Doc Wininger’s career path is similar to Nebraska Head Coach Tim Miles.
By Randy York
The Tim Miles’ Era begins Wednesday night when Nebraska hosts Midland University in a season opening exhibition game for the 37th and final season of Nebraska men’s basketball at the Devaney Center.
While Miles will be the new lead character calling the shots and directing the cast from the bench, there will be a new voice that will help Big Red fans say goodbye to the Devaney Center and hello a year from now when the Huskers move into their new home – Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls and Husker fans everywhere, meet your new Nebraska Men’s Basketball Public Address Announcer … Dwight “Doc” Wininger.
We apologize for our inability to dramatize audio inflection in print, but rest assured, Doc Wininger did not come out of nowhere to be “The Voice” for Nebraska men’s basketball. Just like the first-year head coach he’ll be serving, Doc has surfaced at a Big Ten Conference school after decades of dedication to his craft, resulting in a well-earned reputation from loyal fans that love his professional spirit, not to mention his passion.
Doc Doesn’t Sing in the Shower … He Announces
“Everybody sings in the shower but me. I announce,” Doc quipped before explaining that he can certainly identify with Miles’ methodical ascent to life at the Division I level. Wininger, after all, made his own professional public debut when he was a student-athlete at Nebraska Wesleyan University and keeping the program’s official basketball book at a road game in Seward, Neb.
“The Concordia/Wesleyan JV game went into overtime, and that delayed the start of the varsity game,” Wininger recalled. “With 10 minutes left, the P.A. announcer handed me the microphone and told me that he had to bowl at 9 o’clock. I was surprised, but enjoyed every minute of that experience.”
Now 53, Wininger sees that fortuitous opportunity as something that was meant to be. He was the P.A. man for Nebraska Wesleyan basketball for two decades. In 2004, he started doing football play-by-play for Peru State College, plus P.A. work for the school’s men’s and women’s basketball teams. Prep sports fans will recognize Wininger as the voice of the Nebraska State High School Boys Basketball Tournament and the State High School Football Championships over the past 20 years.
He also called the state prep volleyball tournament for 20 years but left that job to concentrate on his duties at Peru State, where his dad headed the Education Department and served as the scoreboard operator for the school’s home football and basketball games for more than two decades.
‘Little Doc’ Helped Big Doc at Peru State College
“I grew up loving the purity and the passion of small college athletics,” said Wininger, a vice president for governmental relations for Pinpoint Holdings, a telecommunications company headquartered in Nebraska with subsidiaries across the country.
“That’s a glorified title for lobbyist,” Doc said, explaining that countless students who became teachers and coaches always called his dad “Doc” because he was their favorite professor with a doctorate degree. “When I was nine years old and playing Little League baseball, my coach couldn’t remember my name, so he called me ‘Little Doc’ instead of Dwight, and that’s what everybody called me until I got older and then people started calling me Doc.”
Counting his experience doing both live radio and handling public address duties, including state high school girls basketball and state high school baseball, Wininger has announced more than 1,000 college and high school athletic events.
“I feel like everything I’ve ever done has been building towards this opportunity at this level,” said Wininger, making him a metaphorical twin of Miles, who started at the lower levels of prep and small college basketball before climbing the mountain to a conference that’s led the nation in attendance for four consecutive decades.
“One of the things I really admire about Tim Miles is the way he started in the small college ranks and worked his way up to the major college level,” Wininger said. “It’s such a difficult task to get that shot. Coach Miles started at Mayville State, and that’s very similar to the level I started when I began my announcing career at Nebraska Wesleyan 25 years ago. I have real empathy for Coach Miles, and I’m excited about the way he’s climbed that ladder. It kind of matches my same time frame and reminds me of the ladder I had to climb.”
Boehm: Wininger Will Bring Energy and Passion
Marc Boehm, Nebraska’s executive associate athletic director in charge of Nebraska men’s and women’s basketball, is an avid prep sports fan. “I’ve heard Doc announce a number of state championship events,” Boehm said. “He has such great energy and such great passion for his craft, and you hear it every time he turns on the microphone. He’s a perfect match to help us take Nebraska basketball where we want it to go – into the hearts and minds of all Big Red fans.”
