SAN ANTONIO – Harry Cornell has been the public-address announcer at Central Catholic home football games for so long that Friday nights at Benson ’66 Stadium wouldn’t be the same without his voice coming over the loudspeakers.
“It would be a lot different,” said longtime Central athletic director Carlos Enrico, who graduated from the Marianist school in 1972 and was the Buttons’ head coach for 24 seasons before resigning in February 2011. “He’s a fixture.”
Cornell, 75, is in his 49th year as Central’s PA announcer and 55th year as a member of the school’s faculty. A brother in the Marianist Order that runs Central Catholic and St. Mary’s University, Cornell and Central have been inextricably linked since he returned to his alma mater as a teacher in 1962. A 1958 Central graduate, he also has been a coach at the school.
Cornell started his PA duties in 1968, when he was thrown into the breach by then-Central Catholic athletic director Joe Cortez. The regular PA announcer was a no-show one Friday night at North East Stadium, where Central played its home games then, and Cortez needed a replacement pronto.
“I was down on the field and Joe comes down and says, ‘Hey, we don’t have an announcer. The announcer didn’t show up,’” said Cornell, who was a junior-varsity coach in 1968. “He asked me if I would announce. I didn’t know anything about announcing, so he said, ‘Oh, but you know all the players’ names. It’ll go all right.’
“So I went up and announced that game, winged it, and then the next week Joe fired the other guy and he hired me to do the announcing. I always accused Joe of doing it because he knew he didn’t have to pay me.”
All these years later, Cornell says he still looks forward to the high school football season. Meticulous in his preparation, Cornell gets to the stadium early and reviews the names of both teams’ players in the game program before he gets to work.
“I love high school football simply because it’s amateur,” he said. “It’s still a game. It’s not a business. They’re playing for their school, their community. Their parents are here. It’s a great way for people to come together.”
Cortez, who became a local high school icon in 36 seasons as Central’s basketball team, knew he always could depend on Cornell.
“Brother Harry was my right-hand man when I was athletic director,” said Cortez, 84. “He turned out to be my guardian angel. Relationships are very important in life and I’m just glad that we have a relationship of over 50 years. One thing that brought us very close is that we both had that real strong commitment to Central.”
Cortez recalled that fans gave Cornell positive reviews after his first game as a PA announcer.
“I told him he had a job for the rest of the season,” Cortez said. “I didn’t know it was going to last nearly 50 years.”
Cornell is also the PA announcer for Central basketball and baseball games. He announced Buttons’ home games at North East, Northside, South San and Harlandale Memorial stadiums before Central opened its own stadium on campus in 1994.
“Everybody knows Brother Cornell as either the “Voice of the Buttons,” or Brother Harry Cornell, the teacher or even Brother Harry Cornell, the coach,” said Edward Ybarra, Central’s vice president of student development. Ybarra, a 1983 Central graduate, played on the sophomore basketball “B” team when Cornell was the coach.
“He didn’t say much, but when he did, he motivated you,” Ybarra said. “He got you to do what needed to be done to win. He was a no-nonsense type of individual.”
Cornell approaches his PA duties in the same straightforward manner.
“Keep it simple,” Ybarra said. “Just get the job done. You have a task. Accomplish it. That’s the way he coached.”
With Cornell, less is more. And, more importantly, he always eschews being partisan. It’s a quality that has earned him the admiration and respect of visiting fans.
“He’s probably one of the few PA announcers that’s not a homer,” Enrico said. “We’ve been to places where they have big-time homers announcing. People will come and tell me as we’re walking off the field, ‘Did you hear that announcer? Brother Harry wouldn’t have done that.’ I’m just shaking my head and thinking maybe we should bring Brother Harry with us.”
Brother Jim Burkholder, who serves as Cornell’s spotter at football games, expressed similar sentiments about Cornell’s announcing style.
“He gives a very balanced presentation,” said Burkholder, who graduated from Central in 1962 and also teaches at the school. “He doesn’t get real excited when we do something good. He makes sure to mention as many names as possible because the parents want to hear that. I’ve been to games where the announcer is so pro-home team that it takes away from the game.”
Cornell is guided by one principle when he turns on his microphone.
“I want to be as fair as I can to both teams,” he said.
Cornell is among a dwindling number of people who can say they were in Honolulu when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, plunging the United States into World War II. Cornell, whose father was in the Army Air Corps, was born on Jan. 23, 1941. He, his mother and two older sisters were evacuated the day after the attack and arrived in Oakland, Calif., on Christmas day.
“We made the front page of the Oakland newspaper that day,” Cornell said. “They took a picture of my mom, with me in her arms, and my two sisters coming off the ship. It’s the only time I’ve been on the front page of a newspaper. That’s my only claim to fame.”
Cornell’s family later moved to San Antonio when his father, Harry Cornell II, was transferred to Brooks Air Force Base. Harry III attended Blessed Sacrament Academy from kindergarten until enrolling at Central Catholic before his eighth-grade year.
One of the most popular teachers on the Central faculty, Cornell lives on campus and is somewhat of an institution within an institution.
“I love the spirit of Central Catholic,” he said. “It is the spirit of the Marianist Order that makes Central the special school that it is.”
(© 2016 KENS)