Voice of Blaine basketball retires after 30 years

By Oliver Lazenby

If you’ve attended a Blaine basketball home game since the Reagan administration, chances are you’ve heard John Liebert’s voice on the microphone after every basket.

Liebert, a former Blaine teacher and middle school basketball coach, plans to keep attending Blaine games, but he put down the microphone for the last time in February, concluding a career that encompassed some of the most exciting years in Blaine basketball history.

He saw Blaine teams win two state championships, and finish second and third. Though the excitement surrounding Blaine basketball has faded since the 1990s, Liebert continued to enjoy the job even when Blaine teams weren’t finishing near the top.

Blaine sports announcer John Liebert retired in February. Photo by Janell Kortlever.

“It’s been a fun run,” said Liebert, who is 75. “I enjoy being around young people. It’s what keeps me young.”

The former Blaine teacher started going to games in the late ’80s, when his son Jared was on the team. Liebert, who had coached basketball for 20 years in North Dakota before moving his family to Blaine, would often hover near the bench to give his son unsolicited advice.

“John was a pretty excitable parent back in the day,” said Rob Ridnour, the Borderites head coach at the time.

He proved to be too excitable, so he picked up the microphone as a way to stay involved. He started with the boys’ team in 1987 or ’88, and was soon announcing for the girls too.

The task is simple – when the ball goes through the hoop he says who put it there and how, and sometimes who assisted the scorer.

Liebert’s sons all graduated from Blaine High School, and Jared went on to play for University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. But Liebert kept at it.

He was there for former NBA player Luke Ridnour’s four years in Blaine – some of the most successful in the school’s history. In fact, for the first 12 years that Liebert announced, the Borderites went to state nine times.

Fans packed the gym to capacity for every single Blaine game in the Luke Ridnour era, and college scouts were often among the crowd.

For Liebert, the community enthusiasm surrounding the team’s trips to state was the highlight of his announcing career.

“That was cool, because the kids were heroes in the community. The enthusiasm was infectious,” he said.

Liebert continued as the excitement began to fade. He’s a self-proclaimed sports junkie who’s coached basketball and football. He would have gone to the games anyway.

“It was a good seat and I didn’t have to pay admission, so I just kept doing it,” he said. “There were highlights, but there weren’t lowlights. I enjoyed it all.”

Liebert’s a community-minded person, and his involvement doesn’t end with sports. He spent 12 years on Blaine City Council and served a leadership role in his church, Blaine Grace Lutheran. He grew up in Blaine, before moving to Nebraska for college and starting his career as a teacher in North Dakota.

“He’s a pretty valuable guy in not just the school but the community as well,” Rob Ridnour said. “I think he brings a lot to the table in that regard.”

After retiring from teaching in 2000, Liebert came back to the Blaine school district and currently holds the title of “graduation specialist.”

In some ways, his time as an announcer has come full circle. As he pointed out at the last boys’ basketball game of the season, people on the team when he started out now have kids on the team.

His son Noel is an announcer for the Rogers High School Royals, in Rogers, Minnesota, and he does a better job than his dad, Liebert said. Maybe that’s why he’s retiring.

“It’s time for someone else to do it,” Liebert said. “Someone who’s younger and has more energy.”

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