With the FIFA World Cup starting up this month, soccer fans in St. Louis will undoubtedly hear Bill McDermott talking soccer in the media. After all, he is the unofficial voice of soccer in St. Louis, hence the nickname 'Mr. Soccer.' Those who attend SLU men’s and women’s soccer games at Hermann Stadium know him as the public address announcer. And those closely associated with Saint Louis University know him as a champion of many causes and foundations. Courtesy of Josh Sellmeyer, here is a little more information on 'Mr. Soccer.'
By Josh Sellmeyer
The Saint Louis University men’s soccer team has played approximately 400 home games since the start of the 1972 season. Bill McDermott estimates he’s missed no more than 15 of them since he became the Billikens’ first — and to this day, only — full-time public address announcer that year.
Which means McDermott — a 1970 SLU alumnus who helped lead the men’s soccer team to national championships in 1967 and ’69 — has attended and announced better than 95 percent of the Billikens’ home contests the past 42 years.
“I still get excited when I do it. I love watching these players,” McDermott said. “I don’t know if I’m going to be around, but one of my fondest aspirations or desires is to see Saint Louis U. get an 11th star on their shirt. I’d sure as heck like to see it happen.”
McDermott’s enthusiastic announcing has developed into a staple at SLU men’s and women’s soccer games at Robert R. Hermann Stadium.
McDermott doesn’t simply report goal scorers and player substitutions — soccer announcing basics — in a monotonous manner. He breathes life into games by passionately providing commentary on goal-scoring opportunities and standout defensive plays.
When he’s not making announcements, McDermott does his best one-man broadcast for those seated in the press box. He’ll interweave impossibly difficult soccer trivia questions, singing impersonations and old SLU soccer stories into his play-by-play commentary to keep the broadcast fresh.
During a SLU men’s basketball game last February, McDermott was honored for his many contributions to Saint Louis and its athletic programs. Though the 65-year-old McDermott is in the midst of his fifth decade of PA announcing, he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
“I will do it as long as I can do it,” he said. “If I lose my fastball and I don’t know what’s going on anymore or I can’t make a sentence or I can’t pronounce people’s names, people won’t have to tell me that. I’ll walk away.”
McDermott Realizes His Dream, Part I
McDermott, who has spent all but two years of his life in St. Louis, initially began playing soccer as a first grader at St. Philip Neri in north St. Louis’s Walnut Park. McDermott and his peers played sun up to sun down on weekends, oftentimes in the shadow of the St. Philip Neri church, which cast down onto the playing field.
St. Philip Neri was comprised of an upper schoolyard, where the more advanced players competed, and a lower schoolyard, a proving ground for beginning players. Don Ceresia, a 1964 first-team All-American and two-time national champion at SLU, was “the lord of the schoolyard,” as McDermott dubbed him.
“Anyone who went to St. Philip Neri idolized Don because Don went to Saint Louis University. That’s where we all wanted to go,” McDermott said. “You may have thought you were ready to play in the upper schoolyard, but not until Don said so.”
McDermott eventually proved himself to Ceresia, who began taking McDermott to SLU home games at Fairground Park in north St. Louis. McDermott also attended “every game of consequence” at the club level. These club teams — such as national powerhouse St. Louis Kutis — typically featured SLU players.
McDermott had an inkling all along that he wanted to enroll at Saint Louis. Attending games at Fairground Park confirmed his suspicion. After a Hall of Fame soccer career at the now-defunct McBride High School, McDermott realized one of his childhood dreams when he committed to SLU.
“Seeing Saint Louis U. play big games at Fairground, that’s when you initially really knew you wanted to go there,” McDermott said. “I had a strong feeling I wanted to, but once I went to that very first game at Fairground, I said, ‘This is it. This is where I want to go.’ Simple as that.
“(Attending SLU) was a real fulfillment of something you knew at a fairly young age you really wanted to do,” he continued. “I don’t think you’re certain of too many things when you’re a senior in high school, but of that I was particularly sure.”
McDermott’s devotion to Saint Louis didn’t deter when Bob Guelker, who helped establish the SLU men’s soccer program and was the team’s first head coach, decided to institute a men’s soccer program at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.
McDermott held steady in part because SLU’s second head coach was Harry Keough, who went on to become the winningest coach in Billiken history and a National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee. “Soccer royalty came to Saint Louis University,” as McDermott put it.
