'Voice'of WVU Bail-Out Over France Helped
Chart Airman's Life Course
The Dominion News
Reprinted by permission, Jan. 23, 1966
happened to him as a navigator on a B-17 bomber during
World War II might have plotted the course Leo W.
Fleming Jr. was to follow as a career.
Virginians everywhere, he’s known simply as Jack Fleming
or as the “Voice of the Mountaineers.”
French folk who came running out of Chateau Thierry to a
vineyard atop a hillside, he was an American airman who
had bailed out of a troubled ship.
It was the
23rd-and last-bombing mission for the young second
lieutenant from his bomber group’s base in England to
Frankfurt in Germany.
September day in 1944 the B-17 Fleming was helping to
fly had two engines knocked out by enemy fire and he and
his parachute barely made it back to friendly lines.
As he landed
in the vineyard overlooking that famous French village,
however, Fleming drove a stake into his mouth. Result:
Cut lip, loss of upper front teeth, broken jaw, and a
variety of facial abrasions.
A Bloody Mess
“I was a
mess,” he recalls. “I thought I was going to die but,
actually, I was not mortally wounded.”
helped him to a field hospital which, in turn, had him
flown back to England where he remained hospitalized
until January 1945.
Then, as he
was about to return to combat, Fleming developed
hepatitis and returned to the States for convalescence.
He wound up
at White Sulphur Springs, in his native state, where the
swanky Greenbrier Hotel had been converted to Ashford
General Hospital for military use. It was there that
the Morgantown native, whose accountant father wanted
him to study engineering, first got the broadcasting
entering military service, he had enrolled in
pre-engineering at the University and then switched to
journalism. He recalls liking a speech and radio course
he took at that time with Don Knotts, the TV-movie star.
brief background and urging by a couple of friends,
Fleming welcomed the opportunity to cheer up other
patients at the military hospital.
Adams, former WVU cheerleader, happened to be the
recreation officer there and Miss Irene Spitz, a
Morgantown native, was with the Red Cross chapter.
with them conducting quiz shows in the wards and giving
periodic news reports and playing records over the
public address throughout the hospital,” Fleming says.
makeshift start during the early months of 1945 up to
the present time, he has developed into one of the
nations foremost and busiest sportscasters.
broadcast nearly 1,000 games in football and basketball,
pro as well as college and high school, along with
untold dozens of boy baseball and other events.
an estimated 425 basketball and 170 football games
involving WVU teams; some 100 Pittsburgh Steelers pro
games since 1958, and 78 Pittsburgh Rens basketball games
“I don’t mind
traveling,” Fleming says, “I enjoy it."
It is a good
thing he does, for his assignments have taken him hundreds
of thousands of miles via almost every conceivable mode of
Pittsburgh work, even the home games are “on the road” for
this 42- year-old father of two.
Born in 1923
just a stone’s throw from Mountaineer Field, Fleming lived
on the Sunnyside of town until he was old enough to start
sitting with my mother in front of an upstairs window and
looking out into the Stadium where WVU was playing
football,” he recalls.
Most of his
boyhood was spent in other sections and he completed all
of his pre-college schooling locally with graduation from
Morgantown High in 1941.
He served in
the Air Force from 1942 to October of 1945, after which he
returned to Morgantown and immediately became associated
with Radio Station WAJR.
his WVU studies followed in February 1946, along with his
radio job, and he completed work for his bachelor of arts
degree in speech in the summer of 1948.
years he earned a reputation as Jack “No Breakfast”
Fleming, doing the early- morning show of music and news.
sports broadcasting was in the role of “color” man for Sid
Goldberg, who was filling in for Charlie Snowden in the
fall of 1945.
helped Snowden after his return in 1946, then was given a
trail on his own in the winter of 1947 - an assignment to
broadcast a Morgantown-Elkins high school basketball game.
That summer he
also did the play-by-play of Morgantown’s State American
Legion junior baseball championship conquest of
was ready to take over the WVU football and basketball
network, beginning with the fall of 1947. Except for the
years of 1960 and 1961, he has been the “Voice of the
He is manager
as well as sports director of station WAJR and has been
honored three times as State Sportscaster of the Year.
resides at 377 Jacobs Drive, also is a former member of
City Council and remains active in local civic and
admittedly “always interested in athletics,” he organized
intramural and industrial teams in basketball and softball
annually from junior high through college.
as sports editor of the Red and Blue Journal in high
school and of the Daily Athenaeum in college.
He also found
time to do some football officiating in area high school
circles ... and got paid for it. On some occasions he
even tried his hand-and-toot as basketball officiating.
married Glenna Plunkett of Greenbrier County on Aug. 19,
1946, while both were attending the University. They have
two children, Sandy, 16, and Nancy, 14.
good Mountaineer fans,” Jack admits.
that he himself might sound like a fan at times, too, when
broadcasting WVU games.
"I strive for
accuracy,” he explains. “But I also strive to entertain
... make it as colorful as possible ... because you can’t
lose sight of the fact it is a show.”
