Since 1974, residents from Park Street to Lansdowne and all the way up to Union have become familiar with the sound of Steve Ridlington’s booming voice––or, as it is better known, ‘the Voice of the Mounties.’
Ridlington is much more than a football broadcaster. A father, husband and former Parks Canada employee, he manages webcasts for Mount Allison athletics, broadcasts for the soccer and women’s hockey and coordinates community work for student athletes.
For Ridlington, athletics are integral to the Mt. A community.
“Call it tradition, call it spirit building, call it the essence of what being part of a university community is all about,” he said.
Ridlington sees projects funded by alumni such as the new field as confirmation of the importance of Mt. A athletics.
“Alumni stepped forward [for the field], spearheaded by past athletes,” he said. “That’s a tacit, hands-on expression of what their Mount Allison athletic experience meant to them in their younger days and what it means to them now.”
When I sat down with Ridlington before and after Saturday’s game against Laval, his passion for Mt. A and collegiate sports was palpable. So was his character.
At the outset of our interview, we discussed the acoustics of broadcasting at Alumni Field. Ridlington said he aims to push his voice farther into the depths of Sackville.
“We get some great echoes off of the metallic grandstand,” he said. Although you really have nothing to fear, as Ridlington added, “humanity is a great sound absorber,” referring to the fans in the bleachers, I think.
His quick wit was on display throughout our interview. ‘The Voice,’ as he is known to some alumni, sported a wry smile throughout as he reminisced about his 43-year career.
In 1974, the head coach of the Mounties men’s hockey team asked Ridlington to fill in for the game announcer who was out with the flu. Looking back at his beginning, Ridlington said, “43 years later…I guess I [just] stepped in.” Ridlington graduated the next year but never strayed far from Mt. A.
In addition to being the voice of the Mounties, Ridlington also held a full-time job.
Now retired, he worked for Parks Canada and for Canadian Wildlife Service in a field that he described as “pretty much as far away from athletics as you could get.” Although his career often took him to St. John and Halifax, he would always make the trip back to Sackville for game days.
When asked why he has stayed for so long, Ridlington said, “they’re tremendous sports to watch for fans of the game. It’s probably the highest level of amateur sports folks will see.” He quickly added, “For the past 32 years I have had a patient and loving spouse who has allowed me the privilege. It would not be appropriate for me not to say that.”
Later on, with a Coors in hand (after the game of course), Ridlington expanded on his passion for college sports.
“I draw the greatest satisfaction by bringing attention to these folks,” he said. “Men and women, they invest the time as student athletes. I have great admiration, it’s a commitment to study, to practise, to compete and to sustain an average.”
Throughout the interview, I was lucky enough to have him share some of his favourite stories from over the years.
One such story was about a wide receiver in the late ‘70s who he said “caught a pass, ran for a touchdown and felt in such a celebratory mood that he continued running out of the stadium, all the way to the liquor store.”
He told another about a student who laced up his boots for the men’s soccer team in the morning, punted for the football team in the afternoon and hit the ice in an exhibition game for the men’s hockey team that same evening.
Ridlington described a fad that took place after a 1970s ban on glass bottles in the stands, where students would inject vodka into oranges. As he put it, “there seemed to be a considerable increase [in the] consumption of citrus in the stands.”
When asked about his adopted home of Sackville, Ridlington, originally from Quebec City, said, “It’s a beautiful small town yet it has a cosmopolitan outlook because of the school’s presence.” He referenced the lecture series, the theatrical performances and the music.
“How many communities of 5,500 souls in this country have a 1,500-seat concert hall?” he continued.
Speaking on the interplay between the town and the university, he said, “The interface between the university and the community is inescapable and that makes the whole Sackville experience kind of neat.”
Ridlington highlighted some prominent student volunteer groups: “Things like the SMILE program, a number of students that volunteer with minor sports organization, scouts and cadets,” he said.
At the end of the interview, Ridlington commented, “I used to tease people that came from Greater Toronto coming to Sackville to go to school, saying, ‘you abandoned the golden horseshoe for the bright light – singular – of Sackville.’”
Now it seems the bright traffic light Ridlington used to joke about, along with his baritone voice, are what makes this community on the marsh home to us all.