“More people fear public speaking than death,” I said, panic-stricken.
It was a few years ago, and AVP Announcer Mark Schuermann had just jokingly asked me to take the mic. Saying one thing to thousands of people is terrifying enough. But to do it for eight hours a day, three days straight? I’ll pass.
But Mark? He’s just built for the role. “Not trying to sound super awesome,” he says, “but I’m doing multiple jobs in one.” At the AVP, Mark is the Public Address (PA) Announcer, introducing the players and reporting the scores. He’s also the In-Arena Host, interacting with fans, running games, and plugging sponsors. Occasionally Mark will jump into the Amazon Prime Booth and call a match (after introducing the players on the Stadium Court mic). And on Sundays, he welcomes the national television audience to our beach live on NBC.
“Naming all my jobs,” he says, “it’s like holy cow – that’s a lot. That’s why it’s so different from my other gigs. But it’s also the most fun job I have.”
Mark has loved volleyball since high school. And he was good; he played Outside Hitter for the Nevada State Championship Indoor Volleyball team in 2007. During summers, he’d go to Centennial Hills Park in Las Vegas to play beach with the locals. He was the youngest by far – they still call him High School Mark – and they taught him the game. Especially setting; Mark’s sets are buttery. Mainly because he used to set himself for hours at home, then took those skills to the court and learned how to square up and place the ball.
I told part of Mark’s story at the beginning of the year. He began working for the AVP through volleyball connections and genuine enjoyment of the sport. But it’s become his favorite gig for more than just the love of the game.
“It’s the freedom, really. During my first AVP in New Orleans, I remember going back and forth from Stadium to the Outer Courts. If I was done with a match on Stadium, I’d say, ‘Stuff is going down on the outer courts. Can I go talk about those matches and interact with the fans out there?’
“And my producer was like, ‘Sure, go for it!’ The freedom to do my own thing, I got that from everybody. Producer Kelly loved it; Donald was all about it. He told me to be as much myself as I wanted. Nobody told me no. It was always yes – do your own thing. There’s a lot of freedom because in other sports, everything is much more structured. [An AVP day] is eight hours long, so I don’t have to talk about every single point. Plus, I don’t have to worry about kicking it to someone else or sharing the mic. It’s full autonomy for three days with DJ Roueche and Producer Kelly.”
What Mark humbly doesn’t say is not everyone would be as naturally talented as he is and therefore given such unbridled freedom. Announcer Mark and Every Day Mark are the exact same person – funny, quick, sarcastic. And he has a memory like a sponge. Mark never loses track of the number of serves in a freeze; he recalls stats like a Wikipedia page. The information he drops during each athlete introduction astounds me – how does he remember the names of everyone’s kids, where they went to college, and how to pronounce their hometown?
On the mic, he makes the right decisions, talking just enough to energize the crowd and seldom enough to never deny fans of their own experience. “I’ve learned how to talk less and make a bigger impact with what I say. Everyone [at the AVP] trusted me because I knew the sport and wanted to be as involved as possible. I have free reign to say what I want and choose when to say it.”
To be this carefree, Mark has to prepare well. His AVP days begin around 7:30am. He grabs coffee and a sizable breakfast, two keys to all-day energy. “DJ Roueche and I have talked about this. It’s a hard job because even if we’re just sitting up there calling a game or playing the music – it doesn’t look physically exerting. But we’re always mentally focused. So it makes it hard to remember to eat and drink water.” This is another morning ritual – chug tons of water. That’s the number one voice-saver during the cumulative 24 hours of talking he has to do during the three AVP days.
Mark’s on-site 20 minutes before the first match of the day. “And I’m normally the last one there,” he laughs. Though that may be the case, in his six seasons, Mark hasn’t missed a first serve once. On a Sunday after a McKibbin Players’ Party, that’s an impressive feat.
Soon after his arrival, it’s off to the races – introduce the players, call the match, inform the fans about the freeze and other rule nuances, run the on-court sponsorship games, infuse the crowd with enthusiasm, call matches on Amazon, interact with fans in the Stadium and Club AVP, and generally be the go-to AVP fun guy (not to be mistaken with fungi). I’d forget to eat and drink, too.
Occasionally he’ll grab a 20-minute break and have DJ Roueche step in. But for the most part – Mark’s on the mic. “If our third match on Friday is a really great match and there’s tons of energy, the next match I may take a little slower. Which is hard because you want to give each match it’s due diligence. But I learned early on from DJ Roueche to conserve energy. He reminded me I need to peak on Sunday during the Finals; if I kept the energy high the entire time, I’d be wasted by the last two matches on Sunday. Learning to meter my energy has been very important.”
So Fridays stay chill; Saturdays start chill and ramp up around Match 3. From then to the end of the day, every Stadium Court winner heads to the Semifinals. That means tons of emotion, tons of energy, and the top athletes in the world on our beach. “Sometimes those are the most fun matches of the weekend.”
Sunday mornings begin subdued, but it doesn’t take long before Stadium is a raucous party. Sunday matches are what volleyball fans live for, and they pack the seats by 8:30am. These days are when Mark needs his voice the most, making the conservation of the previous two days so key.
“I’ve learned to be okay with it if I start to lose my voice. It’s not really important how perfect my voice sounds. What’s more important is bringing the energy. If my voice is a little dead, then fans know why. It’s almost better because we all know I’ve been into it all weekend.”
Occasionally, DJ Roueche and Mark will begin a big match with high intensity to infuse the crowd with excitement before anything noteworthy really happens. “That’s ultimately what the crowd wants – that excitement and energy. If we can help provide it, that’s a positive. People want to be excited; that’s why they’re there.”
Normally, an AVP crowd doesn’t need a booster from the booth to get going. “The energy from the crowd is driven by the players. DJ Roueche will recognize that and bump up the volume a bit. And I start using my voice in a way that’s intentionally, almost aggressively, talking about how cool points are. I’m trying to match what the crowd is feeling. Because I’m feeling that, too.”
The vibe at any given time is a combination of all four things – fan engagement, athlete performance and personality, DJ Roueche’s music, and Mark’s matching and revving up of the first three. “The excitement is often natural, so we sort of ride that and build on what’s already there.”
Oh, how I miss that Championship Sunday high.