Posted 1:43 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021
Terry and Tom Wirkus have announced for the UWL marching band for 50 years — a family tradition ending Saturday
Many people follow in their parents’ footsteps.
Terry Wirkus practically walked in his father’s shoes.
Wirkus, the distance learning technology coordinator for UW-La Crosse Information Technology Services, has traced the life and career of his late father, Tom, almost to a T.
Both studied speech in college and went on to work at radio stations.
Both left their media jobs for a position at UWL, where they both taught communication courses.
And both spent exactly 25 years announcing for the UWL Screaming Eagles Marching Band during home football games — a family tradition that will end Saturday, Nov. 13, when Wirkus announces for likely the final time. (Wirkus has also served as the moderator for local High Quiz Bowl broadcasts and as the voice of many UWL commencement ceremonies.)
“The parallelism of our careers brought us closer. He never said a lot directly to me about it, but my mother has shared that he was extremely proud,” says Wirkus, ’79 & ’88, who plans to retire sometime next year. “It may not really hit me until later that this might be the end of 50 years of the Wirkus family announcing from this field.”
For this branch of the Wirkus family tree, announcing for the university marching band is the perfect pastime. It combines three things that have long been central to their lives: communication, music and UWL.
It started in fall 1968, when then band director Ralph Wall was looking for an announcer. Tom was recommended for the job — one he would dutifully perform until his retirement in 1993.
According to Wirkus, his father’s only regret was that he did not start a year earlier. If he had, he would have been at the most famous football game in history, the 1967 Ice Bowl, where the UWL marching band attempted to perform at halftime.
“Attempted” is the operative word, since the performance was cancelled after band members complained that the frigid temperatures caused their instruments to stick to their lips.
When Wirkus accepted a job at UWL in 1996, it seemed only fitting that he continue the family tradition.
In the 25 years since, he has not earned a dime from his announcing. But he has accumulated a trove of memories.
He’s been at Roger Harring Stadium at Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex for every home game but one, when he had a family event and asked Chancellor Joe Gow to fill in.
Some of Wirkus’ favorite memories have come during performances at Lambeau Field.
At one game, Wirkus ad-libbed: “From Bill Schroeder’s alma mater, it’s the UW-La Crosse Screaming Eagles Marching Band!”
Schroeder proceeded to fumble the opening kickoff of the second half.
“His role with the Packers disintegrated quickly after that,” Wirkus notes. “Folks told me that I was the one that had destroyed his career!”
Another time, the band was set to do a “fifth quarter” performance after the game. As the announcer, Wirkus was permitted to stand on the sidelines after the two-minute warning.
The Packers, trailing by four to the Minnesota Vikings, had the ball.
“Brett Favre was moving them down the entire length of the field,” Wirkus remembers. “With 10 seconds left, Brett throws a perfect ball to receiver Corey Bradford in the end zone. Touchdown Green Bay! The Packers bench erupted in front of me. Wow! I was right there — a part of an exciting moment. I was high on adrenaline when I announced for the band that day.”
Tammy Fisher, director of the Screaming Eagles, says Wirkus’ presence and professionalism — even amid the chaos of a last-second victory at Lambeau Field — will not be easily replaced.
“If I had to give Terry a title, it would be ‘Mr. Consistency,’” Fisher says. “He just shows up for pregame and halftime — I never have to tell him what time to be there or anything. I send him the script in advance, and he’s there like magic.
“It’s been a joy to share all of the Screaming Eagles performances with him, especially the times we were invited to perform at Lambeau Field,” she adds. “He’s carried on the family ‘business’ for 25 years, and I wish him all the best as he enters this next chapter. He’s just a great human being.”
As he prepares for his final game, Wirkus knows it is the right time to step away. He knows he will feel a bittersweet mix of emotions. He knows he will think of his father.
Taking after him, Wirkus says, “has meant everything to me.”