Sending Out The Shouts – Judge Carlson retiring from Tigers’ broadcast after three decades

Published 2:51 am Wednesday, May 24, 2023

George C. Carlson, more casually, yet still respectfully, known as Judge Carlson, has seen it all – both in the courtroom as well as on a ball field.

And now both careers may be behind him, but that doesn’t mean his love for South Panola sports is over.

Carlson is a retired justice whose reputation had the governor of Mississippi appointing Carlson away from his five-county jurisdiction to the Mississippi State Supreme Court in Jackson. He took his position seriously, but never forgot about his other position, either. He felt it was just as important as his day job.

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That was as the announcer for the South Panola football team, and, later, as the on-air reporter for the radio station.

Judge Carlson could make great decisions both by the seat of his pants and the eyes in his head – and he loved both with a passion.

George C. Carlson was a 1964 South Panola graduate who commenced his broadcasting association with South Panola in 1992 during Coach Willis Wright’s second year as South Panola head football coach.

It was then when South Panola School District Superintendent Dr. David C. Cole asked Carlson to become the public address announcer for the home football games. 

Carson accepted and immediately began traveling to the road games with the South Panola radio broadcast crew, keeping the statistics and getting on the air at halftime and at the end of the game to give the stats. 

It was in 1997 when the play-by-play announcer, the late Bob Norris, was in need of a color commentator for the radio broadcast, and he turned to Carlson, who had traveled many a mile with the radio station’s crew. Carlson ended up leaving his position as South Panola public address announcer to work with Norris on the radio broadcasts of South Panola football.  

When Norris had to step away from the microphone in 2004, Carlson became the play-by-play announcer, a position he held until his announced retirement in April 2023. 

But how in the world did Carlson go from being a judge to a football analyst? It’s what we might call downfield progression, sort of like when a running back snatches a football from the air and hugs it to his chest as he chugs away from defenders toward that field goal. 

Well, maybe sort of like that. “It kind of evolved,” Carlton explained more simply. “I too was surprised to fall into a second career.”

At the time, Carlson was circuit court judge for five counties – Panola, DeSoto, Tate, Yalobusha and Tallahatchie – from 1983 to 2001. That’s five counties with eight courthouses. “I think they did it that way because when the rivers rise, they couldn’t get across and they would be ‘cut off from justice,” Carlson said with a chuckle.

Carlson spent the next 12 years serving as a Mississippi Supreme Court Justice before hanging up his robe for good in 2012.

Anyway, Carlson took on the announcer spot and found he thoroughly enjoyed it. He liked the people he worked with, he liked the team and student athletes, and he liked being a part of his community.

“It was like columnist Sid Salter said – it was the typical small-town Friday night game, where supporters came to support the team and the community came together,” Carlson said. “But it was hard being a judge in Jackson and only being home 48 hours on the weekend. But I never missed a Friday night.” 

Carlson brought his unique style to the broadcast booth, and the call-in coach’s show he would host each Wednesday evening on the radio. The judge encouraged listeners to text their location and support of the Tigers during broadcast, and would send out dozens of “shout outs” to listeners not only at their homes in Panola County, but around the state and country.

The Tigers had a broadcast following that reached far and wide, and once games were live-streamed, fans could tune in from around the nation, and sometimes the world, to hear the game feeds, and get a shout out from the announcers.

Although he had decided to retire from the court in 2012, he wanted to continue his announcing position. He ended up doing it for more than 30 years.

It was the best of times, period, Carlson said. “It was the ‘University of South Panola’ heyday, winning all those state championships.”

Carlson is proud to have been a part of that 1992-2014 championship run, with just a few years of loss.

Though Carlson said he’s not sure who will replace him, he said the great crew he worked with will do fine without him. “They did all the work,” he said. “Steve Calvert is the color announcer, Kenny Hopper the computer statistician, Alex Lambert serves as producer, Richard Hudson as the spotter and Chris Ware as the side-line reporter. And there is Lee Adams at the radio station. 

“I always said I couldn’t do this by myself. All I do is show up and put on the headset. They did the rest.”

Carlson did enjoy the research necessary for his job, which included viewing stats, players’ conditions, coaches views on standings and team rankings. He’d do all that on Saturday after a game to be ready for the next week and the Wednesday coaches call-in show.

But through the years, things have changed dramatically. Live streaming and the internet have placed much information right at the fingertips of anyone who wants to know anything. That’s the biggest change Carlson saw during his time as an announcer – technology has helped everyone do their jobs more easily and perhaps more efficiently. 

The year 2010 was one Carlson reviews in his head a lot. What a year. 

“The season was special,” he said. “South Panola was 15-0 and ranked in the top five in the nation. There were four teams ahead of us in the national polls and each was defeated in the playoffs. Three out of five rankings had us No. 1. We played the season opener at the new stadium in Petal – a beautiful multimillion-dollar complex. We christened that stadium with a win. The next week we headed to South Georgia, where we won 65-35. I think we scored every time we touched the ball.”

Carlson said one ranker saw that game via video streaming and placed South Panola No. 1. It was really the first time Carlson could think of that a ranker used video streaming to see for himself how the team played rather than merely using coaches opinions of how rankings should fall.

Carlson doesn’t plan on leaving the area – why would he? He and his wife, Jane, live in Carlson’s childhood home. In the early 90s, they had gone to church right after his mother died when the woman who had always sat by Carlson’s mother during her lifetime whispered to Carlson that his mother “always wanted the kids to move back home and live in that house.”

What to do? The Carlson’s lived in a house they liked very much. They had no plan to move, but what if this was true and his parents didn’t want the house sold? Carlson, in his very judge-like way, discussed the pros and cons with his wife.

They’ve now lived in the house since 1992. They bought out his siblings’ portion and haven’t looked back since. 

Carlson still plans to participate in the goings on of South Panola sports because he loves them. “The coaches were great, the assistant coaches, too,” he said. “The teams were great, but they were just good kids, too. They were good students and they worked hard both on the field and off.”

During his 31-year career as part of the South Panola football broadcast crew, Carlson said he had “the privilege of working with head coaches Willis Wright, Ed Stanley, Ricky Woods, Lance Pogue and Brooks Oakley, and of being a part of 15 state championship appearances, with South Panola winning 11 of those 15 state championship games, and being declared national champion in 2010.”

When he announced his retirement, he said “I feel privileged in having been a part of the South Panola football broadcast for over 30 years, from high school press boxes in Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia. It’s been a great run, but it’s time to retire.”  

The Carlsons plan to spend more time with their son Russel and daughter Meredith, their spouses, and the grandchildren. There are places they couldn’t go when Carlson had announcing duties, so they plan to travel. 

“There are things we want to do that we couldn’t and now we won’t be tied down,” he said. “We will keep busy, and we will remain living in Batesville and supporting South Panola sports.”