Cristil honored at ceremony
Jack Cristil, pictured top left, signs an autograph for a young fan on Monday at a ceremony that both honored Cristil's broadcasting career and officially renamed a portion of Highway 82 in his honor. (Photo by Leilani Salter, SDN)
By MATTHEW STEVENS
In the mind of Jack Cristil, the ceremony honoring his broadcast career and renaming of a portion of Highway 82 in his honor was about time.
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"I'm just egotistical enough and self-centered enough to really enjoy it," Cristil joked Monday afternoon. "I was all in favor of it."
Mississippi State officials agreed.
Monday's ceremony that included the unveiling of the highway sign served as a retirement banquet in the Colvard Student Union on the university campus.
Speakers including MSU president Mark Keenum, Starkville city mayor Parker Wiseman, Mississippi Transportation commissioner Mike Tagert and Cristil's broadcast partner Jim Ellis stepped to the podium to honor the man who was the voice of Bulldogs athletics for 58 years, with Cristil in a chair to the left.
However, it was his daughter Kay Cristil Clouatre and grandson Jake that were touched that the patriarch of their family meant so much to the people that will travel down what is now called the Jack Cristil Highway.
"There's been different points of my life where I've been present in tributes for him but this one hits home the most because it's the final one," Kay Cristil said.
Cristil retired from his broadcasting career in February after being informed by doctors he would need immediate kidney dialysis treatments but said his physical condition is "stronger"
"Each treatment, and I have three a week, takes about five hours and I have to schedule everything around the treatments," Cristil said. "This is a change for me and basically I was doing what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it."
Cristil joked that his friends have lately seen a livelier member of their MSU family.
"People tell me that I look better than I did," Cristil said. "I don't know exactly what that means because I always thought I looked handsome."
Kay and Jake traveled from Baton Rouge to make the ceremony before Jake, dressed in maroon and white, attends Northwestern State to play college baseball.
"We just think this is a nice tribute for him since he's given so much to this university that I graduated from and to this community," Kay Cristil said.
In what he said was "the first thing that's ever been named after him", Cristil said the tribute seemed appropriate given the amount of miles he'd logged to call Mississippi State athletic contests in his 58-year career.
"I've ridden the highways in the state of Mississippi," Cristil said. "And I've seen these markers on the side of the road, the contributions people have made to their welfare, and to be included in that type of category is very, very flattering."
Cristil was hired before the 1953 football season and has been a fixture on Mississippi State radio broadcasts the past 58 years.
He added basketball play-by-play duties in 1957 and has broadcast more than 2,000 MSU athletic events during his career -- or roughly 60 percent of football games and 55 percent of basketball games in the school's history. His voice is the only one many Mississippi State fans have ever known, including MSU's current president.
"My earliest memories are of your voice Jack," Keenum said looking at the honoree. "I can remember as a little toddler sitting with my dad listening to you calling Mississippi State football games."
In late March, MSU announced Ellis will take over as the play-by-play voice of the Mississippi State football and basketball teams, while continuing his responsibility as the voice of MSU baseball.
"I've had an opportunity for more than 30 years to share a microphone with him and you could not ask for a more professional, more understanding and highly competent cohort than Jim Ellis," Cristil said at the podium.
Starting this fall, Ellis will be joined in the football broadcast booth with former MSU quarterback Matt Wyatt. Wyatt was on the Cellular South Tailgate Show with MSU assistant athletic director and new men's basketball color analyst Bart Gregory.
Wyatt, a Tupelo resident, will make the same journey that Cristil made to Starkville for every Mississippi State football home game.
"I guess it'll be one of those things that each home game I'll see the signs coming from home to the stadium and visually it will register to me how special this privilege is," Wyatt said. "It's a responsibility that we carry to do the best and do my best for the people that love my alma mater and Jack individually."