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Alumni Spotlight: Tom Hammond

Alumni Spotlight: Tom Hammond
Tom Hammond in a light gray suit and purple tie

Tom Hammond is a sports commentator who in 1984 began working with NBC Sports, where he covered thoroughbred racing and Notre Dame football among others. Hammond has also served as the play-by-play announcer for NBC’s coverage of track and field and speed skating during the Olympic Games. He is a 1962 graduate of Lafayette High School.

Question: What is your fondest memory of your time at Lafayette? 

Answer: My fondest memories revolve around the many lifelong friends I made at Lafayette. I also remember some classes fondly -- history, social studies, English -- and some I dreaded, like any kind of math.

Many of my favorite memories revolve around athletics.  I played football and basketball all three years at LHS on some outstanding teams with many memorable victories and a few painful defeats.  Many of my teammates and coaches have been friends for life.

I also remember being sleepy a lot.  I (drove) a paper route and delivered nearly 300 newspapers every morning.  I got up at 3:30 a.m., and it took me until about 6 to finish the deliveries.  I would try to catch a quick nap before school.  I was a good student, so in study hall, the teachers would let me take a nap, with my head down on my desk. That helped me get through the classes and the team practices afterward.  Some of the away basketball games on a weeknight, getting back late at night and then getting up early, were a bit rough.

Q: What person, class, or experience at Lafayette influenced you the most? 

A: Without question the person at LHS who most influenced my life was football coach Roy Walton.  My parents were divorced, and he became the second father in my life. I was a bit shy, but he gave me confidence, often praising me not only in front of my teammates but the entire student body. He could be rough, a real taskmaster, but we all knew that deep down he cared for us. Most of all he was the positive influence that many of us needed in our lives.  He made sure we did the right thing, despite the many temptations to do otherwise. I would never had dared to do anything that would have disappointed him. I remember at graduation finding him after the ceremony and tearing up because I had failed to help him win a state championship.

Later, as an adult, I told Coach Walton what he had meant to me – it was an emotional moment.  I also tried to do something for him that he would remember always. One of my duties at NBC for many years was broadcasting Notre Dame football games. I learned that Coach Walton had been a lifelong ND fan, but had never been to a game, so a friend flew him up for a home game. I brought him up to the broadcast booth and as he looked down on the field at Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish golden helmets gleaming in the sun, and his eyes filled with tears as he said he fulfilled a lifelong ambition.  I felt I had, in a small way, repaid him for all he did for me.

I should also mention my English teacher, Jane Butler. As a shy teenager, being a broadcaster was the last thing I would have foreseen for myself, but Ms. Butler claims to this day that I would someday have a job like that -- based on some of my class writings, etc.  She was certainly more aware than I was.

Q: Did you attend college or complete graduate studies? If so, where? 

A: I began my college career at LSU, but an injury ended any chance at a football career, so I transferred to UK, with an idea of getting into the thoroughbred horse business. I graduated with a B.S. in Animal Science. I was working on a master’s degree in Equine Genetics when, by chance, I got a job reading horseracing results on WVLK radio. When my duties there increased (and later at WLEX-TV), I had to drop my classes and never got my master’s.

Tom Hammond in a high school photo

Q: How did your education at Lafayette help prepare you for what you did in college and are doing today in your work?

A: I wound up spending my life doing something I had never dreamed of but found out I had an aptitude for it. So obviously, the rounded education I received at LHS prepared me for any situation. It was like a bedrock one could always depend on to get you through any situation. Socially, too, all the experiences at Lafayette prepared me for situations I might encounter in college and beyond.

Q: What is a professional highlight of your career?  

A: I'm now retired after 50 years in sports broadcasting, including the last 34 years at NBC Sports.  During that tenure, I broadcast my varied sporting events including college basketball, NBA basketball, WNBA basketball, NFL football, Notre Dame football, horse racing, track and field, figure skating, speed skating, gymnastics, diving, and a few assorted other sporting events.  Most importantly was my broadcasting 13 Olympic Games, both summer and winter.

Q: What advice would you give students interested in your career field?

A: Broadcasting has changed drastically during my time in the business, with opportunities increasing many times over, but one thing remains the same: Learn to express yourself, both orally and with the written word. Broadcasting is a tough business, so you must make sure it is your passion because you are likely to have many frustrations and disappointments.  Your passion has to see you through the hard times.

Q: What is an important life lesson to share with current students and future graduates?

A: Be open to any opportunity, no matter how small, just to get a start and show your abilities.

Listen! Often today we don't hear what others are saying.  And as a practical matter, if you are doing an interview, listen to the interviewee’s answer to prompt your next question, instead of trying to think of your next question and not hearing the subject’s answer.

Be aware of all opportunities that come your way and be prepared to take advantage of them, even if it is something you had never considered.  My career is an example.

Q: Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself – family, hobbies, interests, etc.? 

A: I'm a fervent believer in public schools.  Not only did Lafayette prepare me for most anything, my three children also excelled in the Fayette County system at Henry Clay and Tates Creek high schools.  As a result, they were well prepped for admittance to elite schools: one son at Dartmouth, one son at Duke, and our daughter with a scholarship to UK. I firmly believe that strong public schools are the key to our successful future.