A pack of fleet footed runners were chasing Mike Chason in the spring of 1973, but his tenacity proved too much. He won the gold at the intramural cross-country race at Valdosta State College. Track coach Dave Waples was so impressed he offered Mike the first ever cross-country scholarship for VSC.
The college didn’t have a budget for a team, so a $50 stipend was an honorary gesture. Mike declined the offer, but he appreciated Coach Waples’ encouragement. Winning that race was as much about character as speed. When Mike Chason starts something, he sticks with it.
Mike and I have been friends since meeting at Valdosta State College in 1970. I asked him recently about that memorable run from yesteryear. It was a nominal accomplishment by worldly standards, but a defining moment on a personal level. At Lanier High School Mike ran the half mile in track. He didn’t consider himself a distance runner when he entered the Valdosta race.
He was surprised when he passed John Trimnell, an outstanding athlete and a starter on the VSC basketball team. As Mike went by John shouted out, “Go on and win this thing!” Those words of encouragement helped inspire Mike to keep up a demanding pace. It’s been a lasting reminder of the importance of encouraging others, something Mike is passionate about.
Mike has run a good race in many areas of life and he’s still going strong. When I asked him about some of the accomplishments I knew he had attained, he first went in a different direction. He said the most important day of his 67 years is when he accepted Christ at First Baptist Church in Lakeland, Georgia. He was ten years old when he embraced a personal faith that he readily shares.
He’s begun countless speeches by enthusiastically saying, “It’s a great day to be alive!” It’s not a quote from the Bible but its message is consistent with scripture. It helps him focus on positive thinking as he cheers others along.
Mike was a sportswriter for The Valdosta Daily Times right after college, then was promoted to sports editor. On May 15, 1979, he became the public relations director for Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. That was his full-time job for 32 years and has been his part time position since 2012. It’s not often you hear someone with a 40-year career in anything say, “I love this job.” Mike gets a lot out of his work because he puts a lot into it.
Shortly after he joined the ABAC staff Mike took a Dale Carnegie course. Ralph Edwards, owner of Tifton AM radio station WWGS, was in the class and asked Mike to help him put ABAC basketball games on the air. When Mike told him he didn’t have any experience calling games, Mr. Edwards said, “I know you Mike. You can do it!” He called every play and had another 12 minutes to fill during halftimes. That experience helped develop his speaking voice and style. Mike fondly recalls Mr. Edwards’ encouragement and he keeps paying it forward.
He was the voice of Tift County High School football for 27 years on Friday nights and called the Valdosta State football games on Saturdays for five overlapping years. In November he’ll begin his thirtieth year announcing VSU basketball games. With ladies and men both now playing he’s sometimes on the air for five straight hours. When I asked how he can manage such a demanding role, he credited his Creator. “God’s given me the energy and enthusiasm to do a lot of things,” he said.
In May of 2019 Mike called out the names of over 400 graduating seniors from Tift County High School. This was his thirtieth year, another record he’s still adding to. They have one practice, during which Mike makes phonetic notations to use as a pronunciation guide. “Some of these kids may never have their name called again from a stage,” he said. “I do my best to get it right.”
It would take another column to list Mike’s accomplishments. He’s set the bar high in multiple pursuits that are unlikely to ever be equaled. But if he should hear the footsteps of those who follow him getting close, there’s no doubt he would shout out, “Go on and win this thing! You can do it!” Even if you’re chasing Mike Chason, he wants you to run your best race.
“It’s a great day to be alive,” he said as we ended our conversation. Mike knows I sometimes need to be reminded of things I already know. I’m passing it on in case you need reminding too.