“So I try to
interpret from the fan’s standpoint when doing WVU games.”
In defense of
possible criticism, Fleming points out that he mentions
officiating on occasion because it has become increasingly
vital over the last years, especially in basketball.
“When it is
seemingly hurting your team,” he reasons, “you have an
obligation to let others know. Otherwise, they are not
getting a clear picture of the game.”
his favorite sport to broadcast and many observers believe
he has no equal in describing this sport.
“The game is
so fast you don’t have to fill in as much as you do in
football or baseball,” Fleming notes. It’s just a matter
of developing the technique to do it.”
He tries to
“keep the ball located” for his listeners -- to create a
picture in the fan’s mind as he would see it- rather than
delve on theory or sidelights.
baseball as the toughest sport to broadcast because “you
have a lot of time to fill and must develop things to talk
there isn’t time to recap plays.
become the dominant sport in broadcasting down through the
years, and television has tended to change techniques
governing description of its games.
TV has yet to
affect basketball so greatly.
Give Fleming a
place “where I can see the game” and he’ll manage to do
his work carefree, but he says facilities have improved
1,000 percent since “the old days.”
“I used to
work in the stands with fans all around me,” he explains.
“And we’ve worked from such spots as the roof of a station
wagon, school windows and rooftops and even on the
the football broadcasting facilities in Mountaineer
Field’s new $165,000 Press Box as the best in America.
Likes It High
basketball, he prefers the higher perches ... like the
roof- nest at Blacksburg, Va., or one of those at Raleigh,
individual scoring as well as a running score of the
game,” Fleming explains, “and the higher I am the less
head movement is necessary. I just use my eyes.”
He also serves
as his own engineer for WVU basketball games away from
home, but not even an engineer could have spared him the
biggest technical trouble of his broadcasting career.
It was the
second half “blackout” of a Milwaukee Classic game last
month, forcing him to finish the broadcast via telephone.
inadvertently had kicked the line loose inside the arena
and not until some 11 minutes had elapsed was Fleming back
“It took me by
surprise,” he says. “We’ve had line trouble before but
never this bad. Hereafter, though, we’re prepared to go
right to the ‘phone without much delay.”
pleasant memories, he cherishes WVU’s 100-75 victory over
previously unbeaten New York U. in Madison Square Garden
in 1952 and the 17-2 drought-ending football victory over
Pitt in 1947 at Pittsburgh.
so excited doing the latter that he went off the air
without realizing that the hated Panthers had been awarded
a safety. He had the final score 17-0.
drunken fan poked his fist into the radio booth that day
and struck Vic Peelish, former WVU player who was helping
rowdy occasion Jack himself got into a debate with a
one-eyed Washington & Jefferson fan during a basketball
game at Washington, Pa., and was whacked hard on the
until I got busy, he hit me hard as he could, then took
off running,” Fleming recalls.
the same night a WVU manager forgot the players shoes and
the game had to be delayed an hour until someone drove
speedily to deliver them.
the verbal jockeying Fleming had with a Davidson fan
during the Southern Conference tournament last year at
“He sat behind
me, reached a peak pitch during our game with Davidson,
then developed warm admiration for the upsetters of his
favorite team and cheered for them the next night,”
man saw Jack in Charlotte earlier this month and said that
he requested the same seat behind the WVU broadcaster for
this years tourney.
occasional overlapping assignments, Fleming has had some
awfully tiresome travel.
a WVU game at Williamsburg, Va., he drove to Richmond to
catch a plane for New York’s LaGuardia Field. There he
took a helicopter to Kennedy International for a jet to
Chicago, where he met other members of the Steeler
broadcasting crew and grabbed another jet for San
there at 5:30 A.M. Sunday, or 13 ½ hours after he had left
Williamsburg, and caught a few hours of sleep before going
on the air with the Steeler-49er game that afternoon.
rush-rush-rush trip of 2 years ago stands out in his
here by bus Friday for Pittsburgh, from where he flew to
Greenville, S.C., with the WVU basketballers for a
Saturday night game there.
Greenville shortly after the game by plane for Charlotte,
where he checked into the airport motel and rested until
5:30 A.M. From there he flew to Philadelphia, thence to
Pittsburgh to broadcast a Steeler game that afternoon.
Back to South
Greater Pittsburgh Airport he went Sunday evening, changed
back into lighter garb, and flew to Charleston, S.C., via
Charlotte in time to do WVU’s game at the Citadel Monday
As the man
says, though, he enjoys travel.
also points out reassuringly that he and his family are as
close and as happy as ever despite the few times he might
have omitted his traditional signoff:
Glenna, Sandy and Nancy and to Mountaineer fans everywhere.”
He has tried to
eliminate this reference to his family in recent years to
avoid possible embarrassment to his teenage daughters, but
listeners particularly women, have questioned the deletion.
They think it’s
a “personal touch” and expect it.