Williams Arena opened nearly 90 years ago. in that time, incredibly, there have been just two public address announcers for Gophers men’s basketball games: Jules Perlt and Dick Jonckowski. Perlt held the job for nearly 60 years. Jonckowski has had it for the past 31 — a run that will come to an end when Jonckowski, 73, calls his final Gophers game at Williams Arena on Thursday. In advance of that, he chatted with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand:
Q You’re one of just two public address announcers for Gophers men’s basketball in Williams Arena history. What does that mean to you?
A It means a lot. I started as a Boy Scout usher from New Prague High School at Gophers games in 1958-59. I listened to Jules Perlt and imitated him to a lot to friends. He had that great nasal voice. I never thought I’d actually do it someday. I always wanted to be a professional baseball player. But Paul Giel took a liking to me and had me emcee a lot of the events for the Williams Fund. When Perlt decided to retire, he called me and said he wanted to give me the first chance. He said if I hit it off with Clem Haskins, it’s your job. So that’s where I started in 1986-87. Richard Coffey was on that first team. And now his son, Amir, is on my last team.
Q In your 31 years doing games, does one in particular stand out?
A There have been a few, and this year actually including that Indiana game. I especially remember a triple-overtime win against Iowa in the 1993-94 season. Our star was Voshon Lenard and he scored 38 points. There was such excitement from fans that entire game. I remember hyperventilating at the end of the game, and I had to lie down on the table. People thought I was having a heart attack.
Q Are you at peace with not working any more Gophers basketball games after this season?
A It’s tough for me to actually leave after 31 years. There have been so many people coming up to me about it. But baseball starts now, and this is my 29th year doing Gophers baseball. John Anderson, every year they’ve won the Big Ten championship, he has given me the same ring the players got. I’m getting my ninth ring this year. It’s all been a labor of love. I’ve really been fortunate. As a kid, all I cared about was sports. My teachers all hoped I got a job in sports.
Q Your nickname is the Polish Eagle. I’ve always been curious: where does that come from?
A Between working for the Muskies and Pipers [of the American Basketball Association in the late 1960s], there were three months where I needed a job. I was hired as a car salesman, but I was terrible. I was too much of a smart-aleck. But when I took the job, all the salesmen had a nickname. I was Polish. I loved sports and I told them one of my favorite teams was the Philadelphia Eagles. My boss said, “we’re going to call you the Polish Eagle.” It’s amazing how it stuck.
Q The final home game of your tenure is Thursday. What do you imagine the emotions of that game will be like?
A It’s going to be tough for me. A lot of people already said they are coming to see my final game. I’ll probably just sit around the arena after the game is over. I’ll be the last one to leave the arena, I can tell you that.