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Longtime Williston athletics announcer Ralph Lockwood dies

WILLISTON, N.D.--After calling more than 8,000 games and seeing three generations of athletes grow up, the voice of Williston athletics has fallen silent.

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Ralph Lockwood, the announcer who called more than 8,000 games in and around Williston during his 48-year career, died on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016. He was 69. WILLISTON HERALD FILE PHOTO

WILLISTON, N.D.-After calling more than 8,000 games and seeing three generations of athletes grow up, the voice of Williston athletics has fallen silent.

Ralph Lockwood, the KEYZ broadcaster who announced games for Williston High School, Williston State College and nearly every other town in the area, died Tuesday.

"There's a huge, huge void to fill," Larry Grondahl, who's been involved with baseball in Williston for more than 30 years and was a longtime friend of Lockwood, said. "For him not to be around anymore is a shock."

Grondahl worked with Lockwood on innumerable occasions, the most recent being the Babe Ruth World Series in August. Lockwood's last game was the championship game, and he was likely the only person ever to call three Babe Ruth World Series, Grondahl said.

In the 1980s, Grondahl worked with Lockwood, providing color commentary while Lockwood announced the game. He remembers one time being in Sidney, Mont., before the ballpark was renovated. The press box wasn't in great shape, and the furniture was rickety. While Grondahl was giving color to the broadcast, his chair gave out. Lockwood laughed so hard that he had to take his headset off.

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"He would tell me, 'I can't have you do color anymore, because you wreck the furniture,'" Grondahl said.

The thing that made Lockwood stand out was his dedication. Not many other announcers would be willing to get on the bus with a team for a road trip, Grondahl said, but Lockwood always did so. He enjoyed getting to know the athletes and sharing their accomplishments.

"He lived for the youth and for bringing the games to us," Grondahl said.

Terry Olson, the executive director of the Williston State College Foundation, met Lockwood more than 30 years ago, when Olson started as men's basketball coach and athletic director at the college.

Over the years Lockwood did some announcing for the Tetons, and several years ago became the primary voice for the school.

"He loved sports and he loved kids," Olson said. "He loved to follow the high school and college players. He took great pride in knowing these kids."

Lockwood was around for long enough to see players he'd covered in games become coaches in their own right.

Hunter Berg, a Williston State College alumnus who graduated from Grenora, N.D., remembers his first coaching job, as the girls basketball coach at Williston High School. Lockwood was the first person to interview him, and Berg remembers being very nervous.

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"He told me, 'Just relax and talk basketball,'" Berg said. "He was great at helping young coaches.

The fact that the last game Lockwood called was a baseball game offers some fitting symmetry to his career. His first game was on June 3, 1968, when he called the Noonan-Tioga baseball game. He sat in the front seat of his car, which was parked behind home plate, and used 200 feet of phone cord and 100 feet of electrical cord to put the broadcast on the air.

That was a world away - and 48 years ago - as his last game was called from the comfort of the still-new press box at Aafedt Stadium.

On Tuesday night, after he'd heard about Lockwood's death, Grondahl had to go to Aafedt Stadium, and saw the press box, which has Lockwood's name and "Voice of the Keybirds" printed on the door. It was hard to think about a sports season without Lockwood, Grondahl said.

"It's almost like trying to play a baseball game without your home plate there," he said.

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