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‘Voice of the Yellow Jackets’ inducted into Georgia Tech’s Hall of Fame

Wes Durham may be gone from Georgia Tech, but he definitely hasn’t been forgotten.

The former “Voice of the Yellow Jackets” was one of nine members of the Class of 2015 inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame Friday night at the Induction Dinner at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center.

The longtime broadcaster, who called Tech games from 1995 to 2013, said being inducted into the HOF was “weird” and “overwhelming.”

“Overwhelming is what it was,” said the Cartersville resident, who has been on the Hall of Fame selection committee for about 15 years. “To know the background of it and then to be inducted is kind of crazy. I’m grateful for the honor. I’m humbled by the honor because when you start doing this as a job, you don’t think, ‘Well, if I do it really well, I’ll be in the Hall of Fame.’ What you’re trying to do is do a good job, No. 1 for your profession; No. 2, you want to represent the school that you’re working for, and you want to do it the right way. And along the way, if you have a lot of nice wins, and you have some successful teams, and you do a really good job, and people recognize that, then maybe some of that stuff happens. ... When I started in 1995, my goal was not to be in the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame, but it’s an unbelievable honor.”

Durham, 49, who left Tech in 2013 to work as a broadcaster for Fox Sports, said this year’s class of inductees is the largest he’s seen since he’s been on the selection committee — six former student-athletes, one posthumous inductee from the veteran’s committee, one from the “unique” student trainers/student managers category and himself from the staff category.

“It was a longer program [Friday night] probably than most because of the number,” he said, noting he had a large contingent of family and friends attending, including his wife, Vicky, and his 16-year-old twins, Will and Emily. “... It’s a nice moment for us, and because Vicky had worked there for such a long time, too, we were able to really share it together, and that meant a lot, too. That meant a whole lot.”

The new inductees, who were notified about their selection in June, also were recognized during halftime of Saturday’s game between Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh, but Durham was in Chapel Hill, calling the Wake Forest-North Carolina game instead of being on the field at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

A short video of each inductee was shown, then he or she was introduced on the field.

“[Vicky] got to stand in for me, which I thought was awesome, and the minute it happened, I started getting texts and tweets,” Durham said. “... In some ways, I hated to miss it, but at the same time, I was also just thrilled that she could be there to stand in. ... I’m glad she got to share in it, too.”

During his 18 years at Georgia Tech, Durham said he received “unbelievable support” from the student-athletes, coaches, administrators, fans and the college in general.

“It was a real blessing to be there,” he said. “And not just the obvious people, not just the programs you directly work with, but everybody within the building was always in support of what we were trying to do with radio and television. ... I was always impressed with how supportive everybody was, and you don’t take that for granted. That means a lot. It was a great institution to represent.”

He also said he enjoyed getting to know the students at Tech, and “I completely respect the challenge that the kids take on there.”

“To play college football or college basketball at that level and then turn around and go to school at a Top 10 institution in research and technology, it’s a big challenge,” he said. “And in today’s pressure of playing sports at that level, it really only magnifies that.”

As for his most memorable moments while working at Tech, Durham said it’s “real hard to replace doing a national championship broadcast in basketball in 2004.”

“No. 1, it was a little unexpected,” he said. “... They got off to a great start. They played pretty well in the ACC. They did have some tough road [games] in the ACC at times. They had a tremendous road win at Duke when they were in the top two or three in the country, late in the season. Then they got in the NCAA tournament, and seemingly in every game in the NCAA tournament [was close or tied near the end]. So all the way through — they played six games that year — those first five games, every game was like that.”

In football, he said he “wouldn’t know where to begin” in picking a most memorable moment, but the late ’90s — the era of former quarterback Joe Hamilton — stand out in Durham’s mind.

“I joke with him all the time ... one of the reasons I got in the Hall of Fame was Joe Hamilton because when you have that kind of player who makes those kind of plays ...,” he said.

There also were other moments: the win over Auburn in 2003, Florida State’s last visit in 2008 when an FSU player fumbled the ball into the end zone and a GT player recovered it to preserve the win and the wins over Georgia.

“It’s impossible to pick one,” he said. “It’s just impossible.”

The Greensboro, North Carolina, native followed in the footsteps of his dad, Woody Durham, the voice of the North Carolina Tar Heels for 40 years, when he began calling games at Radford, Marshall and Vanderbilt.

In 1995, he was hired by Georgia Tech — ironically by the same athletic director who had hired his dad almost a quarter of a century earlier — and in 2004, he also became the play-by-play man for the Atlanta Falcons, in addition to his Tech duties.  

In 2013, Durham had the opportunity to leave radio to try his hand at television. He signed a deal with Fox Sports and now calls college football and basketball games for the network.

“It has a lot to do with timing,” he said. “... I was intrigued about television. ... The easiest way to describe it is I wanted to see if I’m any good. I’d done radio my entire career. ... I had a little bit of a drive to see if I could do television.”

He also said he didn’t want to get to the end of his career and wonder what it would’ve been like to work in TV.

“Now I get to find out,” he said.

While the opportunity was too good to pass up and might be one that didn’t come around again, leaving Tech after 18 years was tough for Durham, mainly because of the people with whom he worked.

“Emotionally, it was,” he said. “... It’s hard not seeing those folks day to day. But at the same time, professionally, I think everybody understood.”

He added he used his Hall of Fame speech to thank the people who helped him do his job at Georgia Tech, everyone from coaches to sports information people to information technology guys.

“The Hall of Fame doesn’t happen if you don’t have the support,” he said.

Working games in both college and professional sports at the same time definitely fills up Durham’s schedule.

“Every day literally is something, and every hour is most of the time accounted for,” he said. “Some of that changed, obviously, in the last three years when I went to television. You travel all the time. If you write it down on a calendar, you basically block off early August through mid-March because once football season is over, you’re still doing basketball. With the exception of maybe a break in your schedule where you might get five days off ... you’re doing a game every three [days], once basketball takes shape.”

For three weeks in November, Durham said he will be calling games for college football and basketball and the Falcons all at once.

“It’s the hardest stretch of the year,” he said, noting it lasts from mid-November through the end of the year. “... You just have to go through time management.”

During some of those weeks, he will have five games in five different cities in a seven-day span.

“Five years ago, when I was still doing Georgia Tech, I had a stretch of eight games in 11 days,” he said, adding he enjoys traveling and doesn’t mind the airports, planes or hotels. “Two years ago, when I first started doing this, I had a stretch of five in seven so I’m back to five in seven again. It’s OK. It’s part of the challenge.”

Since going to work for Fox, Durham has called two Georgia Tech football games — the season opener against Wofford last year and the Tulane game this season, and he’ll be behind the mic for the Virginia game next Saturday. He also has four basketball games on his schedule after the first of the year.

 

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