“It was really an incredible, bizarre set of circumstances. All the stars lined up on this one,” McDermott said. “Not only are we getting a chance to go to Saint Louis University, but wait, all of the sudden Bob Guelker is leaving. But oh, wait further, Harry Keough and (assistant coach) Val Pelizarro are coming. I guess things are going to be OK.”
In a seven-year span from 1967-1973, Keough led the Billikens to five of their record 10 national championships. McDermott was a key cog on the 1967 national title team as well as the ’69 squad, which went 13-0.
McDermott Realizes His Dream, Part II
At SLU’s 1970 graduation ceremony, McDermott, who earned a psychology degree and a marketing minor, was seated next to Connie Martin. McDermott and Martin had not met prior to that day. A decade later, they got married. And nearly 34 years after that, they’re still going strong.
Weeks after McDermott met Martin and graduated from Saint Louis, he attended the FIFA World Cup held in Mexico. While there, McDermott provided reports for KMOX Radio.
Since then, McDermott has covered every World Cup on either radio or television — 11 World Cups total. He helped broadcast the 1994 World Cup in the United States and the ’98 World Cup in France for ABC and ESPN.
For the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, which spans from June 12 to July 13, McDermott will host a daily World Cup radio show on KMOX. He said he’s looking forward to covering his 12th straight Cup.
“You talk about a dream. That’s something I realized I wanted to do early in my career,” McDermott said. “Being able to fulfill one of those (dreams) — going to Saint Louis University. And now, being able to announce World Cup games. Without question, the greatest experience of my soccer announcing career has been covering World Cups.”
After earning a communication design degree from the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in 1972, McDermott returned to St. Louis to become SLU’s associate athletic director under A.D. Larry Albus.
In the summer of ‘72, McDermott got his first shot at announcing a game. Alongside play-by-play broadcaster Frank Glieber, McDermott called a North American Soccer League contest between the St. Louis Stars and Dallas Tornado, which aired on KPLR Channel 11 in St. Louis.
“I’m a novice. It’s 97 degrees. I’m nervous to begin with. They can hardly get a shot of us on camera because I’m soaked from it’s so hot and I’m nervous,” McDermott said. “That’s when (my announcing career) started. Larry more or less figured if you’re going to do television, you can certainly do PA announcing at a live event.”
More than 40 years after his first broadcast, McDermott holds the title of being America’s longest-serving soccer broadcaster. It’s no wonder McDermott’s longtime friend, Bob Costas, calls him “Mr. Soccer,” a nickname that’s stuck through the years.
One of McDermott’s career highlights was providing color commentary for the first soccer game televised on ESPN — a 1979 tilt between Saint Louis and UCLA — alongside play-by-play broadcaster Kevin Slaten.
McDermott was part of another first when he served as the sideline reporter for ABC’s broadcast of the inaugural Major League Soccer game in 1996.
McDermott’s Off-field Contributions
When he’s not announcing games, McDermott runs his own graphic design business, which he established in 1976. Additionally, McDermott coaches a St. Louis Scott Gallagher U-18 girls’ team. He helped coach two of his three daughters, Elizabeth and Colleen.
Twins Colleen and Mary were born prematurely and underweight. After birth, they were transported to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. Mary underwent three heart surgeries and two liver operations at the hospital.
In December 2008, Mary died at the age of 24, her exact cause of death unknown. The McDermott family has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars so a Cardinal Glennon hybrid cardiac catheterization suite could be built — and later named — in Mary’s honor.
“It makes us as a family eternally grateful to all these friends, family members and supporters,” McDermott said. “They get what we’re trying to do as a family, and that is two-fold: to continue to honor Mary’s memory and her length at the hospital, and to continue to raise money so other sick children at Cardinal Glennon can … get back in the game.”
SLU alumnus Al Trost, a lifelong friend of McDermott’s and a two-time Hermann Trophy winner, needed someone to introduce him at his 2006 National Soccer Hall of Fame induction ceremony in New York. Immediately, Trost thought of McDermott.
McDermott, however, was in New England broadcasting a MLS game the night before the early-morning ceremony. The weather was horrible. McDermott didn’t arrive in New York until 3 a.m.
It didn’t matter. McDermott still woke up at 8 a.m. to cheerfully introduce his friend and former SLU teammate.
“That is the kind of special friend he is,” Trost said. “He’s such an advocate for not only SLU, but for all the athletic programs at SLU, especially in our game of soccer. He’s done so many good things. He just never says no to anybody. If he’s asked me to do anything for him, I’m there for him.”