Ground floor is an appropriate description for a program on the move and planning to rebuild its foundation. “Getting this job at the ground level right at the same time that Coach Miles is making his debut is the perfect opportunity for me,” Wininger said. “I feed off the energy of the crowds. My favorite times at the Devaney Center were the nights they had to close the doors and turn people away. The atmosphere was electric, and the place would be rocking. I love those kinds of nights, and I’m looking forward to Nebraska getting to that level and having those kinds of nights again.
“That’s the goal of everyone working with Nebraska basketball. We want to provide whatever support we can to make it successful,” Wininger said. “We want to fill the Devaney in our last season there and then pack the house when we transition to the new downtown arena.”
Fortunately, Wininger was a history major in college so he knows the potential and understands what can happen when coaching and chemistry combine with communication and cooperation. “I started attending games at the Devaney in 1977 when I was a college student in Lincoln,” Doc said. “For a place built in 1976, the Devaney was as good as it gets. We want to bring some of that spirit back this season, but there’s nothing quite like being on the ground floor of a new arena.”
Sports Analogy: Moving from Old to the New
Doc has an analogy that captures the essence of the move Nebraska is ready to make. “My (24-year-old) son recently traded in his 1999 Mustang convertible that had 235,000 miles on it,” Doc pointed out. “In its day, it was a really cool car. It was state-of-the-art. But when he traded it in, they had to tow it to the auction. Now he has something shiny and new – a four-wheel drive Silverado with all the bells and whistles you can imagine.”
For Doc, that truck is analogous to Pinnacle Bank Arena, which will be a leading-edge national arena when it opens its doors in the fall of 2013.
“I can’t wait for Wednesday night’s exhibition game that kicks off this final season inside the Devaney,” Doc said, “It’s going to be awesome, but so is that first year in the new arena. I can’t believe that I’m going to be the guy that gets to walk into that beautiful building and say: “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Pinnacle Bank Arena …”
Certain things, however, must come first for Doc, who got into this business by accident and continues to savor his court-level seat that includes the opportunity to communicate with everyone in the building.
“I love being up close to the action on the court,” Doc said. “You see things at that level that you don’t necessarily see in the rest of the arena. The excitement of being at court level and in the middle of it all is something that I’ve always enjoyed and never taken for granted.”
Doc Excited for Opener, Expects Butterflies
“I’m really jacked up for Wednesday night,” Doc said. “I’ve been in this business for a long time and in the Devaney Center hundreds of times, but never just for a Nebraska Cornhusker crowd. The butterflies are definitely going to be there.”
Since Wednesday is opening night for the last season in an historic building, I ask Dwight “Doc” Wininger to give me a sneak preview and share his trademark line after introducing the starting lineups.
Our phone connection between Lincoln and Omaha is crystal clear, but Doc still clears his throat to optimize the sound. “Now, gentlemen: LET’S PLAY BASKETBALL!”
Wininger draws out each word like they’re the three most important words in the dictionary. When you hear Doc deliver that heavily expanded line in his own booming voice, you cannot help but compare his voice to Michael Buffer, the man who made Let’s Get Ready to Rumble one of the most memorable catchphrases in sports.
New Foundation Built One Brick at a Time
Tim Miles and all his coaches, staff and players will be happy that Doc Wininger is in the building. So will all the Big Red fans that want to support a new era on the ground level. They’ll identify with the authenticity of a new head coach and a new P.A. announcer, both of which step onto a grand stage with similar backgrounds and the same great expectations as the fans that will watch them, listen to them and cheer them on.
Just remember, Miles and Wininger both know that solid foundations must be built one brick at a time, so make no mistake. The success of the Nebraska men’s basketball program requires a loyal fan base that will support the Huskers in every step of their journey.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, LET’S PLAY BASKETBALL!
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