This story originally appeared in the March 10 edition of the weekly LINK Reader. To get these stories first, subscribe here.
He’s done it for 41 years in what started out his senior year of high school.
If it were up to John Atkins, he’d be the public address announcer for Newport High School home basketball games for 41 more.
Unfortunately, his body won’t allow it. Atkins is dropping the mic after more than four decades of being the PA for the Newport High School boys and girls basketball teams.
“It’s hard to swallow. Something I really love doing,” Atkins said. “I do this for the kids.”
Atkins’ health over the years has deteriorated. In 2011, he had a pulmonary embolism. A mini-stroke followed in 2012, and over the years he’s developed a degenerative disk in his neck that’s turned into scoliosis, and he has arthritis all over his body. Atkins is on blood thinners, so other prescriptive options are limited.
“I’m a Wildcat, I’ve got nine lives. Fighting through all that, I’m not letting it keep me down. I used to walk five miles a day. It’s just hard to move now and sitting at a scorers table for three to four hours is tough,” Atkins said. “This isn’t my doing, it’s just the man upstairs telling me it’s time.”
Atkins was asked to announce by then-Newport principal George Frakes in 1982. He gave it a shot and loved it. He was handed the script by Steve Cunningham, and as they say, the rest is history.
Atkins’ value to the Newport program is unmatched. Not only did he do PA, he’s also kept the scorebook during games, a double task during a game that’s not easy. Other hats he’s worn at the school include coaching the softball team, helping run the booster club, operating the clock during football games and keeping the scorebook for volleyball.
“I was one person the school could count on,” Atkins said.
He also helped run concessions with his wife Rhonda, who works with children with disabilities at the school. The two will be married for 40 years in August.
“That’s really time consuming. He’d go to Sam’s and buy all the stuff,” current Wildcats coach Rod Snapp said. “The Atkins family is one-of-a-kind for sure. When you think about John, it’s all positive. He’s been such an important piece to our program and not the kind of guy that you replace. He’s like Marquez Miller to our current team. He’s put his heart and soul into it.”
Atkins has done this long enough that he remembers all the coaches through the years, and now he’s announcing the kids of those coaches.
Newport has been fortunate to not have as much coaching turnover. The Wildcats had seven coaches over the 41-year span: Rod Snapp, Aric Russell, Bob Jones, Scott Draud, John Patterson, John Gross and Mark Krebs.
“I’ve known John and his family since I was a kid,” Russell said, who coached the Wildcats from 2001-10. “You never had to worry about anything and he always took care of stuff. He’s just a great guy to have in your program and such a good person. He’d give his own money if a kid needed shoes or food to eat and a real selfless guy.”
He was there for the 2010 team coached by Russell that won the Ninth Region title and made the state tournament. The success helps, but that year is one that certainly sticks out.
“They won the region All ‘A’ and the Ninth Region title that year, beating Holmes by 30. That was amazing. Going to Richmond and Rupp for the first time was really neat. That’s something neat for anyone to do,” Atkins said.
Being cemented in the area for so long, there are tons of talent he’s seen on the floor; the Demarko Foster led team in 2010, Keith Green back in the 80’s, both Draud’s, Scott and Scotty and Newport Central Catholic’s Drew MacDonald, just to name a few that Atkins recalls. But what made the decision to step away now even harder is the talent the Wildcats have on the roster today. Miller is the lone senior on the team and the future is bright.
Atkins thinks freshman Taylen Kinney is one of the more special players he has seen. The Wildcats definitely have the capability to make some runs over the next few years, in his opinion. Recently, Atkins got to cut the nets at Highlands when the Wildcats won the district championship in Fort Thomas, a sweet moment for him, Snapp and the program.
“He mentioned that recently. That’s one of the things we really wanted to do this year. He asked to cut the net afterwards and that was a really cool moment we got to share,” Snapp said. “We’d love to send him off to Rupp,” Snapp said.
Atkins is retired, working for Cincinnati Bell over the years. His next task is trying to find a ranch house, so he doesn’t have to deal with steps.
“I enjoyed it. I’ve always wanted to be around the kids. There’s kids that don’t have parents or those figures in their lives and those kids need someone to talk to and be around. I just try to help out if I can. My wife has been great through all this and so supportive. This osteoarthritis is nothing to play around with. It’s time to go, everything hurts,” Atkins said.
Atkins’ last game at Newport came on Feb. 17 against Ludlow, where he was recognized for his dedication to the school’s athletic programs at halftime with a plaque. The Wildcats sent him off a winner, as Newport took down Ludlow 94-59.