Fair Arena. He’s introduced hundreds of teams and thousands of names over the decades as the public address announcer. But as the second week of state basketball tournaments begin Tuesday — small schools were last week, big schools are this week — Daniels admits reaching this 25-year milestone has him appreciating things a bit differently.

He even took a moment this past Saturday to soak in the vibe after his championship welcome.

“I paused a little bit more,” he said. “I don’t know why — it’s kind of strange — but you can tell that that’s a big deal before the championship games.”

Daniels says a variation of his welcome before every game, changing the day and the round accordingly.

“I’m a minimalist,” he said, “so I like it short.”

Still, what he says has become part of the fabric of the state tournament. Like fans clustering in wait to make a run for the courtside seats. Like “Oklahoma!” playing before tipoff and everyone standing and clapping along. Like folks inevitably imploring the refs to “Call it both ways!”

Daniels’ deep resonant voice is so much a part of the state tournaments that it’s hard to think there was a time before he provided the voiceover for the games.

But before Daniels, Larry Reece was the announcer for state tournament games at State Fair Arena for about a decade. Reece, who is also the announcer for Oklahoma State football and basketball, only gave up the gig when he took a full-time job at OSU and the NCAA decided his involvement in a high school event might be a recruiting advantage.

“I still miss it,” Reece told me via text over the weekend.

“It was like Hoosiers every day.”

Reece said he recommended Daniels to the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association. The two men lived only a few blocks from each other in Stillwater, where Daniels was on the radio and did some announcing around town.

Daniels was doing PA during a high school football game at what was then Lewis Field when he was approached by Danny Rennels, then the leader of the OSSAA.

Would Daniels want to work the state basketball tournaments?

He jumped at the chance.

And every year the OSSAA asks him to come back, he’s every bit as excited as he was that first year. Daniels, after all, has gotten to see some unbelievable moments at State Fair Arena. 

Championship Saturday back in 2008 stands out as the most memorable day. Otherwise known as the Greatest Day at State, it featured Keiton Page scoring 54 points for Pawnee, Rotnei Clark scoring 35 points for Verdigris, and the Sequoyah Tahlequah boys and girls drawing droves of Native American fans from near and far.

At one point, Daniels had to make an announcement about cars that were going to be parked illegally.

On the train tracks.

Active train tracks.

So many people came to State Fair Arena that day that several hundred had to be turned away. The fire marshall wouldn’t allow any more inside.

But for all the big draws coming into that championship Saturday, the best finish of that day or any day at State Fair Arena came when no one expected it.

Pocola-Walters girls.

A four-point play (an and-one 3-pointer) with 0.7 seconds left put Walters up two points. But because Walters players came onto the court thinking the game was over when the 3-pointer dropped, Pocola got a technical-foul free throws. 

The first was good.

The second was not.

Walters still led by one, and with less than a second remaining, Pocola only had time to catch and shoot.

Which is exactly what Callie Slate did from about 35 feet as time expired. The shot splashed through the hoop so cleanly, the net barely moved.

Pocola won in a game where eight points were scored in the final 0.7 seconds of the game.

While that day stands as Daniels’ most memorable, he marvels at all the big moments for which he’s had a front-row seat. Records set. Titles won. History made. 

And then there are the personal, more intimate instances that he’s gotten to see up close on the floor right in front of him. There have been fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters who have made the journey together. There have been celebrations, and there have been tears.

This week, there will be that and more.

Since the tournament format changed a few years ago so that every game in the Class 4A, 3A and 2A tournaments could be at State Fair Arena, a whopping 38 games will be played there this week. Daniels, who still does a morning radio show in Stillwater, won’t call all of the games. He’ll do his show Tuesday and Wednesday and miss the first two games of the day. But the rest of the week, he’ll take vacation days from work and call every game Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

And he’ll happily welcome folks to the arena before every one of them.

Well, that’s the plan anyway.

“One time … I think I forgot to welcome people,” he admitted, adding that he thinks it was on a quarterfinal day. “I just jumped ahead. We got out of ‘Oklahoma!’ and I started the lineups. 

“It was on a day when we had eight (games). They just blended together, and I thought, ‘I’m pretty sure I forgot to welcome people.’”

Did anyone say anything about it?

“No,” he said, “so maybe it’s not that big a deal.”

He chuckled, but the truth is, his welcome is a big deal. It’s a thread in the glorious tapestry. Pull it out, and state tournament games at State Fair Arena aren’t nearly as grand.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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